Football players help plant period garden at Leffingwell House

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwichtown - posted Tue., Jul. 5, 2011
Members of Norwich Free Academy's football team set fence posts in a new period garden at Leffingwell House Museum. Contributed photos. - Contributed Photo

Norwich Free Academy’s Wildcat football team temporarily exchanged football helmets for gardening gloves last month to help enhance a local landmark.

The young athletes, along with football boosters and others, spent June 25 helping construct raised beds and walkways for period gardens at the Leffingwell House Museum on Town Street. Museum Volunteer Coordinator Beryl Fishbone said that 35 people, including parents and other volunteers, pitched in to make the gardens a reality.

The gardens - researched and designed by Master Gardener Greg Farlow along with his wife, plant researcher Camilla Farlow - are more than simply decorative. “The planning, layout and research took a good bit of time” on the Farlows’ part, Fishbone said. The intent was to display the types of plants that European colonists brought to the New World with them, along with indigenous American plants that they adapted to their uses as the colonies got established.

“Many of the common weeds and plants… we see today are descendents of imported plants brought with a purpose to this country,” said Fishbone. “This will be one of the very few gardens in the United States to strictly showcase a specific time period in history.”

Planning the project was Greg Farlow’s final project for certification as a Master Gardener. The Farlows based the concept on period gardens they had seen in Ipswich and Essex, Mass.

The plants included are similar to those colonists would have grown around 1700, although the strains have changed over time, Camilla said. Among the native American species used by the colonists are orange milkweed, bee balm, heuchera (coral bells) and Joe Pye weed.

“Many of the herbs brought over by the colonists have become common staples in most people’s gardens,” said Camilla. Bearded iris is a good example of this, as are daylilies, which since their import have “escaped” the garden’s confines and become established in the wild.

Exploring the raised beds at Leffingwell, “people will have a better understanding of the plants that were here and the ones the colonists brought with them,” Fishbone said.

Fishbone added that the new wood used in the beds will weather and age over the next year to a silver gray, which will better complement the appearance of  the museum, which was built in 1675.

The chosen plants were selected in large part for their low maintenance requirements, said Camilla. “We were trying to make a garden that was not going to require a ton of extra help,” she said.

Fishbone said that the NFA football team got involved through a connection with Kim Kelly, who is part of the Master Gardener program at the University of Connecticut and a parent of one of the Wildcat players.

Other volunteers just showed up for the work party, she said. “They saw the signs out front [of the museum] and said, ‘We can do that.’”

Rock dust was spread on the garden’s walkways and a picket fence was erected around the garden to provide protection from deer and other critters. The soil in the wood-framed raised beds was specially mixed to provide a good growing medium.

“The birds are loving the garden” since the project was completed, Fishbone said. “They get to take little dust baths” – a necessity in summer heat to deter insects.

She said that the museum has hopes for a donation of more fencing to enclose additional garden space.

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