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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Heirloom Garden Celebrates Ohio's Past

July 11, 2007

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio -- Public gardens are not only places to enjoy the latest in plant cultivars, but they can also be portals to celebrating the past. For those interested in Ohio history, Ohio State University Extension in Clark County offers a glimpse into the life of early settlers through the plants that they grew.


Within the Gateway Learning Gardens, located on five acres of land behind the OSU Extension Clark County office off State Route 41, lies the "Early Ohio Settlers Kitchen Garden." The garden contains 34 heirloom plants from vegetables to ornamentals, with the majority of them dating back from 1800-1850.

"The garden is intended to show visitors the kinds of plants that would have typically been found at an Ohio settler homestead," said Pam Bennett, OSU Extension horticulturist for Clark County and the state's Master Gardener volunteer coordinator. "It's not only educational, but it also shows visitors that these cultivars survive today and can be grown and enjoyed in their own gardens." Created and maintained by Master Gardener volunteers, the Early Ohio Settlers Kitchen Garden was developed last year, and has been a popular spot for visitors to the Gateway Learning Gardens.

The garden not only showcases heirloom plants, but it is also designed in a fashion representative of early settlement -- from a makeshift beehive to establish the importance of beekeeping and insect pollination, to examples of wattle (woven) fencing as a barrier to keep out unwanted animals.

The following are a sample of plants grown in the Early Ohio Settlers Kitchen Garden:

• Job's Tears (2000 B.C.) -- one of the more unique plants in the garden, Job's Tears was grown strictly for decorative purposes. The grain-bearing tropical plant of the grass family produces hard-shelled seeds that were used for making rosaries, necklaces and other objects.

• Lemon balm (1600-1699) -- an easily cultivated herb in the mint family. Its leaves give off a mild lemon scent. Lemon balm was used to make herbal teas, and has been known for its antibacterial and antiviral properties.

• Anise white hyssop (1600-1699) -- an herb that has wide uses, from culinary to crafts. Its leaves have been used in baking and to make teas and complement dishes.

• Egyptian onion (1800s) -- a cold, hardy perennial onion that is easy to grow. Both the bulbs and the stalks are edible.

• Nigra Hollyhock (1629) -- an ornamental grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, and admired for its single deep maroon blossoms.

The Gateway Learning Gardens, transformed from fields of grasses and weeds, boasts a variety of other garden areas in addition to the Early Ohio Settlers Kitchen Garden, including an herb garden, a children's garden, container garden trials, turfgrass trials, and perennial beds.

Master Gardener volunteers recently installed two new perennial beds showcasing the latest in perennial cultivars. Visitors can observe such plants as Campanula ‘Pink Octopus', Coreopsis ‘Autumn Blush', Sedum ‘Black Jack', and a host of coneflower cultivars.

The Gateway Learning Gardens is also home to annuals trials. The trials are designed to evaluate the performance of new annuals cultivars entering the market. Currently, over 200 cultivars -- from Angelonia to petunia varieties -- are being evaluated for such characteristics as growth, habit and shape.

"Consumers are always looking for varieties that perform well with very little maintenance or insect pressures," said Bennett. "There are so many new cultivars coming into the market that it's hard to tell which cultivars will grow well and look attractive. These trials enable visitors to see how such cultivars perform throughout the season before they make any purchase decisions."

The OSU Extension Clark County Gateway Learning Gardens is free and open to the public year-round. For more information, or to schedule a tour, contact Pam Bennett at (937) 328-4607, or


Candace Pollock
Pam Bennett