Lesson: What Trees Can Tell Us

Trees gain one ring per year, like candles on a birthday cake. In this activity, students use tree rings to tell the story of a tree and its environment. Download the lesson plan and answer key here. Fit for elementary education.

 

Subjects: Plant science, natural science, simply math, historic preservation
Materials: Worksheet, glossary, and answer key (download) & pencil
Time: 25 minutes
Abilities:
5th grade reading level; basic counting and math; making comparison statements

 

Introduction:

Dendrochronology is the science of using tree rings to learn about the age and history of a piece of wood. Say the word out loud:

“ den-dro-chron-ol-o-gy ”


Dendrochronology is not only used for trees. Dendrochronology helps people learn about wooden buildings. Tree rings can also tell historians about the climate from long ago.

At Tudor Place, scientists took samples of wood from parts of the old house. The scientists used dendrochronology to learn what year the wood was cut down from a tree. They can’t know exactly, but they can make a good guess. The scientists discovered that parts of the building were older than we had thought. We can learn history through trees!

Learn how to read tree rings. Then find out what trees can tell us!

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From Our Garden | The Pecan Tree

By Kellie Cox, Director of Gardens and Grounds

With the season upon us for nutty treats like stuffing and candied pecans, our thoughts turn to an arboreal star at Tudor Place, its widely admired pecan tree. (If this makes your thoughts turn to nutty treats, try our Candied Pecans recipe!)

In our historic gardens, we are fortunate to have a magnificent pecan tree (Carya illinoensis), Washington, D.C.’s, oldest and largest living specimen, according to the Casey Trees Living Legacy Campaign. This 80-foot-plus tree was planted from a seed nut ca. 1875, when Britannia Peter Kennon (Thomas and Martha Peter’s daughter) owned Tudor Place. Britannia planted the nut in the Dining Terrace, southwest of the historic house, from a pecan nut given to her by Maggie Carraher, an Irish immigrant who worked as the Tudor Place cook. Surprisingly, given pecans’ preference for southern climates, the tree has survived and produces fruit to this day.

The pecan tree to my left was planted during my great-grandmother’s lifetime, in the east end of the arbor, by the kitchen. I think that she had expected it to shade the path in front of the house in the afternoon, but they decided that it was a little too close to the house, and it was then moved down to where you now see it. My Father said that it stayed there for many years, practically with out growing at all, probably as a result of cutting the tap root. However, a few years later it started to grow and ever since then has made a splendid growth every year.

— Armistead Peter III

History of the Pecan Tree

The name ‘Pecan’ is a Native American term, translating to “all nuts requiring a stone to crack”.  The history of pecan trees can be traced back to as early as the 1500s. Many people consider the pecan to be one of the most valuable North American nut species, as it is the only major tree nut that grows naturally in North America. One of the earliest pecan tree plantings was documented to around 1711, 60 years before the first recorded planting by colonists in the future United States. The first pecan tree planting on these shores occurred in Long Island, N.Y., in 1772. Towards the end of the 1700’s, pecan trees were planted along the eastern coast, including in the gardens of George Washington (ca. 1775) and Thomas Jefferson (ca. 1779). Their cultivation and commercial planting started in the 1880s, in Texas and Louisiana, and sales of pecans emerged throughout the country. Where Maggie Carraher obtained the nut she gave Britannia is unknown. It may have come from Mount Vernon or a local store in Washington.

Try Communications Director Mandy Katz’s recipe for candied pecans (great for homemade gift-giving!). And visit the historic pecan tree here any Tuesday through Sunday on a walk or self-guided tour of the 5½-acre historic garden for only $3 a visit. We also offer scheduled garden programs throughout the year, including monthly guided garden tours in spring through fall.  Thanks for reading and stay tuned for a new From Our Garden post in December!

