Fort de Chartres Heritage Garden

Un journal d'un Jardin Potager du Pays des Illinois

Tag: community


17 April, Sunday

74 Degrees F

Sunny, Light Winds

Traveling to the fort today, through the winding roads in Illinois farmland,  the air truly felt like spring. In the weeks since the last posting, rains have been frequent, with temperatures swinging from cool to warm and back again. Luckily, today’s work in the garden was to be accompanied by warm winds. Perfect weather to plant our new fruit trees that have been in a cool storage location for the last two weeks awaiting the right planting conditions.

While we waited for these warmer temperatures, our long range l’habitant jardin plans were reviewed and discussed. The plans referenced descriptions of typical French residences, as from former Governor Thomas Ford’s History of Illinois. He resided in the Illinois Country in 1805 and reminisced, “These houses were generally placed in gardens, surrounded by fruit trees of apples, pears, cherries, and peaches; and in the villages each enclosure for a house and garden occupied a whole block or square, or the greater part of one.” A beautiful new addition to the l’habitant jardin is a period reproduction bench created by Zack Huber, a local Eagle Scout candidate from Prairie du Rocher.

Blight and disease had damaged some of the existing fruit trees in our habitant garden and removal was begun the week previous by Gerry Franklin, a member of the fort staff. Earlier this year, the following tree varieties were researched, ordered and now ready to be planted

  • Snow Apple (Fameuse), France, prior 1800. One of the oldest and most desirable dessert apples, a parent of the aromatic McIntosh.
  • Summer Rambo (Rambour Franc), France, 1535. Large red fruit, bright striped. Breaking crisp, exceptionally juicy, aromatic flesh.
  • Calville Blanc, France, 1598. This is a gourmet culinary apple of France. Uniquely shaped medium ot large size fruit, yellow skin with light red flush. Banana-like aroma with more vitamin C than an orange.
  • Anjou Pear (Beurre d’Anjou), France, prior to 1800. Large, conical short-necked fruit, light green when ripe with some russeting.  Mild, melting with white flesh with delicate aroma.

Volunteers Jeremy, John, and Nick, along with Dennis, a fort staff member, were assisting in the garden work today, digging holes and planting trees. The pear trees were placed just outside the garden fence; the apple trees planted inside the garden fence in an alternate order to be espaliered as they grow. Immediately the trees were pruned, wired to their supports, and watered in. Jeremy and Nick (with John’s assistance) placed the wooden pole supports for the Painted Lady Runner Beans in the first of the garden beds and the beans were planted around their bases. The last two beds to be sowed with spring vegetables were planted with differing varieties of peas (Blue Podded and de Grace Snow Peas). Branches were pushed into the garden beds to act as supports for these climbers. As peas grow, they will climb through the branches that hold the supports in place and upright. Also planted among the turnip rows were Tom Thumb bush peas, saved from last season’s successful crop. Again beds were watered as tools were gathered, cleaned, and put away-preparations for the travel home. Winding our way home, we once again reflected, dwelling on the day’s accomplishments and the work yet to come.  We look forward to the projects of the season ahead, including our new compost bin being created by Justin Detering, a local student, as it nears completion.

Please note: An upcoming family event at the Fort de Chartres , will be the annual Kid’s Day on Saturday, May 7, from 10 AM-4 PM. It’s a  free event that features yard games, period board games, rope making, dancing, King & Queen coronation, gardening, free trees, artifact display (arrowheads, etc.), and a puppet show. Come out to the fort and enjoy the morning or afternoon with your family and immerse yourself in fun activities pertaining to our region’s 18th century history.

Season of the Hunter’s Moon

19 October, Tuesday

65 Degrees F

Sunny, Light N Wind

Bonjour! What a beautiful day in our jardin potager, there is a coolness to the air and a clear view across the recently harvested plains to the bluffs beyond. In this season of the Hunter’s Moon (the first full moon following the Harvest Moon), the trees are donning their fall palette of subdued golds and reds, spreading across the fields and forests, adding color to the valley. As always when I first arrive in the jardin, a moment is taken to observe and relish the moment, similar to unwrapping a package anxious to see what is hidden within. Walking in the jardin this day, I observe the new growth in our main beds, even though rain has been scarce. The snapdragons along with the leeks, lettuce, radishes, spinach, and turnips are thriving.  Vegetables are harvested quickly so beds can be weeded and deeply watered. The beds most recently planted with lettuce and spinach are just now sprouting and their new growth is breaking through the soil. I am much relieved that the lack of rain has only slowed these new plantings. Interestingly, the seed germination of earlier plantings of late August and early September had mixed success in the dry weather. The colors of the heirloom Merville de Quatre Saisons  Cimmaron, and Forellenschluss lettuces are vibrant and strong with deep purples to bright greens and the leafy tops of the Spanish Black radishes and Navet des Vertus Marteau turnips look healthy and strong.  The Golden and Crapaudine beets and some of the lettuces and carrots just could not get enough moisture to thrive in the simmering heat of this past late summer and early fall. Their growth is sporadic at best. As the carrots are watered, I accidently splash a visitor to our garden. This Pipevine or Blue Swallowtail Butterfly has been making himself at home, feeding heavily among the St. Valery carrot tops. But his handsomeness makes it difficult to complain.

The last of the Black Beauty eggplants, Georgia Rattlesnake, and Missouri Heirloom melons are still ripening as we come to the close of their season. Next week will be the time to pull up the last of the remaining melon plants and turn over the unplanted beds, adding new organic matter to replenish the soil. The native garden and the melon beds in the fields beyond our main garden will be ready to be tilled with the last of the surviving Crenshaw melons soon to be being harvested. While making notes on the jardin’s successes and challenges of this past year, already thoughts are skittering along to next spring and the ever hopeful promise of a new season.

