DECATUR – In the sweet garden of childhood memory, Craig Warrick holds onto the taste of his salad days.
“I remember going out as a kid and getting the sweet peas out of the garden,” Warrick said. “I'd just split open that pod and oh, nature's candy.”
The Decatur man is now too busy working and raising a family to cultivate a vegetable garden of his own but, if you can't go home again, you can always take a walk in someone else's garden. And so Warrick and his 5-year-old son Gabriel took the opportunity of a sunny and warm fall Sunday afternoon to visit the Heirloom Garden Open House at Rock Springs Conservation Area.
This garden's memories go back a lot further, recreating the plants and look of a circa 1860s vegetable plot next to the Homestead Prairie Farm. Dad looked on with a smile as the volunteer Master Gardeners who work the soil introduced his son to such vegetable exotica as okra (a taste similar to green tomatoes when fried) and which stand more than 6-feet-tall.
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“I love to bring him out here so he can appreciate nature,” Warrick said. “And he does pay attention. He wants to know.”
There's much to learn in the Heirloom Garden and an Heirloom Herb Garden nearby. More than 20 varieties of vegetables alone are cultivated without the aid of chemicals and using “heirloom” seeds free of modern hybridization, all grown just the way our frontier ancestors grew them.
Yields are surprisingly good, with some 380 pounds of produce having been pulled out of the garden this season. It's all donated to Decatur area food pantries, as well as feeding animals at Scovill Zoo, and the Master Gardeners have mastered some interesting non-chemical ways to grow their harvest by fending off ravenous wild beasts, like deer.
The Heritage Garden is surrounded by a small fence topped with tall poles that have multiple strings stretched between them. From the strings hang oddities like gourds and corn cobs with feathers added to give them wings; the feathers make everything twist and turn in the breeze. Master Gardener Clarence Josefson says all that movement is enough to confuse and spook the deer.
“I think the deer end up thinking the fence is as high as the strings,” Josefson said. “And the deer have not bothered the garden in the last two years; it does seem to work.”