Heirloom Gardens

The vegetable and flower gardens at the Village exhibit plant types, gardening practices, and garden styles of the 1830s. These are based on extensive research by staff members using historical sources such as letters, diaries, reminiscences, seed and nursery catalogs, and garden advice books. As staff locate historic varieties - from modern seed catalogs, gardeners and seed collectors, and other museums - they introduce them to Village gardens.

Differing approaches to vegetable gardening are displayed throughout Village gardens. The more traditional Freeman Kitchen Garden displays vegetables, herbs, and small fruit varieties commonly cultivated in New England in the early 19th century. Vegetables from the style of kitchen garden were largely intended for storage and to last the family throughout New England’s long winters. By contrast, in the Center Village gardens, the Parsonage kitchen garden follows advice from The Young Gardener’s Assistant (1829). Using a more scientific approach to gardening, the garden is designed to allow for easy crop rotation and includes crops lesser-cultivated and other nineteenth-century curiosities including tomatoes and salsify.

The Village flower gardens demonstrate a variety of interpretations of ornamental gardening. The Towne House “pleasure grounds” demonstrates the family’s wealth and sophistication. Flowers cultivated in this garden included those at the height of fashion during the nineteenth century in a meticulously maintained formal, patterned design. The gardens at the Parsonage also include space for an ornamental dooryard garden, although not as meticulously kempt as the Towne’s. The Fitch House Children’s Garden draws its inspiration from Joseph Breck’s 1833 children’s book, The Young Florist. In the book, two siblings, Margaret and Henry, learn about history, the natural world, and current events (such as Westward Expansion) by planning and growing a garden of their own.

The Village’s Herb Garden maintains a collection of over 400 plants grown in three levels of terraced beds. In the nineteenth century, an “herb” was any plant with useful properties. The Herb Garden’s collection contains plants documented for household, medicinal, or culinary use.

Throughout the Village, knowledgeable staff plan, grow, and maintain all Village gardens and are available to answer visitors’ questions and lead garden tours about a variety of topics. Check the daily map guide for times and details (tours are subject to availability and weather).

Maintaining historic seed varieties was—and remains—an important part of the gardening season. Throughout the nineteenth century, gardeners could purchase commercially packaged seeds from a variety of seed houses throughout the country. However, most families elected to grow familiar varieties they knew and loved in their own gardens and save the seed for the following year’s crop. Today, we continue in this tradition by raising and packaging seeds for sale in our Museum Gift Shop (seeds typically arrive in the gift shop in early Spring). We encourage all visitors to grow heirloom vegetables, flowers, and herbs, and invite all gardeners to enter the best produce of their season into our Agricultural Exhibition, held annually in the autumn to celebrate the harvest season .