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Public Display Gardens

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Ah, summer. Long, lazy days played out beneath a China-blue sky. Idle hours spent in summer idylls. In the garden, crops ripening to perfection with just enough time between harvests to visit some of the many public gardens that feature heirloom vegetables. Some are in botanical gardens, others in living history museums, and still others are demonstration gardens sponsored by a variety of organizations. Most of these gardens specialize in a certain era. While the nineteenth century is popular, the gardens listed below showcase heirlooms from three millennia. The oldest plants in them are from the British Iron Age; the newest are from World War II Victory Gardens. In between, there are colonial, Victorian, pioneer homestead, and other gardens.

I've visited only about a half-dozen of these gardens. While the ones I've seen are really wonderful, others may not fulfilled their potential. While there are all kinds of reasons for problems (the weather stinks, funding fell through, volunteers quit, etc.), one does not want to book a flight and travel 3,000 miles to see them. To avoid such a debacle, contact the places in question and grill them for information. In other words, this page offers information, not endorsements or guarantees.

Arizona

Sharlot Hall Museum
415 West Gurley Street
Prescott, Arizona 86301
Phone: (928) 445-3122

Historian and poet Sharlot Hall founded this central Arizona museum dedicated to human and natural history in 1928. Since then, it has become the largest museum in its area, with exhibits, festivals, living history, and other activities. Of interest to heirloom gardeners is an 1870s kitchen garden planted with period-appropriate vegetables. The museum also has three other gardens. They include a pioneer herb garden, an ethnobotanical garden of plants used by Native Americans, and a rose garden that honors pioneer Arizona women. The gardens complement six historic buildings on the museum grounds.

Tucson Botanical Gardens
2150 N. Alvernon Way
Tucson AZ 85712
Phone: (520) 326-9686
Fax (520) 324-0166
e-mail: Info@tucsonbotanical.org

In addition to many other fine displays, this large garden has an area devoted to Native American crops. It features traditional foods from the American Southwest. The summer garden displays historic varieties of corn, beans, squash, melons, and chiles, and the winter garden showcases wheat, peas, onions, garbanzo beans, and other "recent" European introductions.

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California

Bernhard Museum Complex
291 Auburn-Folsom Road
Auburn, California 95603
Phone: (530) 889-6500

Built in 1851 as the Traveler's Rest Hotel, this property passed through several hands before the Bernhard family purchased it in 1868. They were pioneers in the region's wine industry, growing grapes in a vineyard they planted on the land. Today, the grounds remember that heritage. The home re-creates farm life in the 1890s, and the grounds are planted with landscaped with zinfandel grapes, heirloom vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

The Fullerton Arboretum
1900 Associated Road
Fullerton, CA 92831
Phone: (714) 278-3579
Fax (714) 278-7066
e-mail: farboretum@fullerton.edu

A 26-acre teaching arboretum with major collections devoted to conifers, carnivorous plants, primitive plants, palms, and more, the Fullerton Arboretum also has collections of interest to heirloom gardeners. The grounds include a Historical Collection planted around a Victorian cottage built in 1894 by an early Fullerton physician. Plantings here include an 1890s kitchen garden with heirloom vegetables, a cutting garden, culinary and fragrant herbs, and a collection of medicinal plants mentioned in the doctor's papers.

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Delaware

Hagley Museum and Library
P.O. Box 3630
Wilmington, DE 19807-0639
Phone: (302) 658-2230

email: info@hagley.org Hagley Museum has two gardens that depict gardens from different times and different classes. The E. I. du Pont Garden, once the garden of a wealthy gunpowder manufacturer, is a late eighteenth century garden in the French tradition. It displays period-appropriate vegetables, flowers, herbs, and fruits. The Workers' Garden shows the more modest garden of company foreman John Gibbons from 1854 to the 1880s. Gibbons grew food and herbs for his family of six kids in this garden, and this garden exhibits heirlooms from that era.

