The Perfect Traditional Garden Shed at Seven Gates Farm
“James Cramer has embraced a life based on traditions of the past. He is influenced perhaps by those who had lived before him, or maybe the discovery of pottery shards and Civil War artifacts he found while digging in his gardens."
Perhaps his dream of living in the country was influenced by his great-grandmother’s World War II Victory Garden turned self-sustaining vegetable farm. It took up the entire yard behind her white farmhouse where James Cramer spent the first fifteen years of his life. He wrote about it in his book, The Gardens & Accoutrements of James Cramer. “It is said that you are impressionable the first years of your life and now I see where my love of gardening came from. I realize that the things I do now all came from my growing up years – even canning. I realize as I get older how important that time with my great-grandmother was and how it has shaped me as an adult . “
Thirty years ago, James went in search of recreating that special feeling he so loved from his childhood. As happenstance may have it, he found himself on a country road on the outskirts of a town in western Maryland, looking at a ‘for sale’ sign. The old log smokehouse and summer kitchen to the 19th century brick-clad log farmhouse had initially caught his attention. He eventually learned that this had been the centerpiece of a 240-acre family farm, abutting the Civil War’s Antietam Battlefield. This one little acre, house, and outbuildings were owned by the same family who lived there when the Civil War was raging right next door.
If it was the country life he wanted, complete with a rich history – James had found it"
James christened the home “Seven Gates”, after the gates that separated the series of newly created garden rooms. The gardens evolved into the foundation of his life and then became the base of his career. James, an author and a magazine editor and garden stylist for Country Living, Cottage Living and Country Home magazines, found inspiration there for his work and was able to use them as his creative base.
Along with the passion for country life came his love of everything old. His garden shed filled with antique gardening tools, implements and containers used by gardeners of yesteryear, most of which he has used in cultivating his own gardens. Initially he bought them for props and photo shoots, but his fascination of cloches and terracotta seed starter pots grew to include beekeeper’s hats, potting tables, urns and much more. Before he knew it, James’ inventory was so big that he had to start an antiques business in nearby Hagerstown specializing in garden tools and accessories to handle the overflow.
Thinking the shop was the answer to help pare down his collection, he found the opposite was true. It only enabled him to rotate out no longer used items to be replaced by other wonderful finds he’d discover.
How to preserve plants & bulbs from season to season
James, as a traditionalist, starts his seeds in small terracotta seed starter pots in the warmth of his greenhouse in the winter. When the weather warms in the spring and he feels the urge to get a head start on the growing season (and he simply wants to get outside), he’ll use the cloches, the clear glass bells that are placed over the seedlings. When the sun warms them during the day, they keep the ground and seedlings warm, acting as individual green houses.
Summer: Dahlias do well in garden beds or a cutting garden. They bloom from mid-summer to first frost.
To winter: Dig up bulbs and keep a stem length of about 18” to 24”. Store them upside down or in dry wood shavings. Dahlias are tubers so the new spouting plants can be separated off and planted anew.
Summer: Pot geraniums in urns, pots, and window boxes around the garden and house. If you like, plant them in some beds.
To winter: Dig them up and hang them upside down for the winter. The greenery falls off but once they are back in the ground come spring, they’ll grow prolifically.
How to Save Your Seeds
James saves seeds from his green and white zinnias, white marigolds, larkspur and Queen Anne’s lace.
1- Pick the heads of the flowers after they bloom, drying them on a screen rack.
2. After they dry, store them in glass jars.
3. Around March to April, pull the heads apart and plant the seeds in seed trays. Set near a warm, sunlit filled window–or, if you have one, in a greenhouse.
4. When the seedlings are 2”- 3” high, replant them in small pots.
5. After the first frost, plant them in the ground.
Hint: Instead of small pots, use old egg cartons to start seeds. Fill them with potting soil and plant the seeds. When they are about 4” high, cut the egg carton apart and put the plants directly in the ground.