When taking on the Museum Garden, chief interpreter at the colonial farm Matt Mattingly added “master gardener” to his repertoire of extraordinary gifts and talents. Matt has been working hard this winter to transform the interpretation of the Museum Garden, which is located in the park along “Cedar Lane” directly across the Tobacco Barn yard. Through the years, this garden space has been used for a variety of educational purposes from school tours and gardening workshops to a self-guided interpretive space on backyard gardening techniques. This season, with Matt’s direction and the help of a core of dedicated volunteers, the garden will demonstrate the various cultural influences on gardening and agriculture through time.
Last week, I had the opportunity to spend the morning away from the confines of my desk to learn more about the garden’s transformation. In addition to the various culinary herbs and perennials that can be found along the perimeter of the fenced garden space, there will be three sections each for interpreting gardening techniques representative of Native, African and European-descendant Americans. The Native garden area will demonstrate the transition of the People of the Potomac from hunter-gatherers who found food sources among the various native plants of this region like Jerusalem artichoke and groundnuts to the farmers and seed-savers impacted by the arrival of corn to the region.
There will be what Matt calls a “pretty English garden” space which represents the neat and ornamental style of most English-influenced gardens. These gardens had clear and straight paths, were often square or rectangular in shape, and had a focal point marked by a statue or fountain with a place to sit so that the beauty of the garden could be enjoyed. In this space you will find growing Copenhagen Market cabbage, Early Blood turnips, Champion of England peas, as well as varieties of Sweet William, Impatiens, and Hollyhocks.
The final space, and the one that I find quite possibly the most intriguing, is the African keyhole garden. The keyhole garden design is a drought hardy sustainable raised-bed gardening method which uses kitchen and garden waste with water to provide a continual supply of nutrients for the garden. Its name is derived from the shape which is circular with a wedge-shaped opening leading to a basket in the center for compost that looks like a keyhole from above. Planted in the garden will be heirloom varieties like Cherokee Purple tomato and Fish pepper, as well as Collards Georgia Southern and Dipper gourds to interpret the food introduced to the region by Africans.
To learn more about “What’s Growing On?” in the gardens and fields at the farm, be sure to visit this spring and throughout the growing season. If you’re interested in a more hands-on learning experience with heirloom gardens and sustainable farm practices, get a little dirty and volunteer this year at the farm. Email email@example.com to learn how to become a Green Thumb or Crop Master.