La chance

WR jardin 4

Photo by Michell Baker, Winter Rendezvous 2015

13 novembre 2015 vendredi

56 degrees, Sunny

9 mph, WNW wind

Oyez. Oyez! The Fort de Chartres Heirloom Jardin Potager has been given the opportunity to compete for a $400 crowdgrant starting November 15th through SeedMoney 2015, a new grant program of Kitchen Gardeners International. With the state of Illinois historic site funding, your support is crucial in keeping the fort jardin potager viable. A huge thank you to Les Amis du Fort de Chartres, the fort’s not-for-profit volunteer organization, for agreeing to act as the sponsoring organization for this grant opportunity. All donations to the garden during this crowdfunding event are tax deductible. Keep an eye on the jardin’s facebook page for more details over the next few days. The grant event will go live between 1 PM and 2 PM CST on Sunday, November 15th and be active until December 15. The first 75 projects that raise their $400 in donations will receive a challenge grant from KGI for an additional $400. Your past support of the Fort de Chartres heirloom jardin project has been deeply appreciated and we hope that you will be willing to help us secure future funding to keep the garden alive and growing. More details to follow!

Photo by Renea Davis

Photo by Renea Davis

Update, Sunday, November 15: the SeedMoney Crowdfund Grant event has gone live:

Monday, November 16: Thanks to the kindness of family and friends, we have reached and exceeded our minimum crowdfund goal of $400 for the Fort de Chartres Heritage Garden Project! It appears we are one of the first 60+ garden projects to reach that goal and should qualify us for the additional $400 Challenge Grant portion of this crowdfund event sponsored by the SeedMoney Garden Challenge. The final list of 75 Challenge Grantees will be announced on December 22nd.
Please note, additional donations to the Fort de Chartres jardin potager can be made until the end of this crowdfund event on December 15 and much appreciated. This support, along with current donations, gives continued life to the Fort de Chartres jardin potager and this gardener’s gratitude- reconnaissance du jardinier!

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Récoltes et Gratitudes

10 septembre 2015 jeudiphoto 3(17)

84 degrees, Partly Sunny

5 mph, NNW wind

Harvests and Gratitudes. The jardin late summer has been bountiful, with heirloom summer squashes, cucumbers, beans, eggplants, melons, and peppers continuing to bear throughout the summer months. Intermittent stretches of cooler weather and rains nourish the recently planted fall crops as the garden is renewed through succession planting as autumn approaches and as the late summer crops near the end of their production. There is something so fulfilling in our garden cycle of reaping and sowing, following the paths and knowledge of previous generations of gardeners and farmers. Walking and working those same agricultural paths of sowing, weeding, and harvesting, give a depth of meaning to the seasons beyond the enjoyment of photo 4(4)the elements and their effect on nature. One can imagining the habitants of the Illinois country going about their daily lives, the acts of harvesting and preserving not only meant a boon to their household but could mean a the difference between life and death in the Illinois country. And yet this matter of serious urgency was made beautiful by the women of the Illinois country, their gardens reflecting the French sensibilities of beauty and skill beyond what was necessary. No matter the depth of their skill, they must have been grateful for the years of bounty which could sustain them through the years of disappointment, nature’s eternal challenge. The Fort de Chartres jardin potager is an attempt to honor that history.


Darrel Duensing, Fort de Chartres Site Manager

As we are in our sixth year of the modern reincarnation of the habitant jardin potager, I often reflect on the bounty not just of the garden but of friends, volunteers, Fort de Chartres staff, and sympathetic organizations who have helped make the garden a living breathing homage to those eighteenth century habitants of yore. I can’t possibly name all involved but please accept this gardener’s gratitude. Toni, Renea, and Jennifer, your willingness to help over the years have given me hope in those moments when the garden begins to overwhelm. I cannot express enough my gratitude to all members of my family, extended family, and our reenactment family who have kindly given their assistance to keep this vision of an eighteenth century French kitchen garden moving forward.

