Pomegranate trees in Colonial Williamsburg
Saturday, 29 Nov 08 Sunny 7°C / 45°F
As I mentioned in a previous journal, I spent the past week in Colonial Williamsburg celebrating Thanksgiving by being a tourist.
Out of everything I saw, my second favorite was these pomegranate trees (my first favorite was a Union graveyard in the middle of the Revolutionary War battlefield of Yorktown, where Cornwallis surrendered to Washington, but that’s not really garden-related).
These trees were growing in the garden of the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, a reproduction of what the palace was like when the last royal governor in Virginia, Lord Dunmore, lived there just before the American revolution. On our last day in Williamsburg, I walked through the palace gardens by myself. The shrubbery maze was fun, the flower beds (naked, except for what looked like Carex morrowii and some dry-grass mulch of some sort), and the canal was lovely, but what truly stopped me in my tracks were these trees.
When I first saw their multi-stemmed shape popping out of the ground like a cone (3rd picture), I thought “wow, ocatillos?” Ocatillo is a desert tree that looks like dead sticks in the winter and grows in a cone shape — but it seemed unlikely that ocatillos grew in Colonial Williamsburg. I stepped closer and noticed clumps of something in the trees (2nd picture) — and then it hit me that they were pomegranates.
Pomegranates! I had always thought that pomegranates were Mediterranean plants, totally unsuited to colder climates. But it turns out that fruiting pomegranates do quite well in zone 8 and higher. It appears that Williamsburg is zone 7. Zone 7!! I live in zone 7!! When the fruit ripens, it turns bright red and will hold on the tree for some time, until it suddenly burst open and spills seeds everywhere (1st picture).
After seeing the rest of the gardens, I pestered the poor docent working at the entrance to the palace gardens with questions — yes they did have pomegranates during the Colonial period, no he didn’t know where the originated (turns out it is the Mediterranean) or how they came to Virginia, no they don’t need special protection in winter although they do sometimes smudge them in spring to protect the buds them from late frosts, yes they took up a lot of space so only a rich person like the governor could have them, no he didn’t know if the Colonial nursery sold them (it didn’t), and no he didn’t know how old the trees were or at what age they had been planted in the garden.
Hrmmm. While I enjoyed the trip and Colonial Williamsburg, one frustration I had was that too many of the docents and recreators didn’t know the answers to questions that were a little bit complex. For example, when I asked a man portraying John Randolph if John Randolph had been born in England or Virginia, he didn’t know the answer. They were used to answering questions from children about how many of the guns were real and if the wigs itched and how come they didn’t wear long pants and to answering questions from parents about where the bathrooms were and how to rent Colonial costumes for their kids and if the pop-gun muskets had real flint locks (serious! I overheard that question more than once!). Anyway, I digress.
I’ve since done a bit of research and concluded that pomegranates are probably not for me — it’s a good thing the nursery didn’t sell the plants. In zone 7, young plants would need winter protection, which I’m not willing to provide. They also produce more fruit than I’m willing to deal with. I’ll go back to researching fig trees. But it was so cool to see actual pomegranate trees — I’m scheming now about how to get back there in spring to see them in bloom. I’ve heard pomegranate flowers are lovely.