Fort de Chartres Heritage Garden

Un journal d'un Jardin Potager du Pays des Illinois

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Summer Heirloom Produce Saturdays

You are invited to the Fort de Chartres Jardin Potager and sample heirloom produce on Saturday, September 10,  10 AM-Noon. Some produce and recipes available.

Welcome to our Jardin Potager outside the walls of Fort de Chartres! This garden has been planted in the style of a French l’habitant kitchen garden generally tended by the women of the Illinois Country.

Heirloom herbs, vegetables & fruits currently in season:
Basil, Scallop Summer Squash, Cucumbers, and Melons

And at the fort on 4 September, Saturday, be sure not to miss:

Cannon firing demonstrations by the French Colonial Artillery at 10:00 AM

The French Colonial Artillery group will fire the fort’s 6 pound cannon on the hour from 10am until 4pm.  They will be available through the day to share information about 18th century artillery and answer questions.


27 August, Saturday

90 degrees F

Partly Sunny, Calm

Finally cooler winds swept across the valley floor and some relief arrived for the jardin. A week after the previous post, two-thirds of an inch of rain fell and one could almost hear the plants sighing. It was brief respite from the heat but most welcome. Our Heirloom Produce Saturdays have been great fun and a wonderful opportunity to meet visitors, share produce, recipes, gardening stories and the continued harvest of eggplants, scallop squashes, and watermelons.

Mmes Hancock et Davis

But with exasperation, I must note the recent resurgence of heat with no new rain. The days are nearing September, late summer chores continue-heirloom beets, carrots, lettuce, radish and turnip seeds were planted, while the compost was turned and new materials were added. As a sad tune to this summer’s meter, most time spent in the jardin once again have been focused on watering and controlling weeds. Some of the seeds have emerged but a few beds had to be reseeded due to the lack of germination. The melons and squash still produce, but fewer fruit have been set.

The Author

Raccoons manage to slip into the garden overnight and sample the few remaining ripening French melons, very frustrating! The open rinds lay in the bed and scooped clean of any trace of melon except for the seed. The red seeded citron watermelons litter the melon bed intact, the rind being too hard for raccoon mischief. These melons are strong survivors to the trials of our summer. The citron melon was preserved following the recipe posted last month on the recettes page and the result was surprisingly lovely-the marmalade flavors of ginger and lemon combined with sweetened melon. The result is a marmalade piquancy without the bite. Melon preserves will be a wonderful accompaniment to meals and tart fillings this winter. As these melons are not eaten fresh, they will keep months in the cellar and can be processed as the fall season slows work in the gardens. No wonder citron melons were widely grown, even though they take a bit of work to prepare.

Garden weeded and planted for fall.

Looking about the garden, we do not wish the summer season to be at an end–still hoping to be blessed with cooler temperatures and rain. Time is needed for seeds to grow and then, as the promise of the fall garden beckons, the tastes and pleasures of the upcoming autumn will be ours to explore.

11 August, Thursday

Summer Harvest

86 degrees F

Sunny, Light S winds

While enduring the heat and the lack of rain these past weeks, the lyrics from a traditional harvest song keep echoing in my mind -“The summer is a tyrant of a most ungracious kind.” No truer words express this past August in our jardin. The unrelenting sun made the work of clearing the garden of spent summer plants and weeds even more challenging than usual. So much of the time upon arrival involved watering, harvesting, and feeding plants, nurturing and protecting the crops against the burning rays. The melons and summer squash are producing, even thriving, in this August heat while the cucumbers are struggling to set fruit.

Cucumbers and Basil

It was a relief to observe the leeks and eggplants still growing and the new planting of native Potawatomie lima beans beginning to twine around the base of their poles. Once again, friends Antoinette and Renea stepped forward several times this month, helping with the thankless tasks of digging and clearing beds. Forgotten carrots and turnips are discovered and are fed to the chickens, while the weeds are pulled and beds are prepared for planting.

Turnip Seedlings

The ticking seasonal clock waits on no one and as soon as the weather breaks, seeds will be planted for the fall season. New to the jardin this month, Heirloom Produce Saturdays. On our first Saturday, we had a few visitors brave the 90 degree heat and sample the Moir de Carmes, Charentais, Missouri Heirloom, Georgia Rattlesnake melons. We gave away some melons and squash and shared recipes. We hoped for cooler temps the upcoming Saturday, and more new friends to visit and share our jardin produce.

Chaleur de Juillet

28 July, Thursday

95 degrees F

Sunny, Light N winds

If I had to choose between winter and summer in this country, I do not know which I would take; for in the summer, besides the scorching heat and the frequent passing from extreme heat to extreme cold, and rarely having three fine days in succession, there are moreover so many Mosquitoes or gnats, that you cannot go out without being covered with them, and stung on all sides.