Jennifer Presler

Jennifer Presler


Toni Hancock & Renea Davis

The fort staff and volunteers over the last six years have continued to support and encourage these efforts, even as state funding has subsided. Darrell, Dennis, John, Linda, Jerry, David, and the many seasonal workers have so often made the difference between success and failure. Organizations such as Les Amis du Fort de Chartres, Les Coureurs de Bois de Fort de Chartres, Kitchen Gardeners International, Save Illinois History, Save American History, and in the early years, the Prairie du Rocher Girl Scouts fueled the jardin with energy and funds when it was most needed. And who could forget my partners in song in last autumn’s infamous KGI’s Carrotoke contest? Nick, John, Toni, Renea, James and Ed, your crazy willingness to sing into a crossed pair of carrots awarded the garden a second place prize which garnered the garden project much needed equipment and financial assistance in the form of new watering hoses, pruners, baskets, and rotary push mower. Long hours spent in the jardin potager often feel like a solitary project but in actuality it is a gift of many. The rewards are to be found in the interest and support of the public who delight in learning the history of  everyday life sustained by the women of the photo(22)Illinois country and in the beauty of sharing the garden’s gifts of free heirloom produce and seeds. The Fort de Chartres Heirloom Jardin Potager Project promises continued exploration of a l’habitant’s garden in the Illinois country, its history and beauty, aided by nature and those willing to care and support its efforts. Merci.

Reminder: To keep abreast of the jardin’s progress throughout the year, please follow the Fort de Chartres Jardin Potager Facebook page.

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Joyeux Printemps, 45th Annual Fort de Chartres June Rendezvous

photo 2(10)2 juin 2015 mardi

62 degrees, Cloudy

4 mph, ENE wind

“Happy Spring!” This recent salutation from a friend is a fitting seasonal greeting and one to be shared with all. It is indeed spring in the Illinois country, running ahead in our garden paths with summer nipping at its heels. The mid-spring season bounty in the jardin potager has been fast and furious. The mostly cooler temperatures and rains have allowed a continuous harvest of our heirloom Monstrueux de Viroflay spinach, Long Scarlet radishes, Tom Thumb and Forellenschluss photo(21)lettuces, and asparagus. It has been a challenge to keep abreast of the harvest and ripening produce. Within in the past two weeks, the flowering and podding of Tom Thumb and Purple Podded peas and the maturing of Early Wonder beets are the new crops in our jardin. Hope lingers for a continued good harvest as we enter June and the inevitable warmer weather approaches. It is only natural to wish for a delay in the onslaught of heat about to overcome our region as is the norm. Those of us in the Illinois country often feel as if the season swings from early spring to mid-summer in the course of a day. For now, the spring garden can be enjoyed as it is thriving and full, demanding our full attention. The garden bed layout page on this blog has recently been updated so those interested can view the types and locations of heirloom varieties planted in the 2015 jardin potager.

But wait, the arrival of late spring in the Illinois country must also mean that it time for tn_fdcvous5068the Annual Fort de Chartres June Rendezvous held this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, June 6 and 7. This year marks the 45th anniversary of this amazing celebration. Each day features opening and closing ceremonies, parades of military units, music, vendors, and food-truly a feast for the senses as one experiences the gamut of the reenactment community. Please don’t forget to visit the FdC Heirloom Jardin Potager throughout the June Rendezvous weekend with a tour of our heirloom garden on the hour, heirloom plant sale, along with free sample heirloom summer seed sample packets and flyers under the garden tent canopy. At our table in the jardin will be Jennifer Pressler with information on the Prairie du Rocher Garden Tour and Farmer’s Market to be held that weekend. The FdC Heritage Jardin Potager is part of this tour and we appreciate the invitation. And with the additional presence of the Master Gardeners of Randoph County to answer your garden questions also present under the garden canopy, we promise a gardener’s haven. We welcome you to the jardin potager and come celebrate the approach of summer with us and experience the June Rendezvous garden style!

