Enjoy the serenity of our historic gardens - carefully designed in the Colonial Revival style to complete the beauty of our historic museum properties.
“IT BEGAN AT A NEW CASTLE CARD PARTY...”
-- HELEN M. LAYTON
BRANDYWINE GARDEN CLUB, 1938
While today’s gardens of the Amstel House and Dutch House are quiet, beautiful spaces ideal for relaxation and reflection, from the 1700s through the early 1900s these landscapes were working spaces - busy, noisy, and smelly. Sometimes referred to a “kitchen yards” the areas behind these historic homes may have contained a small vegetable, herb and flower garden to grow plants with culinary, medicinal or utilitarian uses. There was likely a large woodpile for convenient access to fuel to keep the fireplaces burning. A privy or outhouse stood somewhere nearby. There may have been one or more trash piles or pits where refuse including animal bones, oyster shells, broken plates and other refuse was dumped daily. It’s also possible that some other necessary structures were located here as well - perhaps a well, smokehouse or a stable. And, of course, there was likely some livestock - chickens and hogs - running about the yard. Part of the yard was also open space that was used for outdoor tasks like chopping wood, slaughtering animals or making food such as apple butter and cider. Future archaeological excavation will help us learn more about the many activities that took place in these yards. Amstel House Garden The Amstel House Garden is Colonial Revival in inspiration, that is, conceived in the 20th century in an effort to revive an idealized version of “colonial America.” The motivation for such efforts was nostalgia for the past. Colonial Revival gardens were not based on archaeological research or historical documentation, but were re-creations, imagined by the landscape architects. The Wilmington Garden Club hired Charles F. Gillette, a noted Richmond, Va. landscape architect, to help them create an early English garden emulating other Colonial Revival gardens of 20th century. Gillette paid particular attention to the landscape of the garden, seeking balance and symmetry. Admirers cite the originality in his designs, achieving “freedom within form.” Many of Gillette’s design features like the boxwood parterres, the high garden walls, a garden house, brick walks, and custom-designed gates, still play prominent roles in today’s garden. Other planned features, like a well house, were never constructed. When viewed from above, the boxwood parterres form the shape of a butterfly. The large boxwood around the perimeter of the garden dates to the 1930s, and was planted as part of Gillette’s plan. The smaller boxwood used in the parterres is a modern dwarf Korean boxwood variety. The landscape at the Amstel House is a blend of many different elements - both natural and manmade. An exhibit about the history of the garden is in the Garden House. - The Garden House was a feature of Gillette’s original plan. It was built in 1938 using period materials salvaged from other structures. A large outbuilding stood on this site by 1805. - The 1789 English Sundial serves as a focal point in Gillette’s plan for the parterres. It sits on a Renaissance-era Pilaster from London Bridge. They were purchased for the garden in 1936 by Mary Chichester duPont - The stepping stones of the Path to Independence came from the homes of men that signed the Declaration of Independence and other historic sites related to the Revolutionary War. - The Bake Oven was recreated in 1938 as part of Gillette’s garden plan. Masons from Williamsburg, Va. were brought in to build the oven. The original bake oven was larger, and had a roof above it. - The Hackberry tree was planted in the mid-1930s to replace a large walnut tree that was struck by lightning. Hackberry trees are related to elms and typically reach 40’ - 80’ in height. This is one of Delaware’s largest specimens. The Dutch House Gardens When the Delaware Society for the Preservation of Antiquities purchased the Dutch House in 1937 to establish a museum, there was a neighboring house standing on the location of today’s Dutch Kitchen Garden. This house was sold and moved to the rear of the adjacent lot to the northwest of the Dutch House. The house still stands next to the Native Plant Garden, facing East Fourth Street. The Colonial Revival Garden After the New Castle Historical Society acquired the Dutch House and grounds in the late 1940s, plans were made to design a Colonial Revival garden. In 1952, the Homsey Architects of Wilmington designed a country-formal space with walkways, fences, notable plants, herbs and a perennial bed. The architects sought to create an idealized colonial garden representing Delaware’s earliest times which included formal gardens of early Anglo-Dutch design, as well as plants identified as “appropriate” early varieties. A distinctive smokehouse was built in 1939, a gift from the National Society of the Colonial Dames in the State of Delaware - the first step to addressing the interpretation of the garden space. A parterre garden and a pear orchard were the first major planting projects on the property. Homsey also recommended decorative details on a modest scale, such as “very small” benches and arbors, ornamental pots and tubs. The parterre