La fin de l’année

29 décembre 2016, jeudi

Photo: The Southern, 2009

Photo: The Southern, 2009 Prairie du Rocher La Guiannée at Fort de Chartres

47 degrees F, Sunny

22 mph, W wind

As December’s end rapidly approaches and holiday greetings of “Bonne année et bonne santé!” echo through time in the old French communities of the Middle Mississippi Valley during the holiday season, residents prepare for the welcoming of the New Year with the centuries old celebration of La Guiannée.

The end of our garden year and recent single-digit temperatures has signaled the cessation of plant growth in the kitchen garden. The final harvest of spinach, the last remaining crop, does not define the end of work to be accomplished in the jardin potager. It is an excellent time, as weather permits, to remove unwanted plant debris, improve and amend the soil, and add compost to beds, preparing the kitchen garden for the coming year. In the eighteenth-century garden book, Every Man His Own Gardener: Being a Gardener’s Calendar, and General Director, written by Thomas Mawe, John Abercrombie, and other Gardeners, published London, 1782, includes the advice for the month of December: “Now forward, at all opportunities, the trenching and digging all vacant spaces of ground in the kitchen-garden, that you may not have that work to do in the spring, when there will be much other business to be done, that could not be properly performed before.”

The garden's longest new bed frame prepared for placement.

The garden’s longest new bed frame prepared for placement.

In our jardin potager at Fort de Chartres State Historic Site, we are taking this early winter opportunity not only to work in the beds but to actually replace four of our rotting raised beds. Replacing and reconditioning the beds is a worthwhile and productive way to spend a winter’s day and fits well with the concepts of birth and celebration of this season’s holidays. Preparing the garden for a new season is a fulfilling reminder of the optimism of the New Year and the garden’s future. This garden project is funded by last year’s successful KGI Seedmoney Grant fundraising event completed December 2015.  A significant portion of the funds raised for our jardin potager last year was used to buy the lumber needed for this project. Former Fort site staff member, Gerry Franklin, has been an invaluable resource offering advice and assistance, working with garden volunteer and Les Amis du Fort de Chartres member, Jen Duensing, constructing the new beds in the appropriate manner required to match the current beds and consistent with eighteenth-century construction methods. The lumber had been ordered earlier this summer and has been curing in the intervening months. I can’t fully express my gratitude for Jen and Gerry’s work on this project, for their time and effort making the dream of new beds a reality. Recently, Jen, her son Graden, our newest garden volunteer, George Kutterer, Gerry, and the Fort’s seasonal staff member, Jeff Weber, met me in the kitchen garden to install two of the replacement beds. The final bed was installed yesterday. With the lack of Fort site funds due to the Illinois State budget impasse, volunteer efforts combined with the many past garden donations are an irreplaceable gift to the jardin and the site. All donations—past, present, and future—enable us to move forward each garden season, including allowing us to buy and share heirloom seeds, furthering the interpretive efforts of this heritage project.

Author & jardinier testing soil of the newly prepared beds.

Author & jardinier testing soil before preparing beds.

Visitors often express much interest in the raised beds in our French colonial kitchen garden and raised bed gardening in general. This common colonial garden feature existed throughout France and Europe in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and was brought to North America as the French settled Northeast Canada and expanded westward towards the Mississippi River and south to Louisiana. Raised-bed gardening traveled with the colonial settlements as they grew along the routes of French expansion and the beds were found to be wonderfully adaptable to the various growing conditions found throughout the continent.20160714_133053 The materials used to create garden beds would be have been common to the area being settled. Likely materials used to make garden beds would have included lumber created from locally harvested timber, wattle made with wooden rods or stakes interwoven with twigs or branches to create a bed wall, and found materials such as stone. If using lumber found in the Illinois country, there are a few types of wood that are naturally rot resistant and long lasting, such as red mulberry,  cedar, and juniper. Dense woods such as black walnut or white oak would also be a good choice with older pine wood an option for a well-drained location. In order to match the larger bed lumber needed in our jardin potager, aged yellow pine was chosen to be used in our new beds as it could be acquired in the larger sizes needed for our replacement beds. The jardin’s site is especially well drained for the most part, an important requirement in our wood selection of yellow pine. Yellow pine was the wood used previously in the construction of the Fort’s jardin beds and the wood lasted on site for 20+ years.  For general information on raised bed materials, a nice reference site can be found here.