A quick note and plea: as this spectacular event highlights the importance of the history of photo 1(9)southern Illinois, please note-sonnez l’alarme, sound the alarm! The Illinois State historic sites are under fire and we ask that you please consider taking a moment to voice your support of Fort de Chatres and other Illinois historic sites to the politicians and departments within the state of Illinois responsible for its operation and of the many worthy sites within state borders. One can understand the severity of the budget shortfalls in the state of Illinois, but at the same time, the investment of time and money that has created and preserved these sites should not be allowed to be in vain. Allowing sites such as these to shutter and close in a

IL State Contacts

IL State Contacts

short-sighted attempt to solve a long term problem, would waste valuable resources and place in jeopardy the preservation of the history that once gone is not easily recovered. So all of us, whether staff, volunteer, or reenactor, who love and breathe life into these sites, sharing the history and lore of our shared past, request your help by asking you to contact the Illinois state legislators to voice your support. Let’s find a way to keep Illinois’s vibrant and significant history alive!

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10, 11, 12 avril Fort de Chartres Colonial Trade Faire, Musket, and Rifle Frolic

100_3205This beautiful video captures the solidity and fragility of our French Colonial Fort de Chartres, a stone fort built in the 1750’s, located in the Illinois country. The imagery brings home the realization, in a very real physical way, why we treasure and recognize the honor of interpreting and participating in the events held at this unique Illinois State Historic Site. You have an opportunity to visit and share in an upcoming COLONIAL TRADE FAIRE AND MUSKET AND RIFLE FROLIC, to be held this weekend, APRIL 10, 11 & 12. 100_2051Mes amis, mon mari et moi, will present a bake oven demostration this Saturday during this weekend’s Trade Faire. And please stop by and visit Sunday late morning through the early afternoon in the jardin potager located behind the bake oven. Come and view the Spring changes that are emerging in the garden. I will have a limited number of heirloom seed packets to share with interested visitors along with information about French colonial gardening in North America and in the Illinois country. A glimpse of the bake oven and the jardin potager at Fort de Chartres appears at the 4:20 min. mark in this lovely video by Eric Macke, shared from Dave and Debbie Horne’s Fort de Chartres Store FB site:


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5th Annual Fort de Chartres Jardin Potager Weekend, Rescheduled

JMA Primitive Toolsvendredi, 27 Février

20F, Cloudy

6 mph E

The 5th Annual FdC Jardin Potager Weekend has been postponed until Saturday and Sunday, March 21 & 22. The spirit was willing but the Prairie du Rocher water pipe was frozen! Unfortunately the lack of water at the fort site means we have had to reschedule our garden weekend for a later weekend in March. We hope to see you then!


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Le jardin février

Illinois country

February in the Illinois country.

dimanche 1 février 2015

41°F, Cloudy

11 mph, WNW

As the winter days march onward and Le Fete des Roi, the Feast of the King-Twelfth Night is now past, Mardi Gras hovers on the doorstep, soon to herald the start of the Lenten season. With its approach, can the traditional renewal of Easter, both spiritual and seasonal, be far behind? The lack of snow in the Illinois country gives hope and a promise of spring. But the new season seems suspended in the future just beyond one’s grasp, swinging between the rise and fall of the temperatures. It seems to be in our nature to believe the seasonal vagaries of the elements are exceptional and unique to our time and place, but it is interesting to read an early account from a Jesuit explorer and historian remarking upon the unpredictable winter weather in the Illinois country:

Charlevoix, 1744

Charlevoix, 1744

“It is true, it was quite otherwise at Kaskasquias some days ago, when I left it; but I have since learned on my way hither, that the river was at first frozen over in such a manner that people crossed it in carriages, not with-standing it is at that place half a league broad, and more rapid than the Rhone. This is the more surprising, as for the most part, excepting a few slight frosts occasioned by the north and north-west winds, the winter is in this country hardly sensible. The river has not been frozen wherever I have been, but as I was obliged to remain all the day in an open boat, and consequently, was exposed to all the injuries of the weather, and had taken no pre-cautions against a cold I did not foresee, I have suffered very great hardships.”

Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix, Journal of a Voyage to North America, 1721.

