Thursday, July 11, 2013

Gardening at Marble Springs

Thanks to our volunteer, Kristin Brig, who researched and wrote this blog entry for us!
Is this a watermelon or a pumpkin?

Is that a watermelon?

We’ve been hearing this question a lot at Marble Springs, in regards to our garden. What you’re actually seeing is a pumpkin!

Our garden isn’t only full of these (currently) green beauties…  We’ve also got corn, squash, onions, tomatoes, and more. In growing true colonial foods, we try to think about what John Sevier might have grown back in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. After all, not all historic preservation has to take place in a museum, or the cabins that you visit here on site; in fact, much historic preservation goes towards maintaining gardens!

Gardens served several purposes in the colonial era. For instance, if you travel up to Colonial Williamsburg or Charleston’s historic homes, you will find gardens teeming with some of the most colorful flowers to be found in the South. In these instances, gardens served a purpose of beauty, of giving serenity to a bustling household, and of showcasing the stately nature of the wealthy inhabitants of said households.[i] Today, much as the colonists did three hundred years ago, visitors to such places enjoy a stroll along the garden paths, studying the colorful flowers and remarking on the geometry used by the colonists.

Yet John Sevier’s gardens went beyond just cultivation of flowers. For Sevier and other colonial settlers along the frontier, gardens meant food, a form of self-sustaining farming. And today, unlike the colonists of three hundred years ago, visitors often wonder why such gardens have fewer flowers and more crops than townhomes do, especially for a man as politically active as John Sevier. Visitors instead should take away a different message from these maintained gardens: the colonists put a lot of work into producing much of the same food for their tables that we only have to purchase at our local grocery stores. According to Therese Ciesinski from Organic Gardening, “What [colonists] grew and how they grew it reveals the differences between then and now…and emphasizes how difficult it was to coax food from the ground.”[ii] As a result, maintaining the gardens here at Marble Springs not only gives visitors something delectable (and sweet-smelling) to look at, but also something to make them think about how difficult the life of a colonist truly was, even in aspects of simply getting food to eat. 

Our herb garden is also undergoing a transformation, as we are currently expanding it and removing the walk-in areas. For a colonist, herbs provided flavoring for food as well as medicine for basic illnesses. Typically, colonists raised their herb garden beds so that water would drain quicker and the soil would warm quicker in the spring and summer.[iii] As such, our herb garden beds here at Marble Springs are raised, as is our vegetable garden. (They are also raised due to the archaeologically sensitive ground that the gardens sit on).

A big thanks to our fantastic volunteers, Jim Buckenmyer, who helps us out with our gardening workshops, and Fran Brown who has been helping us with weeding and cutting back the herbs.

[i] “The Lure of Colonial Gardens,” JSTOR, 455.
[ii] Therese Ciesinski, “How We Grew,” Organic Gardening.
[iii] “Colonial Herbs,”

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