Grounds & Gardens
The Trent House Museum's grounds include a small-scale kitchen garden, a replica bee house, and a planting of heirloom apple trees. These represent in miniature how produce was grown for Trent's household.
Though considerably smaller than Trent’s own kitchen garden would have been, today’s garden is planted in an 18th century style with raised beds and tamped dirt paths between and within the beds. Just as the Trent House is symmetrical, so is the garden. It is divided into four equal squares, as was the custom of the day.
Managed by historical horticulturist Charles Thomforde with the assistance of Rutgers Mercer County Master Gardeners, who conduct an award-winning program in the garden for Trenton campers each summer, the four-parterre garden grows examples of vegetables and herbs that Trent’s garden probably contained. Many are still recognizable today: shell peas, cabbage, kale, asparagus, carrots, cucumbers, turnips, radishes, Irish and sweet potatoes, garlic, onions, as well as chives, spearmint, lemon balm. Other may be less known to modern gardeners, such as borage (for the flowers), good King Henry and sorrel (pot herbs), gooseberry and currants, citron melons (for pickling), radish pods, and elecampane (for medicine). Among the medicinal plants grown in the garden is celandine, used for various problems with the digestive tract including upset stomach, gastroenteritis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, loss of appetite, stomach cancer, intestinal polyps, and liver and gallbladder disorders.
Adjacent to the garden is a replica of a “bee house” with two skeps, which housed bees. Europeans brought honey bees to North America in the early 1600s. By the time William Trent built his house at the Falls of the Delaware in 1719, escaped wild bees were living in the woodlands all over the colonies. The native people called bees “the Englishman’s fly.” Bees were kept to produce honey as a sweetener and wax for candles. The role of bees in pollinating food crops was not discovered until the mid-1700s.
An advertisement to sell or lease the House in 1759 described “an Orchard of about 350 Apple-trees, whereof about 150 are old bearing Trees, the others just beginning to Bare and are of the best Grafted Fruit, there is also a fine Collection of other Fruit, to wit, Peaches, Damsels, Cherries of several Sorts, Squinces, English Walnuts, Grapes, Raspberries, and a handsome large [kitchen] Garden.” The Pennsylvania Journal, no. 866, 12 July 1759, reprinted in Nelson, Newspaper Extracts, first Series, Vol XX, page 365.
Our cultivated apples are not native to the New World, probably originating in Central Asia. Grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe, they were introduced to North America by European colonists.
From the beginning, European arrivals in New Jersey grew apples for cider. They also grew apples for eating fresh, for drying, and for cooking. The Trent estate would have included an orchard sufficient to yield 1,000 gallons of cider per year.
Today there is a miniature orchard of heirloom varieties likely grown in the region in the 1700s, researched by Charles Thomforde and designed and planted as the Eagle Scout project of Sidhant Swami of Troop 43, Princeton, with the help of members of the Rutgers Master Gardeners of Mercer County and other volunteers. To learn more about apples and the Trent House orchard, click here. For a map of the orchard, click here.