Still life with basket, peas and turnips, 18th Century, by anonymous French artist

Still life with basket, peas and turnips, 18th Century, by anonymous French artist.

While reconciling ourselves to the cold as it lingers, a slow hum of excitement builds with the lengthening of light-filled hours each day. The temperature and precipitation might prevent active work in the garden, so time is now well spent sharpening tools, starting seeds, and planning the jardin potager bed layouts. Later this month the serious work in the garden begins, pruning fruit trees, turning and amending the soil in the raised beds, and planting the seeds of late winter crops. Mid to late February is the appropriate time to sow cold-tolerant seeds of spinach, cabbage, leeks, kale, and peas. Effort and care are taken to grow vegetables in the jardin potager that mimic the types and varieties that could have been sown by the eighteenth-century French habitants. Firsthand accounts of the travelers in French communities of North America remarked on the general types of vegetables grown and this garden endeavors to follow and reflect those narratives. Where eighteenth-century heirloom types no longer exist, the effort is made to grow more recent heirlooms that reflect the look and taste of produce grown during that era. These late winter varietal seed names themselves intrigue the imagination: Glory of Enkhuizen cabbage, Cavolo Nero kale, Blue-Podded Capucijner peas, Long Scarlet radish, and Monstrueux de Viroflay spinach.

Jardin potager.

Jardin potager.

The 5th annual Fort de Chartres Jardin Potager Weekend to be held February 28 and March 1st will be spent accomplishing garden tasks as a few habitants recreate the experiences of the colonists of the eighteenth-century Illinois country, readying a French colonial kitchen garden for spring. You are welcome to visit both Saturday and Sunday, from 11 AM to 3 PM and on Sunday, March 1, at 1:30 PM, meet in the Fort store building for a special discussion about French Colonial gardening in the mid-eighteenth century and information will be shared concerning the direct sowing of seed. Throughout the weekend, work will begin in the garden preparing beds and planting seeds appropriate for late winter. Heirloom seed packet samples and informational flyers will be available for those joining us to celebrate the new gardening season ahead. This event is free and open to the public. For more information call (618) 274-7230.  Salut le jardin février!

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Novembre froid

DSCN221120 novembre 2014  jeudi (Thursday)

29 F, Cloudy

1 mph, NE wind

Autumn is swiftly fleeting past, transitioning the garden from active production to dormancy. The recent cold temperatures seem intent on keeping a strong grasp this winter-fair warning.

Radishes, peppers, and spinach,

Radishes, peppers, and spinach,

The autumn garden through early November continued to produce a bounty of Bull Nose peppers, China Rose and Black Spanish radishes, and Bloomsdale spinach, while the last of the flower and herb seed heads were gathered and dried. Early in November, the heirloom flowers were still blooming and most had survived the early light frosts, to delight us in their beauty. Just over a week ago when the temperatures were still reading in the 60’s, the jardin potager’s beds were cleared, soil amended, and the discarded plant materials added to the compost. Kale, spinach and a few turnips had been surviving the recent snows and freezes, but frigid temps have finally proven too much. Autumn has brought visitors with whom to share our jardin seeds, the addition of two new beds augmented the current garden layout. The garden’s status is made possible by our garden grantors, fort staff support, and the volunteer efforts and work of Jennifer Esker, my son Nick, and friends. Upon reflection, a great feeling of satisfaction is to be gained from an orderly garden well prepared for the winter months ahead. Although its beds are no longer overflowing in foliage and produce, there is now space to simply reflect and dream of another garden year yet to be.

Heirloom jardin flowers.

Heirloom jardin flowers.

