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Dec. 9, 2019

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History still blooming in the Fort Vancouver garden

Even the flowers, bees in sync with historical past

By , Columbian Arts & Features Reporter
Published: August 22, 2019, 6:03am
11 Photos
A rare quince tree, producing fruits that are better cooked than eaten raw, flourishes in the heritage garden in front of Fort Vancouver. Today’s heritage garden is a 95 percent accurate representation of varieties of plants grown here in the 1840s, volunteers said. Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian
A rare quince tree, producing fruits that are better cooked than eaten raw, flourishes in the heritage garden in front of Fort Vancouver. Today’s heritage garden is a 95 percent accurate representation of varieties of plants grown here in the 1840s, volunteers said. Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian Photo Gallery

The historically authentic crops in the heritage garden in front of Fort Vancouver even attract historically authentic pollinators.

None of your imported European honey bees for these heirloom foods and flowers — the bumblebees that spend their lives buzzing around this half-acre plot are indigenous to the area, said Nancy Funk, volunteer garden manager.

The treats that keep them local are “95 percent accurate to what Dr. McLoughlin was planting and growing,” Funk said on a recent morning while working the garden with a gaggle of volunteers. Chief Factor John McLoughlin ran Fort Vancouver from 1825 to 1845.

If you want to try growing the same heirloom vegetables or fruits at home, or just learn about the garden and admire its historical riches, your opportunity is coming right up.

An anniversary party, honoring the 103rd birthday of the National Park Service, is set for 5 p.m. Saturday at the garden. You’ll be able to take guided garden tours and purchase harvested heirloom seeds.

IF YOU GO

What: Garden Anniversary Party at Fort Vancouver.

When: 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Heritage garden at Fort Vancouver, 1001 E. Fifth St.

Admission: Free.

For sale: Heirloom seeds; adult beverages in the beer and wine garden.

The history-themed party will also feature complimentary, nonhistorical birthday cake, nonalcoholic beverages and live music by the John Dover Quartet; adult beverages will be available for purchase in the event’s beer and wine garden.

Before that, also honoring the park service’s birthday, mystery writer Christine Carbo will autograph and sell books at 1 p.m., up the hill at the Fort Vancouver Visitors Center, 1501 Evergreen Blvd. Carbo, who stages her mystery stories in and around Montana’s Glacier National Park, is growing a reputation as a “National Parks novelist,” said Mary Rose, executive director of the Friends of Fort Vancouver organization. Carbo and her books will also be on hand during the garden party at the fort that evening.

History in miniature

The half-acre garden in front of today’s reconstructed fort is a miniature version of what used to be a 6-acre spread, Rose said. It keeps 20 regular volunteer gardeners busy year-round, she said, but especially so in summertime.

Volunteers usually use period-style tools fashioned in the fort’s blacksmith and carpentry shops — but they’re happy to water the place with flowing garden hoses.

“We stay authentic without getting ridiculous,” Rose chuckled.

More volunteers are always welcome, Funk added. She said she’s at the fort every week but doesn’t always get a lot of dirt work done because she’s busy greeting people from all over the globe.

More than 1 million visitors explore the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site every year, Rose noted, and the heritage garden is the “entryway” they all walk beside, or through, on their way to the fort’s front door.

They tend to fall in love, Rose said. Not everyone is hungry to learn the complicated history of Pacific Northwest settlement, but everyone loves food, she said.

“They find visiting here relaxing and educational,” Rose said.

Funk always emphasizes that this particular garden is a historical demonstration driven by “research, research, research.” She combs journals, letters, shipping records and other obscure sources for clues about the meals people were eating, the foods and medicinals they were growing and trading, as well as the crops they were feeding their livestock.

But if the clues are generic — like a simple mention of “peas” in particular year — Funk has to dig deeper, trying to figure out the variety, the source, the way it was prepared for the table or dried and stored for later.

Today’s heritage garden includes some vintage varieties you probably won’t find anywhere else anymore, including quince (a “fuzzy old fruit” that’s better cooked than eaten raw, Funk said), cardoons (an artichoke ancestor) and “pommes d’amore,” or “love apples,” which are actually tomatoes.

Volunteers carefully harvest garden seeds and replant them every year, Funk said, to keep the historicity going.

The heritage garden aims to demonstrate what McLouglin and his white peers were growing during settlement days, Rose said. Contemporary Native American crops are on artistic display just to the south, on the Land Bridge that crosses state Highway 14.

“We are delighted that the volunteer gardeners will take center stage” for this event, Rose said.

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