By: Jenna Banning.
You pull up the narrow driveway and park your car out back, behind the old barn. Approaching the weathered tables, bearing countless containers of young plants, your eyes take a quick mental survey of what’s available: there’s some swiss chard next to a flat of arugula, and over in that corner, they’ve got some thyme and parsley plants. And back in the greenhouse, there are some tomatoes starts, and little gourd plants that are just beginning to extend their vines past their plastic containers.
Sounds like a pretty normal plant sale so far, right? Except as you look closer, you begin to pick out some varieties you’re less familiar with. Next to a flat of broccoli raab is something called “cutting celery,” and that sage looks a little different from what you use in your kitchen… As you step back, you may notice another detail special to this plant sale: that barn you drove by to get here- it was once the carriage house of the old Hornblower Estate.
You see, this is a pretty special kind of plant sale, and for roughly twenty years, our area has been fortunate enough to have the great folks at the Plimoth Plantation offer us the chance to grow history. The Plimoth Plantation’s Heritage Plant Sale occurs every year around Memorial Day weekend, and showcases the plants that would have been grown here during the 17th century, as well as some more commercially well-known plants from our times. Lori Danek, horticulturalist for the Plimoth Plantation, has nothing against growing heirloom tomatoes for customers, even though she knows the Pilgrims would never have eaten them. (Tomatoes belong to the nightshade family and were thought to be poisonous.) But what makes this plant sale truly special is the selection of heritage plants, as well as Lori’s knowledge of these plants’ roles in our area’s history.
I got to see this for myself last Sunday. According to Lori, the first day is always the busiest, but there was still a steady crowd towards the end of the second day of the sale. Lori and her assistant Lizzie must have been exhausted, but they still graciously gave me a tour of the sale and greenhouse where the plants are grown. In addition to the plants grown for the Heritage Plant Sale, the Horticulture Department also raises plants used in the Wompanoag Village and Plimoth Plantation, and supplies the Costume Department of the Plantation with the plants used to dye their clothing and other fabrics. Lori pointed out some gourds she was growing for use as props in an upcoming historical play, and I felt like a proud native New Englander when I recognized the celebrated trio of flint corn, beans, and squash being raised in flats. (Think back to your early history classes where you learned about the “Three Sisters.”)
Lori researches and sources her seeds from a variety of places–Maine’s Fedco is one of her favorites–and all of her plants are grown organically, without fertilizers or pesticides.
I left the plant sale with my own little pot of cutting celery, as well as a strong appreciation for all that the Horticulture Department of the Plantation does. Want to check it out for yourself? The Plant Sale will be on again this coming weekend (June 1st and 2nd), and if you’re not able to make it then, they’ll still have some of their plants available for sale at upcoming Farmers’ Markets. So make sure to swing by, support the Plimoth Plantation’s Horticulture Department, and pick up your own little chance to grow history.
Jenna Banning is interning with edible South Shore for the spring and summer of 2013, before she heads up to the University of Vermont to earn her master’s degree. When not working at Bayside Runner or managing the edible South Shore blog, you can find Jenna chronicling her travels in sustainable food systems across the United States at EATY0URVEGGIES.