BONUS: A recipe for Candied Pecans. Try it!
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From Our Garden | The Bowling Green

By Kellie Cox, Director of Gardens and Grounds

For this first post in From Our Garden, a new monthly blog at Tudor Place, I want to share with you one of the property’s several garden “rooms” and one of my favorite places here, the Bowling Green. The Bowling Green was also a favorite spot of Armistead Peter 3rd (1896-1983), the property’s last private owner.  Since joining the staff of Tudor Place as director of gardens and grounds in August, I have been studying the plant collections and history in these wonderful gardens. This has meant getting to “know” Armistead 3rd and the generations that preceded him here and their approaches to the landscape. I’m also getting to know the amazing garden staff and volunteers who have accomplished so much in just my first two months here. We are looking forward to many projects to come and to connecting more deeply to our community with new garden programs.

One way to share more of the gardens is on the web: This blog inaugurates what we hope will be much new media and educational garden programming online. We will write and share photos here about garden programming, background and information on our plants (comprising, so far as we know, the only formally accessioned flora collection in a historic house museum), and ongoing projects. And sometimes, like today, we will simply invite you to “visit” a special spot.

This tour starts not in the Bowling Green, but above it, in the enclosure called the Summer House, built in 1960-1961 during Armistead 3rd and Caroline’s ownership. This small structure and the path before it offer a delightful view of the Bowling Green stretching southward, framed by a matching pair of elegant greyhounds sculpted in lead. Proceeding from there down a curved flight of brick and flagstone steps that skirt the terraced area, a shaded brick pathway leads to the Green’s only entry, midway along its west side. Prominent in the entry path stands a tall, octagonal bird bath adorned by a cupid statue – a feature designed by Armistead Peter 3rd with inspiration from the works of Verocchio. This bird bath was once surrounded by Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis), and our goal this fall is to restore these historically-based plantings surrounding it.

Entering the sheltered area of the Bowling Green, you will find it surrounded by beautiful specimen trees and shrubs including American Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), American Holly (Ilex opaca), Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), and Kobus Magnolia (Magnolia kobus). No records suggest that any actual bowling went on here, but the name likely refers to the long, narrow lawn, which could have served for games like bocce or other forms of “bowls” or “lawn bowling.” At the green’s southern end, a statue by sculptor Paul Wayland Bartlett overlooks the brick-edged lily pond. Bartlett’s stepdaughter was Caroline Ogden-Jones Peter (1894-1965),Armistead 3rd’s first wife, and the collection contains many of his works. The lily pond statue replicates a figure Bartlett designed for the U.S. Capitol pediment, House wing, in 1909. The seating area by the lily pond here is one of the garden’s most relaxing areas, a great place to read a book for the afternoon.

We hope you enjoyed your digital visit and will come see us in person soon. You can tour the garden (orsix days a week, whenever we’re open, for only $3 a visit, or attend an upcoming garden program.  Stay tuned for a new garden blog post in November!

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Garden Tour · 4 · Boxwood Ellipse

HISTORY

listen, robin on branch

The Boxwood Ellipse is another of the earliest plantings on the property and dates to the time of the first owners, Martha and Thomas Peter. It is believed that the first planting of English boxwood came from a Mount Vernon cutting.

During the 19th century, the Ellipse was clipped lower than today, at just 12 to 18 inches. Only in the 20th century was the boxwood permitted to grow taller. Extreme snow and ice storms in 2009 and subsequent years have unfortunately thinned the once luxuriant “box.”

As a guest of Martha and Thomas Peter, the Ellipse would have been part of your welcome to Tudor Place. You would have entered from R Street, on the property’s northern edge, and followed the center path by horse or carriage until met by enslaved coachman Will Johnson. He would have tied your horse’s reins to the locust tree within the ellipse. The tree is no longer alive, but its stump is still visible amid the boxwood branches.

The garden on this side of the house is referred to as the North Garden and, in the 20th century, has been designed to complement the symmetry of the house. The layout is in the formal style with garden “rooms,” mimicking the idea of rooms in a house.