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Illinois

Boone County Conservation District Heritage Gardens
603 N. Appleton Road
Belvidere, IL 61008
Phone: (815) 547-7935

Twenty years ago, the Boone County Conservation District started with heirloom gardening. They now have five gardens bursting with historic vegetables. Each displays heirlooms associated with a particular group that settled in the county: Yankees, Norwegians, Germans, Scots, and the Potawatomi, one of the Great Lakes Woodland Native Americans. These gardens and the crops in them open a window on Boone County's past and tell stories of the immigrant experience, of pioneer life, and of indigenous traditions. They also make for some tasty eating.

Garfield Farm and Inn Museum
P. O. Box 403
LaFox, IL 60147
Phone: (630) 584-8485
e-mail: info@garfieldfarm.org

A pioneer farm museum that dates back 150 years, complete with heirloom vegetable gardens, rare breed livestock, historic fruit trees, and antique farm tools.

Kline Creek Farm at Timber Ridge Forest Preserve
Forest Preserve District of DuPage County
P. O. Box 5000
Wheaton, Illinois 60189-5000
Phone: (630) 876-5900
e-mail: forest@dupageforest.com

Re-creating farm life in DuPage County, Illinois circa 1890, the Kline Creek Farm features original buildings, historic livestock breeds, and a kitchen garden planted with heirlooms.

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Indiana

Wylie House Museum
307 E. 2nd St.
Bloomington, Indiana 47401
Phone: (812) 855-6224
e-mail: libwylie@indiana.edu

Built in 1835, Wylie House was the home of Indiana University's first president, Andrew Wylie. Today, it is a museum, showing how the Wylies lived in the 1840s. Volunteers are re-creating a period garden on the grounds, one which includes both heirloom vegetables and ornamentals.

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Iowa

Living History Farms
2600 111th Street
Urbandale, IA 50322
Phone: (515) 278-5286 (office)
e-mail: info@lhf.org

Spanning three centuries of agricultural history, Living History Farms has perhaps a dozen vegetable gardens plus 40 acres of field crops, all planted with period-appropriate plants. One exhibit here explores what Native American agriculture was like in a 1700 Ioway Indian Village. Others show what the Euro-American settlers grew on farms in 1850 and 1900. Still other gardens show kitchen gardening in 1875. The musuem also features historic flower and herb gardens, as well as period orchards. The web site once included an information-rich page detailing the varieties in each of five period gardens, from c1700 to 1900. It was immensely helpful to anyone re-creating a period garden, and to other heirloom gardeners. Fortunately, it is still available at the Internet Archive. Find it by visiting the Wayback Machine , and typing the URL: *http://www.ioweb.com/lhf/garden.html* in the search box at that site.

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Kansas

Old Cowtown Museum
1865 Museum Boulevard
Wichita, KS 67203
Phone: (316) 660-1871
e-mail: cowtown@sedgwick.gov

At this museum, the Way-Back Machine is set to era just after the Civil War (1865-1880) and the place is old Wichita. Everything here -- an entire town complete with stores, homes, offices, churches, and even a jail -- looks just like it did on the southern plains 125 years ago. So do the gardens, which feature both edibles and ornamentals from the period. Costumed staffers portray townspeople of the time and bring the area's rich history to life. Even the farm animals are historic breeds.

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Maryland

National Colonial Farm
The Accokeek Foundation
3400 Bryan Point Road
Accokeek, MD 20607
Phone: (301) 283-2113, Fax: (301) 283-2049
e-mail: accofound@accokeek.org

A living history museum, the Colonial Farm brings portrays everyday life on a working farm. Forget about upscale living. This place has no manor houses, orangeries, or lavish pleasure gardens. Instead, this farm shows what it was like to be a working stiff, circa 1775. The farmstead includes a modest home, outbuildings, and kitchen garden that shows period-appropriate heirlooms. The farm animals are breeds of a similar vintage. There is lots more to see at this museum -- a demonstration farm, a nature preserve, and other attractions.

William Paca Garden
186 Prince George Street
Annapolis, MD 21401
Phone: (410) 263-5553, (800) 603-4020

A city garden, circa 1760-1780, complete with heirloom vegetables, antique fruit, and vintage ornamentals. William Paca, one of four Marylanders who signed the Declaration of Independence, would have felt right at home here.

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