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Glimpse Of The Garden-Door Yard Garden Hidden Behind Historic Main Street Dwelling Features Colonial Era Plants



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Glimpse Of The Garden—

Door Yard Garden Hidden Behind Historic

Main Street Dwelling Features Colonial Era Plants

By Nancy K. Crevier

“A Glimpse Of The Garden” is a miniseries focusing on the heart of a gardener’s work — a special spot, an extraordinary plant, a place of respite, or a place that evokes a heartfelt memory. What is down the garden path of your friends and neighbors? What is down your garden path?

Members of the Garden Club of Newtown, Holly Kocet and Joyce DeWolfe, and others in the club, have cared for public gardens around town over the years. One of those gardens, said Ms Kocet, is the garden that runs the length of the back yard of The Matthew Curtiss House at 46 Main Street.

“It was just a narrow garden filled mostly with day lilies and hosta, and we knew it could be so much more,” said Ms Kocet. “We wanted to redo the garden with a design that would evoke the feeling of the Colonial period, as a representation of plants used by a typical household during the 1700s to mid-1800s.”

Newtown Historical Society, which owns the property and uses the circa 1750 saltbox as its headquarters, embraced the idea last fall, and working in conjunction with the garden club and the Connecticut Master Gardener Outreach Program, a committee developed a garden design.

“Meanwhile, Joyce and I researched historic plants for culinary and medicinal purposes,” said Ms Kocet, to revitalize what is known as a “door yard” garden. These gardens traditionally were not ornate, but rather practical gardens. “The emphasis was placed on herbs and medicinal plants consistent with the period,” she said. The challenge of the garden, Ms Kocet said, was to match historical value and a pleasing design. Elements such as texture and contrast, shapes, heights, color, and a focal point (not normally found in a door yard garden), were considered in the final plan, as well as allowing for a few less traditional plants to add three-season color.

Renovating the 10 by 55-foot garden required a lot of clearing, removal of unhealthy plants, and the moving of other plants that would become part of the new garden, before planting of the first herbs took place in late April. The garden is not a restoration of a garden cultivated by the inhabitants of The Matthew Curtiss House, emphasized Ms Kocet, as there is not documentation of such a garden. It gives the feel, however, of a garden that could have been there. Although in its nascent stage, visitors to the Matthew Curtiss House door yard garden will find plants that they recognize, as well as some that are less familiar.

Red columbine is flanked by clusters of lungswort, used traditionally to treat bronchial ailments, as was the white-flowered candytuft.

“Candytuft was used to treat gout and asthma, as well,” Ms Kocet said.

The feverfew plant, with its parsley-like leaves and small yellow-eyed, white-petaled flowers, would have been included in Colonial gardens as a headache remedy, while the feathery wormwood plant would have been valued for its infusion said to alleviate symptoms of rheumatism.

Purple flowers on tall stems, and a member of the mint family, hyssop is included, once valued for its ability to soothe sore throats and coughs. At the back side of the garden, tall clumps of comfrey bend, the lavender flowers hanging like bells. Tea made from comfrey was said to reduce the ill effects of the flu.

In among the medicinal herbs are other plants that once had more utilitarian value. Yarrow, goldenrod, baptisa, and bloodroot served as sources for yellow, blue, and red dyes in early America. Another plant, teasel, is now just a clump of flat, broad leaves, but will develop a tall spikey flower.

“The spikey head was dried by early colonials, and used to nap wool,” Ms Kocet explained.

Other plants, like the peonies, sedum, turtlehead and coreopsis, were added for color and as shade plants, she said.

“A true door yard garden would not have had a focal point, but we took the liberty of adding a tower trellis in the middle of the garden,” Ms Kocet said, and a native clematis that will bloom later in the summer.

“We are pretty happy with the result,” said Ms Kocet. The garden can be visited during open house hours.

“The public can enjoy the garden,” said Ms Kocet, “and we hope that the historical society will use it for educational purposes.”

That is what is down the garden path at the Matthew Curtiss House on Main Street.

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