Digging for Information
To discover which plants were original to Washington’s time, Boroughs’ team excavated the garden in sections. They dug long, shallow rectangles in several places. They dug just deep enough to see the natural clues that lay underground.
In some sections, the soil was a different color than the surrounding dirt. It was darker. This was an important clue. Washington used rich, manure-like soil for planting because it was more fertile. Based on the location of this darker soil, the team could see exactly where the original planting beds were.
During their excavation, the team dug up shallow sections of the garden to look for clues in the soil.
What the team found in the soil was even more interesting. The planting beds were full of evidence from Washington’s time. They found pollen and seeds in the beds. They also collected microscopic plant cell samples. These were sent to a special laboratory where scientists could determine the species of each plant. This was especially useful to the researchers because it helped inform them about whether a plant was indigenous to the region or exotic. Washington had both.
Importing plants from other parts of the world in the 18th century would have taken a lot of time, money, and connections. The plants in Washington’s garden were a living testament to the fact that he had a lot of money and power.