Another trusted long-term gardener at Tudor Place was Charles Taylor, who started in 1912 after the death of John Luckett. During his early years working on the estate, he lived with his mother nearby, at 1678 32nd Street. By the 1930’s, according to a census, he was married and living with his wife, mother, and mother-in-law at an address now unknown. He resigned in 1944 following a dispute with owner Armistead Peter, Jr., over his work.

boxwood and main house

1st Annual Tree Fest Celebrates the Tudor Place Canopy

 

Tulip poplar in fall

March 29, 2014 | 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Register Now

The shelter and dignity of the property’s historic trees — and the risks they face from the violent weather of recent years — have inspired a new event at Tudor Place: a Tree Fest, free and open to the public. Our local environment and the canopy of heritage trees are the focus, and there will be something for everyone!

  • An artisanal Market Fair offering sustainable merchandise and information from people and organizations working on behalf of the environment and landscape.
  • For families, puppet shows at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and games and crafts all day.
  • A 1 p.m. guided walk with tree expert Melanie Choukas-Bradley, author of City of Trees, will help you learn to understand and identify local species.
  • A chance to say “hello” to the newly planted white oak tree! It replaces the two-century-old specimen lost last year to age and storm damage and represents Tudor Place’s ongoing investment in the tall trees of tomorrow.

NOTE: Public transportation recommended. Tudor Place is easily reached by bus, Metro and a short walk, and bicycle (including Bike Share).

Vendor Information

Now taking vendor registrations for October! The Tree Fest is fully subscribed, but we are taking registrations from vendors and organizations now for the October 18 Fall Harvest Fest, also free and open to the public. Are you a talented regional artisan or food purveyor? Do you have crafts, merchandise, creative eats, and/or useful information to offer? Please contact us today!

Urban Archaeology: Evidence Emerges of Enslaved and Servant Home Life

by Director of Preservation Jessica Zullinger

After uncovering what first looked like a simple builder’s trench
(upper left unit), archaeologists opened  a second (lower right)
to determine the extent and distribution of artifacts. What they
found was not a builder’s trench at all!

Week two of excavations in and around the north garden “Tennis Lawn” at Tudor Place continues to produce remarkable archaeological findings. Last week, contractor Dovetail Cultural Resources uncovered what appeared to be the edge of a builder’s trench in one of the Orchard “units” (spade-dug pits). To follow up, Dovetail opened a second, adjacent unit to try to determine the trench’s size and extent.

What they discovered was not, in the end, a trench. At the level where they expected to find back-filled dirt in a narrow channel built to hold a foundation wall, the archaeologists instead found mounds of debris indicative of a domestic feature: Rather than a trench, they were digging in the feature itself, and coming across good-sized fragments of bone, ceramic sherds, buttons, a piece of pipe bowl, nails, and oyster shells, among other materials.

Artifacts removed from the dwelling feature include rough,
handmade pottery (left), ceramic sherds (center top)
and buttons (lower left).

The type and distribution of artifacts accords with what is typically associated with domestic dwellings inhabited by servants, and specifically enslaved servants. Equally exciting, from a reseearch perspective, are the nature of some of the ceramic sherds. These rough, hand-made pottery pieces suggest the type of vessels known to have been made by enslaved African Americans and primarily found in the Chesapeake and Carolina low-country regions. For Tudor Place, this remarkable discovery will be a huge step toward understanding and interpreting the lives of enslaved workers on this property and in nearby urban settings.

While this phase of archaeological investigation is coming to a close, we will continue to learn more about the project findings as the Dovetail team dates and analyzes the artifacts and their distribution pattern.  Stay tuned to the blog for more details in the months to come!

Soil removed from the unit and awaiting screening to separate artifacts
from soil. Large pieces of bone and bits of shell are visible in the bucket.

Things They Left Behind: Exploring Domestic Life Through Archaeology

by Director of Preservation Jessica Zullinger

December 2010: The comprehensive
Phase I archaeological survey begins.