The last enjoyment of the garden year shared with visitors seems to coincide with Fort de Chartres Winter Rendezvous, held the first weekend in November. Always considerable fun, this year’s highlights included a Halloween scare brought about by an evil rutabaga and baking in the fort’s stone bake oven.  Also my friends, Antoinette, Renea, and I, were able to offer the release of the newest seasonal edition of Recettes, Receipts, Recipes by Three Ladies featuring Winter Holiday recipes of the Illinois country. Happily we have now sold well over a hundred copies of our booklets and we thank all for their support.  À propos the booklets, we will have all three Recipe editions (Autumn, Spring, Winter/Holiday) available Winter EditionThanksgiving weekend, for those interested in buying copies. The November fort weekend brings cherished time spent in the company of good friends, including close companions and those seen much too infrequently. However, I would be remiss to not mention the coupe de la résistance this year, friends joining in song (singing into carrots, no less) to benefit the fort garden through a carrotoke contest held by Kitchen Gardeners International, a previous jardin grantor and wonderful support organization for community kitchen gardens worldwide. Please support them and us by visiting their site, making a donation, and vote by liking our FdC garden singing efforts at the site. Voting continues until Friday evening, November 21, 8 PM EST. Support for the continued endeavors to explore the 18th century Illinois country through its agricultural and culinary traditions is always genuinely appreciated and valued.

DSC_0092And as the final days of November approach, beginning the fall and winter holiday seasons, our small Milice family will be preparing for our annual sojourn within the comfort and security of Fort de Chartres Thanksgiving weekend, November 29 and 30. A turkey roasting in the hearth, the stone bake oven baking meals and treats, and a few informal shooting contests, always make for special memories of family and friends sharing the experience. Visitors are welcomed and encouraged to stop by and step into our regional past. Joyeuses fêtes! Happy holidays!

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Fort de Chartres Jardin Potager Heirloom Saturday, 6 septembre

4 septembre 2014 jeudi (Thursday)

Long Anglais cucumbers, new garden beds, and espaliered apple tree beyond.

Long Anglais cucumbers, new garden beds, and espaliered apple tree beyond.

93 F, Cloudy

3 mph SE wind

The FdC Jardin Potager Heirloom Saturday will be held this weekend, September 6, regardless of a chance of showers Saturday morning. Make your way to the fort’s store building across from the garden beginning at 10 AM and seed samples of flower and fall vegetables with accompanying information will be shared. Late summer and early fall is a perfect time to relocate seedlings discovered while replanting the jardin for the fall season. There are a limited number borage, calendula, rue, and wormwood seedlings looking for a good home. Later in the morning, with the cooperation of the weather, we can walk in the garden where you may gather some of our jardin seeds of your own.

Native Columbine

Native Columbine

The descriptions of early New France and Illinois country French colonial gardens leave such a strong vision of beauty mixed with utilitarian need. As noted by many observers ranging from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century through modern historians, l’habitant garden reflected comfort, pleasure, and aesthetic qualities to a greater extent than those of the British or American colonists. According to Swedish botanist, Pehr Kalm, whose mid eighteenth century travels through North America remarked on the tradition of the kitchen garden in French communities and opined that style of household gardening was brought to the Mississippi Valley from French Canada, where it was common to find kitchen gardens from Quebec to Montreal. In 1793, a young lad from Philadelphia, Henry Brackenridge, much admired the kitchen garden of the Vital St. Gemme Bauvais residence in Saint Geneviève, located in that French community across the Mississippi on its western shore:

Cockscomb, globe amaranth, ageratum

Cockscomb, globe amaranth, ageratum

“The garden-in which the greatest variety and the finest vegetables were cultivated, intermingled with flowers and shrubs: on one side of it there was a small orchard containing the choicest fruits. The substantial and permanent character of these inclosures is in singular contrast with the slight and temporary fences and palings of the Americans.”

Nick tying the espalier apple trees limbs.

Nick tying the espalier apple trees limbs.

These accounts help create our jardin potager layout and give us insight to the creative and talented horticultural skills of the early French colonists. While we may never know the exact varieties of plants grown in their jardins, through research into the popular and general plants of the era, our garden offers heirlooms common throughout Europe and America in the eighteenth century. Furthermore, in the fifth year of our jardin potager project, the varieties that have excelled in our climate and conditions in the Illinois country have revealed some hardy and reliable choices for a heritage garden. This Saturday we will focus on the successful heirloom flower standouts appropriate to the eighteenth century. They include; ageratum, balsam, bee balm, borage, calendula, columbine, globe amaranth, love in the mist, French or common mallow, nasturtium, heliotrope, rose mallow, fringed pinks, and field poppies. These flowers while providing beauty also often had culinary/medicinal/herbal qualities as well.

