Gardens of early America were managed according to the idea that all plants grown in a garden should be useful in some way: whether for “meate” (to eat – e.g., sallet herbs and roots, pot herbs) or for “physick” (to heal or provide other household assistance – e.g., strewing herbs, medicinal plants).
Early American settlers relied heavily on botanicals for various practical uses, including food, medicine and hygiene. These useful botanicals were either grown in kitchen gardens or gathered from the wilderness, and many of these plants served multiple purposes.
The settlers brought seeds and cuttings of their favorite plants with them to the New World, and discovered many new and unfamiliar plants once they arrived. Native American indians were especially helpful in teaching the settlers about useful botanical resources in their new surroundings. A number of these useful native plants eventually found their way into cultivated gardens.
Known as “kitchen gardens”, they were typically tended by the lady of the house. The gardens found in rural areas were much less formal than those found in cities and towns; however, they were all arranged in an orderly manner. Every garden would have a border or fence around the perimeter, dedicated plots inside for various types of plants, and paths for walking among them.
Kitchen gardens contained a wide variety of vegetables, herbs, and flowers and many of them served multiple purposes.