Farm Museum gardens: 1850 - 1880

JennJanuary 23, 2004

I am glad to see this forum. I live in an 1885 farmhouse in the Midwest (Jackson County, MI) and I am the chairperson for the garden committee for the local Farm Museum. We are trying to restore and maintain the gardens for an 1880 farmhouse and an 1850 log house along with other buildings that comprise the museum grounds. The museum was established in the early 1960's and is run completely by volunteers. I have been involved for 3 years now. We have many beds and plantings that contain undocumented plants, many "donated" by the community. Therefore, I have no idea of their legitimacy for an 1880 garden. All of the buildings have at least some foundation plantings, also likely not true to the period, but quite lovely. The grounds are covered with mature black walnut trees, appropriate for the time but presenting quite a challenge. I will definitely come back here to vent and look for advice.

Here is a link that might be useful: farm museum

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ginger_nh(z4 NH)

Interesting site and well done. The 4 brothers lived out their lives on the farm, cared for by their sister. German Lutheran farmers, no doubt! What a lovely brick farmhouse; looks more like a town house - so fancy.

How did you go about doing the garden restoration to date?
Would like to see photos of the gardens and black walnut trees, surrounding land (or did I miss them?)
Here is the address of the farm museum here in New Hampshire:

They have a small flower garden; the site also has a list of 20 or so of the farm museums in the US; Missouri is not represented. If you contacted them they could add your state and farm museum . . .

A friend of mine is restoring the 1800's kitchen garden and flower beds of an old house here in Central NH. It is part of a beautiful New England farm with large farmhouse and barn, out buildings, stonewalls, gardens, farm fields, pastures, and woodland. Also giant sugar maples for tapping. The farm was bought by the Audubon Society several years ago and is now a nature center. It was a working farm through the 1990's. If you go to the link below you will see a photo of the farm:

Glad you have posted - welcome!


    Bookmark   January 23, 2004 at 8:59PM
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Are you familiar with the Association of Living History, Farm, and Agricultural Museums? If not, you'll find lots of other folks working on similar projects there.

Here is a link that might be useful: ALHFAM

    Bookmark   January 25, 2004 at 8:45AM
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Thank you for the links. Lots of great info there. I have only been involved with the farm museum for 2 years. We havn't done much yet other than to try to catalog what is on the property and search for information, through members and photos, of how the farmstead was set up in the past. We have learned that the woman of the house had an interest in unusual plantings and started many things from seed that would have been brought over from Europe. Many of the beds there now were put in sometime in the 1960's when the 3 acres became a museum. The original farm was 80 acres, much of it an apple orchard.

We know they had a fish pond, an arbor covering the walkway to the out house and that it was covered in grape vines. But due to the current set up and use of the land we cannot put these things back exactly as they were.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2004 at 10:20AM
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LifeCycleFarm--Thank you for that wonderful link with so much information. I think I have learned more from this new forum than all the others on Garden Web--and I have learned a lot from them. But this has been amazing--and in such a short time.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2004 at 1:16PM
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Two quiet thoughts for those involved with farm/historical museums....(and some of you may already have done these):

1. Hire a palynologist. This is a scientist skilled in the study of ancient pollens. When the study is completed you will be able to set up a time line chart of everything that has grown on your property since before the dinosaur. This type of study will show when early man or indians first set foot on your lands bringing with him and growing foreign food stuffs. You will be able to chart the date when each plant were first grown and identify the source. Such as, the date when tulips were introduced to your area. Also identified will be the dates of major forest fires, ash fallout from volcanoes, demise of certain plant types, etc. I worked with such a scientist on one project and it was fascinating! Most archeologists will retain a palynologist on major dig sites. Museum visitors generally do not realize that plant pollens leave "fingerprints" which can be identified and tell the plant history of a region. This includes recent introductions of food crops and ornamentals.

2. Geologists and archeologists are now using hand held sonar devices to locate underground features. They are very useful because they identify non-metalic shapes and objects. I know that these have been used by those restoring ancient gardens in Great Britian. At one site, using these devices they found huge, very old pots buried deeply beneath the soil. When uncovered the pots were in excellent shape and once again grace the gardens.

Colleges in your area should be able to guide you to resources such as these which will help you to unearth the secrets hidden in the soil beneath your restoration.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2004 at 3:30PM
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One of the challenges we face with the farm museum is funding. Our resources are limited and are used for the upkeep of all the buildings as well as the grounds. I only have $1500 at my disposal in total for the grounds at this time. We have been spending most of our resources on repair to masory work which has been very costly. We are also budgeting for replacement of the cedar shake roof. Our organization only has 166 members and is run entirely by volunteers.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2004 at 4:43PM
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PucPuggyII(z8 VA)

A caveat about pollen studies - remember that many types of pollen are airborne and therefore a pollen study can give you information about plants that were grown within a mile, quarter mile, etc. (depending on the type of pollen), but not necessarily on your site. Identifying soil layers to time periods will help isolate when plants may have been grown. Also pollen can degrade over time and you may only be able to identify the plant's family, not necessarily the genus or species.

Also there is a way to anylize for phitoliths - the fossilized remains of plant cells. This can be a little more reliable for linking plants to a specific site, but can be quite expensive and current databases are limited. These sort of studies should been done when you are looking for specific information.

Finally, don't let the lack of money deter your efforts. Often there are grants to be had, but it can take some time to find the sources and write successful grants to fund specific projects you want.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2004 at 7:57PM
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huffy1(z6A MO)

ILCL Your post brought back memories for me. I spent 4 yrs living in a house built around 1850, located in Kinsel Township, I beleive it was Eaton County,just south of Vermontville Michigan. The old outbuildings were my playground and the house although small( 3 bedrooms) always coughed up some type of mystery for us. I miss the neatly painted outbuildings and the names either painted on the old barns or worked into the shingled roof. Thank you and good luck with your endevor.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2004 at 3:28PM
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Thank you Huffy.

Regarding grants, we have applied for a grant to help offset some of the cost of the masonry work. It may be a possibility for the gardens as well. Locally we are having Scoot Kunst of Ann Arbor speak on antique gardens. He has been featured in many places for his work. He owns Old House Gardens. Some of you may have heard of him. I have read some of his articles and tried to contact him when I first started with the museum. I am very much looking forward to meeting him.

Here is a link that might be useful: Old House Gardens

    Bookmark   January 28, 2004 at 3:59PM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

In Sturbridge, Massachusetts we have Old Sturbridge Village, which is a gorgeous "living history" museum. It represents American rural life in the early 19th century, roughly 1830s. That's a bit earlier than you indicated (1850), but I think the garden styles didn't change a lot in 20 years. The structures all were moved to the village from around southern New England - barns, churches, blacksmith shop, farm houses, town houses, etc. - so it's 100% authentic.

They have lovely period gardens, and an heirloom garden education program for the public. When the link takes you to Old Sturbridge Village's website, look for "Special Features" in the menu on the left, and click "Heirloom Gardening" at the bottom of the list of options that opens.

Here is a link that might be useful: OSV heirloom gardens

    Bookmark   January 28, 2004 at 4:09PM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

I suggested that gardens didn't change much between the 1830s and 1850s, but after reading up on the OSV site, it looks like gardening was revolutionized between the turn of the 19th century, and the 1830s. At that time, people turned from planting just practical gardens to doing ornamental gardens as well. I guess that was a sign that rural America was becoming prosperous.

I'm guessing that between 1830 and 1850, new ornamental cultivars (what are now heirloom plants for us) were constantly coming into existance and vogue.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2004 at 4:48PM
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