Mike Lannom – Brochure for Hermitage Kitchen Garden
Project Process Essay – By Mike Lannom
The process started back in the early spring when we received our syllabus and one of the assignments was a major project. This was wide open as far as ideas went, but I was not sure what to do. I tried to make contact with various archival departments, but to no avail as many of these opportunities quickly evaporated. I have learned from this class and life that there are opportunities in the field of Public History. I am fortunate that in life I have made contacts, and at Ms. Stringer’s suggestion I looked into creating a brochure. I did not have source to do a project so I started looking in other areas outside of the school campus and Murfreesboro in general. I needed something that would fit into my schedule. I contacted the Davidson County Master Gardeners and asked if there was some project that needed to be addressed. I asked if there was a brochure of the garden at the Hermitage. They did not have so I offered to do one on the vegetables that are grown in their demonstration kitchen garden.
I have work with the Davidson County Master Gardeners for the last ten years. This organization works with several historic sites in Davidson County. These sites include Belle Meade Mansion, Old City Cemetery, and Grassmere Historic Farm at the Zoo as well as the Hermitage. These volunteer groups are always looking for individuals to help to do everything from research to literally digging in a garden. I was able to make contact with Mary Lankford the project chair who serves as project leader and liaison with the executive director and grounds manager. The Davidson County Master Gardeners have been involved with historic sites since its inception. The Hermitage uses the Davidson County Master Gardener first to manage a kitchen vegetable garden, and secondly as an auxiliary force to maintain Rachel’s Garden next to the mansion house. This is the formal garden that is laid out in order with manicured crepe myrtles, boxwoods, annuals, and perennials as well as Rachel and Andrew’s Tomb.
I decided to work with the group of volunteers at the Hermitage because it is close to where I live, and I can work hours during the week. It is about three quarters of a mile from my house. I have an interest in historic gardening as well as gardening in general. I discovered that as I researched material I could hardly find information. The material that is being used is somewhat not completely correct. For instance I discovered that the lowly tomato was not used by mainstream America until the 1860’s so it would not be really appropriate for a historic garden from the Jacksonian Period?(p.284, Watson) If it has to be there then it needs to be interpreted correctly.
I constructed a brochure from for the Hermitage which was home of President Andrew Jackson. To be more specific the brochure is on a kitchen garden where vegetables would be grown for relatively quick consumption. The idea came from the Roman’s who grew herbs and vegetables as potage. (p.5, Weaver) The Roman concept was passed down to medieval monks who grew vegetables in the garden alongside flowers as a way to make the garden optically appealing as well as being practical. (p.1, eatingwell) I think kitchen gardens were practical in the sense that they provided vegetables in season in a time when there was no supermarket on the corner. This would be especially true in the South were plantations occupied vast amounts of territory.
I was able to meet with the group in February to research what to plant in the garden. The focus is on Jacksonian period heirloom vegetables and how they were grown. In my research I have discovered that there needs to be more research work done in this area. The field is virtually untouched in regards to what has been researched. If I were to work on a Master’s thesis this would be the area I would choose because it is an untapped area of study. It was recommended that I produce an actual brochure of this garden with a brief history of kitchen gardens and some of the vegetables that will be grown on the site. I included some fun facts about the vegetables growing in the garden. (p.1, ghorganics) I added some alternative methods of pest control such as marigolds planted with cucumbers.
The project is just about finished. The only process left is placement of the brochure at the site. This has been fun and at times disappointing. The mornings working in the garden were nice and pleasant. The sun would be shining and the wild turkeys calling. It was always serene there on the grounds of the Hermitage. I think my hardest road is still ahead of me in that as I continue to research gardening in the early nineteenth century I am afraid I am going to find information that does not set well with those in authority over the project. It is hard to imagine a garden without tomatoes, but this is an actual fact (p.284, Watson) and then what do I do? I disliked not being able to go and work on Saturday mornings due to conflicting work schedules. I completed the project when I was able to publish it to a PDF and sending it to the project chairperson.
The project or in this case brochure contributes to the public’s understanding of history in the several ways. First they read about how in those days there was not a market on every corner. The learned that many large plantations had to be self sufficient. They could not rely on refrigeration because it had not been invented yet. They had to save their seed from year to year in order to have seed for the next growing season. They had to rely on natural methods of insect control in order to not lose the crop to pest insects. In writing the brochure I felt that it was important tell a brief history of the kitchen garden in general. Its origin, what it was used for, and how it was used. I tried to keep it brief and to the point as to not be boring and including facts that would make it fun and interesting. I would have to say that this project does relate to information from the readings. It does so in that museum patrons can see how the gardened in those days. They can see and touch the plants to get an understanding of how they felt. This is most important in the field of early childhood education in that many urban dwelling children think vegetables come for a grocery store and not a garden. (p.1, gothamist) Finally it is important to understand the past to know about how we have gotten to the state we are in now.
Watson, Benjamin, Taylor’s Guide to Heirloom Vegetables, 1996, page 284
Weaver, William W., Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, 1997, page 5