Renfrew Institute biologist writes book about four-square gardens

December 16, 2009

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- Renfrew Institute faculty member and staff biologist Doris Armstrong Goldman has created a new publication, "Moon Rue & Mary's Root: Plants of the Pennsylvania Dutch Four-Square Garden."

The book was produced in electronic format and is available on CD with .pdf files.

The work covers more than 400 cultivated and wild plants that were grown and used by the Pennsylvania Dutch in traditional four-square gardens, according to a news release.

Entries include information about fruits, vegetables, cooking herbs, ornamentals and plants used for medicines, soaps, perfumes and children's toys from around 1800 through the Civil War era.

More than 100 botanical illustrations highlight the text.

"We know that the Pennsylvania Dutch families who lived 200 years ago on the property of what is now Renfrew Museum & Park in Waynesboro definitely used at least 70 of these plants," Goldman said. "Seeds of 26 plants were identified during archeological excavation of the circa-1810 privy on the property, and 42 others were nonnative plants that escaped from the gardens of early settlers and now grow wild in the park."


Many of the four-square garden plants have been grown for thousands of years. A quarter of them were first used by Native Americans, and 90 are mentioned in the Bible, the news release stated.

Each entry in the book includes the scientific, Pennsylvania Dutch and common English names for the plant, plus geographic origin, when the plant was first used, and how it was used by the Pennsylvania Dutch and others. Tips on traditional medicinal uses, recommended historical varieties and hints for cultivation are also included.

Goldman is a plant ecologist with a doctorate in biology from the University of Illinois. She supervised the installation and care of the existing four-square garden created at Renfrew Park in 1994, and is directing the relocation and expansion for a new garden, currently under construction.

Renfrew's garden is planted almost entirely by school children who visit the park each year as participants in the institute's school program, Four-Squares: The Pennsylvania German Garden. The garden is also open to the public.

Cost of the publication, which is available on CD only, is $20 plus state sales tax.

To purchase a copy, or for information on visiting the four-square garden, contact the institute office at 717-762-0373 or by e-mail at

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