The weather this weekend should be rain cooled and a perfect time to reflect a moment on the heirlooms of the past. It is hoped that you may visit our jardin and share in a little garden history.

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Fort de Chartres Jardin Potager Heirloom Saturday, September 6

DSCN1729You are invited to Fort de Chartres Jardin Potager Heirloom Saturday, September 6, 2014, 10 AM-Noon. The history of our jardin’s heritage flowers and herbs and how to save their seeds will be explored. FdC flower sample seeds packets and a few seedlings will be available. À bientôt.

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Reconnaissance (Gratitude)

Jardin Potager, Summer 2014

Jardin Potager, Summer 2014

17 Août 2014 Dimanche (Sunday)

77 F, Rain

7 mph WNW wind

August in the late summer season of the Illinois Country brings heat combined with periods of heavy rain. The summer  garden is nearing its completion and the time has arrived to plan and plant for the fall jardin.

In a letter sent from New France in 1632, Father Paul le Jeune, of the Society of Jesus, remarked:

“All considered, this country here is very fine. As soon as we had entered into our little home, the 13th of July, we began to work and dig the earth, to sow purslane and turnips, and to plant lentils, and everything grew very well; a very short time afterwards we gathered our salad… You would be astonished to see the great number of ears of rye which were found among our peas; they are longer and more grainy than the most beautiful I have ever seen in France.”

Heirloom Flowers

Heirloom Flowers, Cockscomb, Globe Amaranth, Ageratum

The Fort de Chartres jardin potager is in the process of gathering the last of the summer produce, Long Anglais cucumbers, St.Valery carrots, Bull Nose peppers, seed heads of herbs and flowers. Soon the garden beds will be cleared and prepared for the fall planting. Most surprisingly, the jardin heirloom flowers have survived the neglect of recent months. Ageratum, Balsam, Cockscomb Celosia, Globe Amaranth, French Mallow, Fringed Pinks-their growth bringing beauty and hope. While the temperatures remain warm, it is time to plant peas, beets, kale, leeks, and radishes. Spinach can be started indoors, readied for transplanting into a garden bed once the heat diminishes.

Some time has passed since my last garden post, I beg the indulgence of those interested in the Fort garden’s progress. This summer has been spent in a different sort of nurturing journey.  As my mother’s health waned over the past months, my energy has been focused on her path to a garden of serenity and peace. I appreciate the Fort staff and jardin volunteer, Jennifer Esker, for their assistance keeping the garden in a semblance of order. Their energy  will smooth the seasonal transition to a fall garden making it easier than otherwise possible.

GG and Olivia

Summer morning breakfast, my granddaughter Olivia with her GG.

This gardener’s endeavors are a direct inspiration of her mother‘s loving guidance. Earliest memories in our family garden, evoke the sights and smells of the many fruits and vegetables grown on crowded plots, bursting with produce and surrounded by flowers. We weeded, picked, and ate our way through the summer months, and dined throughout the winter on the preserved garden produce. Our family’s immigrant background was explored through the seeds and plants grown throughout the extended family, the taste of our heritage preserved in our food, drink, and baked goods. Family members shared seeds and plants from the old country, bathing my childhood in the glow of a communal memory. Gardening was a part of our everyday life, as natural as breathing, the efforts of this labor something to be shared and enjoyed. My mother, in particular, was a master nurturer and whether child or plant, she guided and protected, with amazing results. Often tucked away in her garden corners, she would casually have a plant slip rooting, a seamless effort which brought forth without fail, a new breath of life. I came to the love of the outdoors through both my parents, but my love of gardening, the nurturing of life from the tiniest seed or slip, grew from my mother’s loving hand. And as I transition in life from her loving presence, to a world suffused in the knowledge she imparted, I am forever grateful.  Toujours dans mon cœur: “Always in my heart.”

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