There was excitement in the air Monday morning, despite the chilling wind, as the staff of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group arrived at Tudor Place to being a much anticipated Phase II archaeological project aimed at uncovering information about servant life at Tudor Place. Dovetail completed a comprehensive Phase I archaeological survey of the property in 2011. It entailed digging carefully mapped test pits at close intervals around the 5.5-acre property — exploratory archaeological work that uncovered fascinating fragments of domestic life, including ceramics, personal items such as buttons, and architectural debris.

These tantalizing hints from the Phase I study confirmed that the Tudor Place grounds are rich in archaeological resources and offered several intriguing possibilities for further study. Test pits in and west of the Tennis Lawn, to the house’s northeast, yielded a high concentration of domestic artifacts in a relatively small area, suggesting a possible connection to servant life at Tudor Place. This evidence of consistent activity over time, along with an 1863 map suggesting the location of an outbuilding in this area, prompted its selection for further study as part of the Phase II investigation, generously supported by The Marpat Foundation.

1863 Boschke Map showing location of outbuildings in north yard.
The current dig is targeting a possible structure in the eastern rear yard. 

Results came quickly: By 11:00 a.m. Monday, less than two hours after the dig started, several exciting ceramic fragments had turned up in the upper layers of the Tennis Lawn test pit. Among them was a lovely fragment of Rockingham ware, a type of refined earthenware produced in North American ca.1830-1930 and distinguished by the presence of a brownish glaze with a dripped or mottled effect over a yellow base.

Rockingham ware fragment found in the Tennis Lawn test pit
soon after the dig began, Monday, March 4.

Archaeologists dig test pits in layers, with the color of the soil or a change in texture and composition signifying the end of one layer and start of the next. In this way, artifacts can be understood in the context of the property’s history according to where they fall in the stratigraphy of the pit.

The topsoil has been removed from this test
pit just west of the Tennis Lawn. Archaeologist
Joe Blondino is beginning to dig into
the next layer of soil.
This test pit in the Tennis Lawn revealed flecks of brick
and charcoal in the layer just under the topsoil.

Throughout the week (when it isn’t snowing!) the archaeology team will continue digging up to seven test pits in hopes of uncovering more information about domestic life at Tudor Place, and particularly the lives of free and enslaved servants.

If you are interested in archaeology, or just curious to see how a dig operates, what a great time to visit Tudor Place and observe this exciting work in progress!

Shovel Ready! Knot Garden Restoration Underway

By Suzanne Bouchard, Director of Gardens & Grounds



Having progressed in the past year and a half from imagining to planning to scheduling, restoration of the formal English Knot Garden begins this month!  The project entails replacing the garden’s declining English boxwood with hardier varieties, improving the drainage system, and renovating soil beds. This ambitious restoration effort provides an opportunity to deepen our scholarship on the entire landscape feature and expand our commitment to sustainable gardening.

Tobacco blooms.

Phase one of the project requires: cutting back, digging up, and safely storing the rose bushes; removing the English boxwood, saving those that are still viable; and removing other plants growing within the beds such as the Cleome (common name: “spiderflower”) and flowering tobacco. Next, the soil will be removed down to ten inches and replaced with 3” of sand and fresh topsoil. At the same time, the drainage system will be restored to function effectively. In late October, we will plant new boxwood and replant the roses inside the new edged beds.


The restoration work has been generously funded by the Ruth S. Willoughby Foundation, and a donation from The Honorable Jane Sloat Ritchie and Mr. C. Jackson Ritchie will pay for replacement rose bushes. In fact, the question of which rose bushes to plant and which to replant poses questions both historic and botanical.

A copy of our knot garden, diagrammed and planted long ago at
Avenel in Virginia
offered insights into our garden’s history.