is one of the most obvious elements of the Homsey design to survive. Other designs from the plan include the brick walk and Virginia Lilacs near the smokehouse, the bench location, and the use of potted herbs along the back wall of the Dutch House. The Dutch Kitchen Garden In 2011 a unique kitchen garden, inspired by the foodways of Dutch colonials, was created in the parterre garden. The research of Hudson Valley food historian Peter Rose inspired our landscape designer to create a kitchen garden appropriate to the 17th century and the space that is defined by the original Homsey design. Using Rose’s research into the Dutch colonial diet of the 17th century, our designer selected a mix of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers to accurately reflect the culinary history and traditions of the Dutch colonists. The Kitchen Garden is woven into the 1950s-era parterre garden, beginning just inside the garden gate. Nearby are two raised beds that exhibit root vegetables, colorful herbs and dwarf fruit trees. The Kitchen Garden plants are attractive and useful. The plants change throughout the year according to a planned schedule. The garden’s produce is harvested by volunteers that tend the garden. Like the Amstel House, the Dutch House landscape is not a natural landscape. Its elements have all been carefully planned and designed for more than half a century. - The Brick Walks in the yard are part of the 1950 Homsey plan. A bench near the walk allow visitors to pause to enjoy the gardens. - The recreated Smokehouse was built in 1939 to provide visual interest and serve as an example of the type of utilitarian outbuildings that likely stood in the Dutch House yard in the 18th century. - The Perennial Bed is designed to provide vibrant splashes of red and yellow. Starting with narcissus and tulips in the spring the bed explodes in a summer season of high color perennials. The roses are a 17th century hybrid. - The Raised Beds of the organic kitchen garden provide space for root crops including carrots, radishes, onions, and greens. The beds are surrounded by blueberries and creeping strawberries - The Native Plant Garden In 2011, the Arasapha Garden Club created a unique city garden designed exclusively with plants native to the Mid-Atlantic region. The Native Plant Garden is a display of beautiful, easy-to-maintain, native plants integrated into a historic setting. All plants are available locally and are artfully arranged to thrive within their optimal conditions. The visually pleasing arrangement of four microclimates - moist shade, moist sun, dry shade & dry sun - presents a feast for the senses throughout all seasons. Communities of groundcovers, perennials, shrubs and trees have been incorporated for aesthetic appeal and support, and form the structure repeated throughout the four microclimates. Near the Fourth Street gate stand four oak-leaf hydrangeas set within a dry climate. To their right is a mini-garden of sun-loving plants, and to their left an array of shade-lovers. Throughout the garden, beauty is expressed in details. Note trellises of climbing perennials, including honeysuckle; a lacey aster on the board fence; and an old-fashioned climbingprairie rose and Carolina jasmine - all decorating previously empty vertical spaces. This is a garden for all seasons, opening in the spring with the emergence of diminutive hepatica, the stately trillium, Jacob’s ladder, and Virginia bluebells. Explosions of colorful azeleas continue the spring show with bird-foot violets, northern blue flag iris and meadow rue creating additional color and texture to the garden design. Summer is a riot of assorted milkweeds, joe pye weed, four coneflower varieties and a unique tickseed. The ‘Blue Paradise’ phlox is a star, and the repetition of the flaming red cardinal flower, as well as the spectacular blue lobelia and bright orange butterfly weed, present bold colors that complement the remarkable pink-flowered yellow wood tree. Fall arrives boldly in the leafing of the redbud tree and several types of asters waving in the breeze, accented by assorted types of goldenrod. A variety of grasses add grace to the plant groupings. In the winter the garden sleeps, holding the promise of a new season. Songbirds enjoy seed heads and berries, and rest in the junipers. Ferns nestle beneath the dormant shrubs. Why Choose Native Plants? Native plants have adapted to the local climate and soil conditions where they naturally occur. As a result, native species are very low maintenance. Once established, they do not need pesticides, fertilizers or watering. Native plants provide much needed habitat for local wildlife including birds, butterflies, beneficial insects and animals. As native habitats are lost to development, gardens, parks and other public landscapes can provide a link to remaining local wildlands. Since native plants are local, they are easy to find in your area. Not only will you find local species at nearby garden centers, but you may be able to obtain plants for free from a friend or fellow gardener that lives nearby.
ARASAPHA GARDEN CLUB
Since 1934, New Castle's Arasapha Garden Club has worked to maintain the beauty and integrity of our historic gardens, and they continue to support the gardens today, almost 90 years later.