Debbie & Ron McCain

Debbie & Ron McCain

In the season’s spirit of reflection, we look to the past to not only celebrate the highlights and successes of the recent growing season but to review and reflect on the garden’s journey. Well met this past season are the friends and Fort visitors who have shown pleasure and interest in our French colonial heritage garden. The garden welcomed new friends such as Debbie & Ron McCain who donated a fig seedling to be planted in the jardin for mes amis Antoinette, Renea, and my use in our eighteenth-century culinary recette explorations inspired by the Fort’s bake oven. This lovely gift was accompanied by a new fig preserve recette—such a kindness and one we look forward to exploring.  All these kinds of memories fill this past year’s garden path. And with the close of another year, there is full recognition of and regard for those who have gardened at the Fort through the years, whether volunteers and/or staff, such as Adele and Linda. They deserve our thanks, appreciation, and remembrance for their efforts and of all the others involved in the work of interpreting our region’s gardening past.

James Adams Primitive Tools

James Adams period garden hand tools.

The interpretive journey of this jardinier has benefited from the kindness and skill of the many friends who have helped in the garden through recent years, Antoinette, Renea, Jennifer, and others. And then there are those who have created or donated beautiful garden tools, knives, and hoes, such friends as John Hancock, James Adams, and Shawna Kadlec.

FdC heirloom sample seed packets. Knife, John Hancock.

FdC heirloom sample seed packets. Knife, John Hancock.

Their beautiful gifts have been important contributions in the interpretation of this French colonial garden.  As any gardener knows, our tools require loving care and attention, which brings memories of a dear friend, Bo Bradshaw. Bo was a wonderful reenactor, his interest and attention to detail was impressive, as was his kindness. Bo often brought his period sharpening wheel to the Fort and you might have seen him set-up near the garden shed during a rendezvous or other event.  He would kindly sharpen our garden’s knives, hoes, and hand tools-elevating the interpretive experience from the academic to a practical educational exercise. Bo’s sudden passing earlier this month leaves us poorer in spirit and our hearts are sore for his loved ones and friends. For anyone who might have known or remembered Bo from Fort and other reenactment events, a memorial page has been created at https://www.gofundme.com/bo-bradshaw-family-fund.

Bo Bradshaw demonstrating his sharpening wheel at the Fort. Thang Ho Photography.

Bo Bradshaw demonstrating his sharpening wheel at the Fort. Thang Ho Photography.

And in the spirit of remembrance and reflection, it is fitting to take a moment at the close of this year to remember a good man and his seasons of giving and, in turn, repay his kindnesses to his family as they begin this New Year.

To support Les Amis du Fort de Chartres and all of its projects and efforts at Fort de Chartres, become a member! And if you would like to add a donation for the Fort de Chartres Heritage Jardin Potager, just  include your designated gift with your membership fee. We appreciate and give thanks for all support and extend greetings of the season-“Bonne année et bonne santé!”

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Heirloom Produce Saturday-jardin d’été.

Summer in the Illinois country has been hot but the summer crops are producing and being harvested in the Fort’s kitchen garden. Heirloom cucumbers, squash, beans, and carrots are growing aIMG_3431pace of the season. You are invited to the next Heirloom Produce Saturday in the Fort de Chartres kitchen garden to be held Saturday, July 30, 10 AM-1 PM. We happily will share some of the jardin’s produce, offer tips on preparing for the fall garden, and have available free heirloom seed packets for fall plantings. Join us as we celebrate summer in the jardin potager! Let’s meet in Fort’s garden on July 30th at Fort de Chartres State Historic Site, 1350 IL Route 155, 4 miles west of Prairie du Rocher, IL 62277. Call (618) 284-7230 for more information.