As we researched and documented the English Knot Garden, questions arose about the varieties of roses and their locations in the layout. We look to documentation of the grounds by Peter family members, in particular the last private owner, Armistead Peter 3rd.  The original Knot Garden design mentioned by Britannia Peter Kennon, his great-grandmother and the estate’s second owner, recalled a feature edged in boxwood and filled with a mixture of roses, perennials, bulbs, and annuals.  The Knot Garden was lost during the Civil War and the design “found” by Armistead Peter 3rd in 1926.  He and his father, Armistead Peter, Jr., replanted the box along with roses, sage, lavender, and ambrosia.


This 1984 photo shows the garden shortly after the property passed to
the Tudor Place Foundation.

Over time, more roses were added to the beds. The Knot Garden now holds a multitude of floribundas, hybrid teas, and several antique varieties. The Peters mentioned over 55 different rose varieties in writings that span 150 years.  However, when asked in 1982 to write an account of the garden’s evolution, Armistead Peter 3rd admitted he couldn’t identify all the varieties, because they had been replaced so often. In recent years, some have been identified with rosarian Nick Webber while others require further research.


Roses will be identified and
tagged before removal.

Tudor Place is committed to improving its maintenance program to incorporate more sustainable practices into daily routines.  The restoration project presents us with the challenge of maintaining rose beds surrounded by boxwood while using sustainable practices.  As our readers may know, rose cultivation can depend heavily on chemicals to control fungal diseases, mites, and a host of other insects.  We currently have a spray program that begins in March and ends in October. During spring, we spray the roses twice a week; in early summer up until fall, the schedule stretches to once every three weeks. For many varieties, this program is essential for healthy roses, preventing defoliation by June.


Cleome, or “spiderflower,” leaning in from the left, are among
several varieties of flowering plants growing alongside the roses.

New trials at the New York Botanical Garden and other public sites are testing which rose varieties best tolerate pests without chemical applications, while some public gardens have switched to an all-organic approach. When we reinstall the roses at the end of October, we will apply a new approach to caring for the Knot Garden. First, we will begin reducing the amount of pesticides we apply while monitoring the roses to see which ones can thrive with a less rigorous spraying schedule. We will stop the current spray program completely and replace it with an all-organic spray program. The boxwood hedges surrounding the rose beds will be added to the organic program to reduce the total amount of synthetic chemicals used in the garden.

As with any change in practice, it will take time to see what approach works best. Our goal is to continue showcasing the roses so loved by the Peter family while using sustainable practices. To retain aesthetic continuity in the historic garden, roses unable to thrive in the new environment will be replaced with hardier but similar varieties. The oldest and best-documented roses, such as ‘Old Blush,’ will receive special attention to support their continued presence. 

Watering in the Heat: Hands, Hoses and History

I think the greatest measure of a gardener’s ability 
is the ability to water and feed plants correctly. 
A plant can be as easily killed by overwatering as by underwatering; in fact, possibly more easily. However, 
when a plant shows the need for water, don’t hesitate.

 

These are the words of Armistead Peter 3rd, Tudor Place’s last private owner.  Given the weather of recent days, we take to heart his remark, “Don’t hesitate.”
July’s heat wave, the mid-Atlantic’s worst since 1995, imposes excessive environmental stresses on designed landscapes like the historic garden at Tudor Place. Whether in containers or beds of various types, in conditions like these, all our plants need watering. While our aims are historic, maintaining plantings installed by the Peter family over two centuries, we turn to the most modern methods we can to conserve water and water only when necessary.

 

For a public garden, also hosting beautiful weddings
and other events, green lawns are a priority.
Our lawns are seeded with tall fescue, which needs watering all summer to prevent dormancy: As a public garden which hosts events, we do keep our lawns green as best we can. We are lucky to have automatic irrigation on the South Lawn, reaching almost an acre of turf, with runoff benefiting the  perimeter plantings and islands. But the formal garden rooms on the house’s north side are less fortunate. The North Garden must be watered by hand, sprinkler and, to minimize water loss through evaporation, soaker hose. We water in the early morning, to give foliage time to dry and thus reduce the spread of powdery mildew. With an older pipe system, only a few sprinklers can run at a time, so water pressure must be monitored.
Morning watering in the Bowling Green.

