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September 13, 2008 / Bo Mackison

Heirloom Gardening

Polish Heritage Garden

Polish Heritage Garden

I love gardens. All kinds of gardens. Flower gardens, community gardens, Japanese gardens. And a recent visit to Old World Wisconsin sparked an interest in yet another type of garden – the heirloom garden.

It was a perfect summer’s day when I went exploring a few weeks ago. Old World is a great place to go when you want to both get in a little outdoor exercise and visit a museum. Though there is tram service to the various areas, I chose to walk the paths and managed to add nearly 4 miles to my pocket pedometer. And I discovered my favorite parts were outside, too – the thirteen heirloom gardens that sported colorful flowers and vegetables, and looked like paintings right out of the 19th Century. All of the gardens in the museum are typical of those found in the historical period from the 1850s through the 1890s.

German Heirloom Garden

German Heirloom Garden

Heirloom gardens use only plants that are cultivars that were commonly grown before large scale agricultural practices were introduced. These vegetable plants have kept their traits through open-pollination and the fruits are propagated by grafts and cuttings. These varieties are becoming less prevalent because plants are now chosen for their consistency, their hardiness to tolerate shipping and storage, and their tolerance to drought or pests. Though these qualities are desirable when growing food is a huge agri-business, these plants are not the best nutritionally nor do they taste the finest.

The gardeners at Old World also use farming techniques from the time period. If it wasn’t done in the late 19th century, it isn’t done in these plots either.

In the last decade, the heirloom gardening movement has been increasing. The gardens at Old World Wisconsin provide some mighty incentive. The vegetables and fruits I sampled tasted great.


  1. Anna Surface / Sep 13 2008 10:35 am

    Wow! How fortune you are to have such gardens nearby! I haven’t heard of heirloom gardening before. I’d love to walk these gardens and put in a few foot miles, for sure. I’d also enjoy examining and smelling these plants. I enjoyed this, Bo. 🙂

  2. Amelia / Sep 13 2008 2:59 pm

    It would be fun to try gardenng like these gardens. I like the German one in squares. What do their garden tools look like, I wonder?

  3. montucky / Sep 13 2008 8:12 pm

    I can see how those gardens would provide incentive, and inspiration!

  4. ybonesy / Sep 13 2008 11:47 pm

    Wonderful shots, Bo. It’s good, too, to know what heirloom seeds and plants are.

    We have some Old World gardens that are part of living museums, but nothing quite so grand.

  5. visuallens / Sep 14 2008 9:44 am

    How nice to have so many gardens around like you. Very informative about Wisconsin.

  6. Gandalf / Sep 15 2008 8:11 am

    Simply awesome.

  7. gypsy-heart / Sep 16 2008 1:46 pm

    Loved all your latest photos!

    Many in my family practice heirloom gardening. My stepfather is a master at such. 🙂

    Thank you for sharing more of your world Bo.

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