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Début de l’été

Jardin Potager 2016 (CK)

Jardin Potager 2016 (CK)

29 juin, 2016 mercredi

85 degrees, Sunny

8 mph, SSE wind

Postings to this chronicle of a French colonial Illinois country kitchen garden have been sporadic this year and this writer begs your indulgence. Though writing of this garden’s progress has suffered, actual work in the jardin has not. The hectic pace of early summer has given away to a slower rhythm in the extreme heat of recent days. Summer in Upper Louisiana shimmers in the extreme warmth then steams as the countryside is finally awash in long awaited rains. All efforts in the recent kitchen garden have been focused on watering raised and melon beds while controlling weeds, nurturing the May and early June plantings of the summer crops of bean, corn, cucumber, summer and winter squashes, melons, and watermelon. Eighteenth century garden advice for late June and early July not only directs the succession planting or transplanting of crops but also advises “draw up by the roots all your weeds[1]or “if the weather is dry, gather up your herbs again for winter, such as lavender, rosemary, sage, mint, sweet marjoram, thyme, etc.  Take special care to preserve your plants from the scorching sun:  stir up stiff ground: continue to destroy weeds:  and give your plants gentle watering about their extreme fibres, which should be done at close of day.”[2]

Paintings (1769-1774)  A. N. Duchesne and the History of Cucurbita pepo (1770)

Paintings (1769-1774) A. N. Duchesne and the History of Cucurbita pepo (1770)

Reflecting on the first half of this garden year, the jardin potager has been keeping apace through the seasonal changes as late winter melted into spring and now the summer season has arrived in a tide of heat. The garden marks the season’s ebb and flow from its seeding through harvests, beginning with  late winter,  preparing the raised beds and the pruning of fruit trees, followed with the sowing of peas, spinach, and field poppies. March brought the sowing of heirloom beet, cabbage, carrot, kale, leeks, lettuce, and radish seeds, while April saw the first harvests of spinach and lettuces and radishes while succession planting throughout. To review this year’s  garden list of heirloom plantings, view the Jardin Layout page of this blog. And as our focus shifts to the garden in mid-summer, we prepare to handle the upcoming harvests and the preserving tasks awaiting us in this season’s duties. And by the end of the next month, once again we will be clearing space in the jardin, this time for the fall garden. These comforting waves of garden cycles annually await us, timelessly undulating in the winds blowing across the meadows and in the fields of golden grain billowing in the countryside.

Illinois country wheat.

Illinois country wheat.

The garden waits for no one, as its schedule it set by the vagaries of nature. We can only ready ourselves to be at its disposal, portending the signs it gives, reading its temperament as best we can. Just as it is in nature, politics often reflect the same patterns and the current model is no less demanding and confusing. One could compare heat paralyzing a region, bringing crops to a standstill as helpless farmers/gardeners watch their work burn in the fields where they were sown, to politicians in the midst of a budget crisis, freezing state funds, threatening the fabric and underpinnings of society. Both instances potentially wreak havoc in their wake. As an antidote to the state budget crisis, much time has been spent by volunteers at Fort de Chartres State Historic Site this season, volunteering to support the Fort and raising funds nurturing a historic site vital to the preservation of the cultural legacy of entire region. As part of these efforts, a fundraising effort has been undertaken by the not-for-profit Les Amis du Fort de Chartres, the Fort’s support organization and a longtime supporter of the Fort de Chartres Heritage Garden Project.