We water the garden in sections, as our diverse plantings each have their own requirements. Mature plants are watered less often than newly planted material, and established trees require less water than herbaceous beds. We concentrate on the container plants, which can dry out quickly, and new trees.

The latter we water weekly, except when rainfall has measured at least an inch. (As Armistead Peter 3rd noted, overwatering can be as harmful as underwatering.) Watering during extreme conditions

Herbaceous beds, like this one on our center walk, are
laid with an eye to plants’ native needs.
helps minimize heat stress, but we won’t know the full extent of any heat damage for another month or two, when stress symptoms might typically begin to appear.
Every generation has added improvements and applied new learning. Today, our emphasis is on finding suitable environments for our plantings, which reduces the need for human intervention later. As new arrivals are put in, we assess soil conditions in the design phase and embed each according to its “cultural” (soil, water and light) requirements. This helps them thrive.
As you walk through our gardens, you will see evidence of similar care and thoughtfulness, dating back 200 years.

More on the Garden

Garden Programs

Visit the Garden

To visit our gardens: Tudor Place grounds are open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 to 4, and Sundays, noon to 4. Self-guided visits to the Garden are free; illustrated garden maps and smartphone audio garden tour information are available in the Visitor Center.

 

Originally posted July 2011; links updated March 2015.

Reviving the ‘Niagara:’ A Grapevine Story

“Big Daddy:” For almost 50 years, this
Niagara grapevine held up the arbor.

Armistead Peter 3rd was a faithful steward of his family’s house and gardens at Tudor Place, but that doesn’t mean he never made changes. In the early 1960s, he built an arbor in which to sit and enjoy the North Garden. To its northeast corner, he added a ‘New Dawn’ climbing rose (roses being a specialty). In spring, he knew, the front would be covered in blush colored blossoms. For summer interest, he planted two grape vines to cover the back.


Mr. Peter chose his vines carefully. One of his father’s favorites had been a red variety, Vitis ‘Delaware’, so he added that to the southwest corner of the arbor and planted the northwest corner with a green variety, Vitis ‘Niagara.’ Both were and are popular table grapes also used in wine making. The vines stayed put for 50 years on what came to be called the Grape Arbor.


While the plants thrived, though, the arbor itself suffered from insect damage, rot, and the passage of time. Starting last fall and over the winter, we restored it to its original condition in Mr. Peter’s day. That required removing all the climbing plants in November, in order to dismantle the structure and pour new concrete footers. The climbing rose, unfortunately, had to be discarded after removal, as an infection of rose mosaic virus was causing it to lose canes without producing new strong ones. (We replaced it this spring.)


Next, the grape vines. After cutting them back and excavating the rooting areas, we found that the Delaware grape had just one large and viable root. So, rather than remove it, we gently propped it on a nearby viburnum for the duration of the project. The Niagara, by contrast, we discovered was actually holding up the arbor’s entire northwest corner, where the wooden base had rotted. It was carefully removed to a protected location and heeled in. Beforehand, though, we took cuttings – four stems, each 12-15 inches long with at least 2 sets of buds each — and refrigerated them, just in case.

Out of the fridge: heirloom Niagara cuttings repotted.
The next generation.
Well, “just in case” came to pass: The Niagara didn’t survive its replanting, so two months ago, the cuttings came out of the refrigerator and were repotted. We placed the pots in a sunny location and watered them faithfully. All four rooted within the month! Today, we are happy to say that the healthiest was installed in the northwest corner of the Grape Arbor, replacing the parent vine.

Just as Tudor Place passed from generation to generation, now this arbor has passed to a descendant, too. It will take some time before it grows to cover the northwest corner, but we can now take confidence that a Niagara grape vine will always be at Tudor Place.