ago, immigrants were limited in what they could bring to America. Only
a finite number of things could be packed into a trunk. Often those
trunks were packed with family treasures and heirlooms, many of which
ultimately were buried in the ground once they reached their new
definitely brought seeds, tubers and cuttings from the Old
Country," says Marcia Carmichael, historic gardens coordinator at
Old World Wisconsin. "And when they arrived, they attempted to
grow them. They had some pretty great expectations here in the Midwest
with our good soil. But they didnít realize that in addition to our
cold winters, Wisconsin also has beastly hot summers."
and error, heritage gardens eventually help sustain those early
immigrant families. Generations later, a trend among home gardeners is
to revisit those heritage plantings in their own gardens.
place to start is by checking family recipes ó youíll be able to
tell which vegetables and herbs were used in your grandmother and
great-grandmotherís kitchen," suggests Carmichael. "From
there, you can make a list of what youíd like to plant."
She says 21st
century gardeners are quite fortunate in that heirloom seeds and
plants are much easier to source than they have been in previous
"You can go
to Seed Savers Exchange and find a lot of them," she says.
"Or you can try and source them locally or through friends and
beginning heirloom gardeners to cut themselves a little slack in the
know your family grew cabbage for example, itís perfectly find to
just plant the kind of cabbage you remember without worrying about a
specific variety," she says. "Thereís this belief that the
old gardeners planted single, specific types of plants, but weíve
found there was a lot more variety than has been assumed. I also think
our modern palates are more sophisticated, so thereís a chance that
the exact herb your great-grandparents grew may not appeal to you at
source for home heirloom gardeners is Carmichaelís new book,
"Putting Down Roots." which is being released this spring by
the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. The book details the work and
research surrounding many of the heritage gardens now established at
Old World Wisconsin. It can also serve as a blueprint for anyone
drawing their inspiration from those particular ethnic groups.
also distinct differences between the gardens," says Carmichael.
"For example, we know that a lot of the early American gardeners
laid out their gardens like the European monastery gardens, with small
beds that could be weeded by hand since they didnít have any tilling
She says there
are aesthetic differences, too.
Scandinavian gardens, well Ö they were pretty bland and
sparse," she laughs. "But that was because so little grew in
their cold climates and they were accustomed to that kind of
gardening. And the Poles and Germans often planted herbs, vegetables
and flowers in the same little square, so they had very colorful,
gardeners werenít concerned with landscaping, they often planted
flowers, both in the garden itself and near their homes where they
could be easily seen and bring "something pretty" into what
was often a very hardscrabble life, particularly for women.
spend this growing season working throughout the various heritage
gardens at Old World Wisconsin. So whatís her favorite?
whichever garden Iím working in," she says diplomatically.
"I feel something for every garden; each one is special to