Kid's Day 2016 Rope Making

Kid’s Day 2016 Rope Making. (EJ)

Just as many of us are unable to resist the lure of unplanted garden beds, Les Amis is not content to stand on the sidelines and watch our site sit idle. They have agreed to sponsor the 2016 Special Events held at Fort de Chartres, keeping the site alive with activity and growth while bringing thousands of visitors to the Fort and the surroundings communities. Please support their efforts through their crowdfund campaign at RESCUE Les Amis du Fort de Chartres 2016 Special Events! To keep updated on the Fort’s special events in 2016, please check the list of events on the Evénements page of this blog or though the Les Amis du Fort de Chartres Facebook page. We ask that you visit and share in our history and excitement, helping our site grow!

Early summer, dill and carrots setting seeds while sheltering the companion planting of beans.

Early summer, dill and carrots setting seeds while sheltering the companion planting of beans.

Finally, on Saturday, July 30,, at 10 AM-1 PM, join us in the kitchen garden for a Heirloom Jardin Potager Saturday event, harvesting summer crops, sharing information on preparing for the fall garden, and offering free heirloom sample seed packets for fall plantings. Let’s celebrate the summer garden while anticipating the bounty of the fall season!  For more information and for current garden updates, visit the Fort de Chartres Jardin Potager Facebook page.

[1]  A Treatise on Gardening: By A Citizen of Virginia, John Randolph Jr. (1727-1784)

[2] “Encyclopaedia Britanica; or, a Dictionary and Arts and Sciences, compiled on a new plan. In which The different Sciences and Arts are dicussed in distinct Treatises or Systems; and The various Technical Terms are explained as they occur in the order of the Alphabet”. Vol II, 1771

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2016 Fort de Chartres Annual Jardin Potager Weekend

Author gathering herbs.

Author gathering herbs.

20 mars,  2016 dimanche

41 degrees, Cloudy

11 mph, NW wind

Neige-snow! This morning’s snow doesn’t scare the seasoned gardener, we just look at it has an opportunity for gentle moisture to nurture the newly planted early spring seeds and the emerging seedlings. We understand and are thankful-it is nature’s way to provide moisture and snow to insulate the seeds and seedlings from the colder temps expected overnight.

Heirloom seed packets.

Heirloom seed packets.

We can’t wait for next weekend’s Fort de Chartres Annual Jardin Potager Weekend, occurring Saturday & Sunday, March 26 & 27. Celebrate rebirth and life in the garden and Easter at Fort de Chartres! Let’s meet both mornings at 10 AM in the fort’s guard room and talk 18th c and spring gardening. Heirloom sample seed packets and garden flyers will be available to help you in your garden this year. Don’t forget-as part of the weekend’s events, on Saturday March 26, a special maple sugar demonstration will take place at the fort from 9 AM-4 PM. Weather promises to be beautiful and temps in the 60’s!

Engraving, Martin Engelbrecht (1684-1756),

Engraving, Martin Engelbrecht (1684-1756),


Hand-colored engravings with stippling Martin Engelbrecht (1684-1756),Harte Müh und saure Garten Arbeit [Garden Work — Planting],Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of your brow shall you get bread to eat.”

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2016 Saison d’hiver

The FdC jardin potager. chicken, and garden shed from levee. Flood 2016, Jennifer Duensing photo.

The FdC jardin potager. chicken, and garden shed from levee. Flood 2016, Jennifer Duensing photo.

5 Février, 2016 vendredi

44 degrees, Partly Sunny

1 mph, ESE wind

This Illinois country winter has been generally mild but currently the season’s temperatures, if charted, would show a rise and fall equal to the surrounding land featuring the Mississippi River bluffs and bottomlands. Temperatures were mild in November and December before we finally received our first real snow mid-January. Now it seems each week brings a near record temperature only to quickly drop below seasonal norms. I would be remiss to discuss this winter without mention of the area’s flooding due to torrential rains which occurred in the week between Christmas and New Year. The Fort de Chartres site was closed and inaccessible for a few weeks while waters receded. Thankfully the site was spared from flooding and the standing water in surrounding fields and valleys has almost dissipated.