We were happy to meet new visitors to our jardin potager at the SIH Fete at the Fort earlier this month. This event was very successful and we doff our caps to the organizers for a job well done. Many first time visitors were impressed with our Fort and enjoyed the vendors and the music of L’Esprit Creole featuring Dennis Stroughmatt and Rob Krumm. This month, ongoing in the Illinois Country, visit the Haunted Creole House Experience, 7-11 p.m., Creole House, Prairie du Rocher. “A Tragedy Beneath the Bluffs.” $7. Sponsored by Randolph County Historical Society. Halloween with a historic twist!

In the next journal entry, I have some recipes to share that feature the heirloom vegetables currently being harvested in our jardin potager of the Illinois Country. Enjoy the season of the Hunter’s Moon, the views and tastes it offers!

Inaugural Post


1 October, Saturday

55 Degrees F, Cloudy

Moderate N Wind

Bienvenue dans notre jardin potager. In the inaugural garden journal post, a bit of reflection upon our heritage garden journey, as cooler temperatures descend into the valley and our focus turns to the fall season at Fort de Chartres. Our early fall plantings are beginning to mature and we are looking forward to the late season plantings of radishes, lettuces, spinach, leeks and beets, prolonging the growing season as l’habitants might – providing fresh greens for the fall, while growing roots crops for substance in the upcoming winter.

Walking through our garden beds today, the last of the Early Golden Crookneck Squash were harvested, finishing a prolific summer season in which our heirloom squashes (including white and yellow scallop varieties) grew with abandon. We did wage an unsuccessful war with squash bugs these last few months and unfortunately, a toll was taken on late summer production. Happily, the melons have somewhat survived somewhat the onslaught and we are observing a few of the remaining melons in a race against the recent cooler temperatures to finish their season and mature before the first frost. It was ever so intriguing to grow heirloom French melons and discover their fragrance, appearance and taste as they ripened throughout the summer. After suffering through the premature harvesting of the French rock melons not quite ripe, it was a pleasure to finally slice, inhale and taste their mature aroma that was often amazingly floral and sweet. So interesting to learn the look and feel of heirloom produce, with local wildlife often providing the lesson as to ripeness of a new crop. A gardener’s typical lament and frustration is to oversee crop growth with patience and care, only to have the regret that the fruit was left on the vine one day too long and finding melons half eaten! On a positive note, our watermelons were particularly successful earlier this summer and this success was a reminder of a first hand account of the region by Jesuit Fr. Julien Binneteau in 1698, “I am almost forgetting to tell you of our gardens one of their finest ornaments is what we call the watermelon, which grows to an extraordinary size. It has a very sweet taste, differs from our melons because it does not turn yellow. These melons are eaten without salt and are harmless even eaten in quantities.”

In a summer season bearing little rain and an abundance of heat, the gardens all survived in one fashion or the other, but with one regret – our native garden. Clever raccoons put short shrift to our maize, knocking over stalks just as the ears were ripening. Pole beans also did not fare well in that location but we hope to harvest some of our winter squash and pumpkins (citrouilles) soon. Our bush and pole beans in general did not succeed this season, whether due to the heat or lack of moisture. The Scarlet Runner Beans in the raised beds were the exception, thriving throughout summer, at times brightening the garden with their bright red flowers with eggplant ripening underneath.

Our spring and early summer season was a happy success, glorious with lovely asparagus, cabbages, beets, lettuces, radishes, abundant peas, and carrots. Temperatures were cool and timely rains made the beginning of our gardening project a success. At this juncture, I must acknowledge and thank the many helping hands that steered this project in the right direction. I am very grateful to Fort de Chartres Site Superintendent, Darrell Duensing, for his support in allowing and encouraging this unique opportunity to relive the past through this gardening adventure. Asst. Site Manager, Dennis Thomas, was invaluable – turning beds, trimming and watering all spring/summer long. Merci to Les Amis du Fort de Chartres, the Fort’s volunteer organization, for their financial assistance as well as time spent in the garden beds, especially Jeremy, John, Jill, Rachel, and the Prairie du Rocher Girl Scouts.  Special appreciation for friends James Mikel, Toni, and Renea, helping to present the illusion of a moment in a long ago era.  James created lovely reproduction tools and Toni and Renea spent time at Fort events working in the garden, enhancing the events, while accomplishing much needed garden tasks. As a lifelong gardener, having spent many hours researching 18th century garden methods, plants and recipes, this endeavor has been a road of discovery. To my husband Nick, and my family, thank you for providing much needed assistance whenever it is needed. Many hands are indeed the foundation for a successful garden project.

This heritage project pays homage and encourages remembrance of those long ago French habitants and salutes their abilities and skill. Gardens of the region were noted and written of, as remarked in a first hand account by Henry Brackenridge, in his account of a nearby French garden in Ste. Genevieve: “It was indeed a 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 a variety of the choicest fruits.” As we travel this garden path and aspire to the French gardens of the 18thcentury in the Illinois Country, you are invited to follow the maturing of our heritage fort garden and garden blog.  Please check our weekly garden posts and photos in the journal section, as well as the updating of the garden layout page, soon to feature updated plans and plant varieties of our garden – past, present and future.  A bientot!

PS  If you are traveling in the Illinois Country this Saturday, Oct. 9 – visit Fort de Chartres, 11 AM – 4 PM. Toni, Renea, & I will be using the bake oven as part of the demonstrations at the Fort during the Save Illinois History’s Fete at the Fort,  A Beer Tasting at Historic Fort de Chartres: Stop by, say hello and wander through our garden.