Fort de Chartres Heritage Garden

Un journal d'un Jardin Potager du Pays des Illinois

Tag: winter

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.

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!