leaffork_with_text_580_0KGIRinging in the New Year, the fort’s garden has much more to be thankful for than receding flood waters. Thanks to the kindness of family and garden friends, we reached and exceeded our minimum KGI SeedMoney crowdfund goal of $400 for the Fort de Chartres Heritage Garden Project. And the good news doesn’t stop there-the jardin was one of the first of 75 garden projects to reach its $400 goal which qualified us for the additional $400 Challenge Grant portion of this crowdfund event sponsored by the SeedMoney Garden Challenge. The total amount raised for Fort de Chartres jardin potager through this event totaled $890.00. This support enables us to buy our heirloom seeds and begin the replacement of some our garden’s decaying raised beds-giving continued life to the Fort de Chartres jardin potager .

Garden volunteer, Jennifer Duensing working in the winter jardin.

Garden volunteer, Jennifer Duensing working in the winter jardin.

As new plans progress for the jardin potager, so do the days of the winter season. January was spent pouring through seed catalogs, and placing orders from our favorite heirloom seeds sources-Monticello, Baker Creek, and Seed Savers, to name a few. The first month of a new year is a great time to start some of those hard to grow rare seeds indoors, sharpen and clean garden tools, and review this year’s garden layout, rotating crops from bed to bed. Crop rotation is as an important step today as it was throughout the centuries to maintain a healthy garden and retain plant “vigor” by helping reduce pests and pathogens in our gardens. As we enter February, the lengthening days herald the move to the outdoors as some of the raised beds are cleaned of overwintered debris preparing for the sowing of peas and spinach later this month. Fruit trees are pruned and it is a good time to accomplish any structural work in the jardin potager.

We turn from the quiet days of winter as anticipation builds for the new garden year. The fine tradition of French kitchen gardens of the 18th and early 19th century serves to inspire us as remarkable horticultural examples. Firsthand accounts and those of early Illinois governors and historians remarked on French gardening in the Illinois country.

“It must be awarded to the French, and particularly the ladies, that they expended much labor and showed much taste in making nice gardens. They received not only much profit and comfort of living out of their gardens, but they also enjoyed the pleasure of rearing and seeing the beautiful plants and flowers growing in their gardens, which is so congenial to French taste.”

Early governor of Illinois, John Reynolds, The pioneer history of Illinois: containing the discovery in 1673, and the history of the country to the year 1818, when the state government was organized. 1852

FdC heirloom sample seed packets. Knife, John Hancock.

FdC heirloom sample seed packets. Knife, John Hancock.

To celebrate the beginning of the new garden year, two new Fort de Chartres jardin potager events are announced for early 2016. The garden will proudly host an event on Saturday, February 20, as part of Les Amis du Fort de Chartres new monthly workshop series-Art de vivre (Art of life). From 10 AM-noon, an heirloom seed exchange and swap will take place in the fort’s guard room. Free heirloom seeds and sample seed packets will be available, so bring your favorite or extra seeds to the fort and let’s exchange and share our seed bounty with area gardeners! Bring a lunch and at 1 PM we will move into the kitchen garden and learn how to prepare raised beds for the upcoming growing season as well as prune the garden’s fruit trees, their most important pruning of the year. The annual FdC Jardin Potager Weekend will occur Saturday & Sunday, March 26 & 27. On Saturday morning let’s meet again at 10 AM in the guard room for a discussion about direct sowing seeds in the garden. Some heirloom seed packet samples and informational flyers will be available to share with those traveling to the fort. An added bonus this year during the garden weekend will be March’s Les Amis Art de vivre workshop as part of Saturday’s activities. Darrell Duensing will lead l’habitants in a maple sugar demonstration from 9 AM-4PM. Saturday afternoon and on Sunday we will also continue work in the garden preparing raised beds and sowing seeds appropriate for late winter. Please join us at the Fort de Chartres State Historic Site during for these special events heralding the beginning of the new garden year. Follow this link for directions: Fort de Chartres State Historic Site.

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