Letter from Father Gabriel Marest, Missionary of the Society of Jesus, to Father de Lamberville of the same Society, Procurator of the Mission of Canada,. 1707. The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, TRAVELS AND EXPLORATIONS OF THE JESUIT MISSIONARIES IN NEW FRANCE, 1610—1791

Mes amis, this accounting of the weather of North America early in the 1700s aptly describes temperature and insect extremes in the Illinois country. This summer at Fort de Chartres, with temperatures registering in the upper 90s to low 100s for most of the month of July, certainly curtailed activity in our jardin. Also, it is of little comfort, but interesting to note, the observations of Constantin-François Volney: In the summer of 1779, when the thermometer was at 90 degrees at Monticello, and 96 degrees at Williamsburg, it was 110 degrees at Kaskaskia.The onset of illness and reluctance to labor in the oppressive heat, rendered little progress by this gardener through most of July. As the month waned, and the season’s earlier downpours evaporated with the rising temperatures, it became imperative to begin watering and feeding the vegetable and melon beds.
It was also necessary to rescue the beds from the onslaught of unwanted invasive plants which only competed for the limited water resources at hand. With assistance from my friend Toni, we worked throughout the morning, harvesting the cucumbers, squashes, and melons ripening in their beds. We collected Noir de Carmes and Valencia melons, Georgia Rattlesnake, Missouri Heirloom And Red Seeded Citron watermelons, Yellow and White Scallop squashes, all heavily producing in the summer heat. Surprisingly, the French heirloom cucumbers were covered with blooms but had yet to bear fruit. The basil plants had grown into full shrubs over the past month in response to the warmth, holding their own against the entwining cucumber vines. Soaking the soil with water took the rest of the morning and into the early afternoon until the heat dictated an end to our work. As our efforts were completed for the day, we took a moment of rest in the shade of the bake oven. Contemplating the resilience of some plants to weather and, in some cases thrive, in the extreme temperatures of the Illinois Country, nature’s rules and order once again surprise and amaze. The work of clearing and preparing the beds for the fall planting must wait for another day and hopefully, cooler temperatures. Visit this site’s Recettes page for recipes featuring July’s garden bounty.


4 June, Saturday

95 degrees F

Sunny, Light Wind

The date does not reflect the true summer season, but the first weekend in June heralds the beginning of the summer for those of us in the Illinois Country. It is the annual date of the Fort de Chartres Rendezvous and this year commemorated the 41st year of this landmark event. Rendezvous is a re-creation of the traditional French fur trapper’s holiday of the 18th Century, and is one of the oldest and largest events of its kind in the United States. And as usual, the temperatures and humidity soared as the date approached. Even as the heat rose, visitors arrived to take in all the activities; morning and evening colors in all its pageantry, militiamen, buckskinners, artisans, and entertainers. We welcomed visitors to our jardin potager and enjoyed sharing gardening history with those who stopped by. This event should not be missed as it always is filled with much joyous noise and activity, the colorful sights and sounds of a large 18th Century regional gathering.

In between garden visitors, some work was accomplished in the garden. Weeding help was offered by a new acquaintance and her work was gratefully accepted. As she weeded, work continued, mounding the soil next to the spring peas, so that the De Bourbonne & Long Anglais cucumber seeds could be planted. Once this task was completed, these beds along with the others were thoroughly watered. Checking the new apple trees planted earlier this spring, I was very pleased to see they are thriving and ready for the next step in the process of espaliering. New shoots were pinched back, leaving those to be trained to their supporting wire in the fall. The lettuces and radishes were harvested along with the Tom Thumb bush beans. Their harvesting brings to mind ingredients for an 18th century salad whether French salades simples or English salmagundi. Look on the recettes page of this blog for salad, cucumber, green and dried pea recipes.


21 June, Tuesday

87 Degrees F


Summer is indeed with us, streaming in with the rains still pounding our region. With the formal arrival of the season, the heat has made for challenging gardening conditions.  Our Tom Thumb bush peas are just finishing production but the yellowed and dried vines of the Blue Podded Snap & the De Grace Snow peas signal the end of their season. Tis time to clean out the dead vines and provide the supports for the rapidly growing cucumbers . Work continues with the weeding, harvesting some carrots, radishes, and turnips as I progress through the garden beds. The Painted Lady Runner beans and snapdragons are brightening the jardin with their blooms. Radishes have gone to seed but they are left in place for now as they have been attracting pollinating and beneficial insects in the garden. Staff and volunteer help have begun weeding of the Native Garden and the large squash/melon bed. Their efforts are greatly appreciated. These areas are rapidly growing, fueled by the warm temperatures. As the plants grow, they are checked for signs of the dreaded squash bugs, which so devastated our squash crops last summer and fall. It appears with the cooler temperature this spring and the heavy rains since, they are appearing more slowly this season. All in all, except for the perennial complaint of an abundance of weeds, one can be satisfied with the steady progress of our jardin potager.

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.