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 21st Annual Heirloom Garden Show August 29

      Knowledge of the past is proving critical to the future of the country and Garfield Farm Museum’s 21st Annual Heirloom Garden Show on Sunday August 29 from 11 am ˆ 4 pm is just such a wealth of accumulated knowledge. Yet sometimes it is just great to escape such concerns and enjoy a summer's day on the farm with welcoming and interesting people who love to garden.

      For over 20 years Garfield Farm Museum has offered the Heirloom Garden show to the public to increase awareness in the loss of genetic diversity in the very plants that provide us food, fiber, medicine and enjoyment. What was a once or twice a year mention in the media has now become a mainstream topic. People grasp the impact change has on our society and the value of fruits and vegetables that offer unique tastes, cooking traits, appearance, disease or insect resistance that may not be found in more modern cultivars grown in the backyard or purchased at the grocery. An interest in locally grown produce to reduce the carbon foot print allows for growing varieties that might not do well if they had to be grown far away, shipped and packed and unpacked a number of time before reaching the consumer. Often rediscovering these heritage varieties all comes down to taste and the luxury of ripeness denied in the world's largest consumer society of mass production.

    The chance to meet backyard gardeners, many of whom are members of the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE), a nonprofit organization that has connected plant enthusiasts from around the nation and world, is reason enough to attend the show.  SSE is a remarkable grass roots effort begun in 1975 and that has expanded to an 889 acre site with 51 organic garden plots including isolated gardens to prevent cross pollination of the over 3000 varieties grown each year out of a 25,000 variety collection. Located in Decorah, Iowa, Seed Savers has annually received a portion of the proceeds from the Heirloom Garden Show.

     Yet for those who have no interest in gardening themselves, just seeing the variety of types the growers bring, all in the pastoral setting of Garfield Farm Museum's 374 acres, makes the day well spent.

    Exhibits with the gardeners are spread about the shaded farmyard with its rustic board fences and the sounds chickens, sheep and oxen punctuating the chorus of cicadas and crickets on a late summer sunny day. Also visible since the 2009 show, will be last fall's restored south wall of the 1842 barn and its newly restored roof just begun in mid-August. The massive oak beams of this timber framed barn were all cut and hewn in less than 2 months and then erected on April 13, 1842, with final roofing and siding completed in less than 6 months in June of 1842. The continuity of modern day people growing and displaying 100-200 year old varieties next to such venerable buildings adds reassurance of America's connection to past and future generations.

    Taking a tour of the 1846 brick tavern, when a roof overhead was the sought after luxury in 1840s road trips, ignites the imagination of what life was like in another time, under vastly different circumstances. A glimpse of the natural environment will also be offered at the show as guided walks around the prairie and savanna restoration west of the barn yard will be given.

    For some just sitting on the courtyard of the Atwell Burr House Visitors Center enjoying refreshments or home made pie from Inglenook Pantry of Geneva offers a chance to take in a half mile view of the fields and fencerows that comprise Garfield Farm Museum.

    For the hardcore gardener, the heirloom vegetable garden with its pre-1860s cultivars and a demonstration of a proposed early 1850s garden layout makes a great supposition of what our ancestors planted and how they planted.

    Grown just for this show, an annual garden of antique flowers reflects appreciated beauty even in more challenging times when life was hard and most uncertain. Appellations like “Love Lies Bleeding” or “Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate” were common fanciful names of flowers not seen in the modern hybrid gardens of today but still capture the creative mind's eye. Many of the annuals planted are varieties that Thomas Jefferson grew as his elaborate notes and descriptions match what varieties survive today. So with Love in a Mist, Spider Flowers, Four O’Clocks or Sweet Williams, our predecessors had no lack of names for what they enjoyed.     An additional garden near the kitchen of the inn contains culinary and medicinal plants in addition to some native flowers as accounts of the time encouraged transplanting prairie flowers to the garden as they were disappearing from the 1840s landscape.

    For a number of years the plantings and seeds have been made possible by generous monetary support from the Pottawatomie Garden Club of St. Charles. Museum volunteers and staff maintain the gardens. This year they have done an admirable job fighting weeds and, to a lesser extent, the abundant appetites of rabbits and 13-lined ground squirrels.

    The show is $6 for adults and $3 for children under 13 years of age. For information, contact 630 584-8485 or email The museum is located 5 miles west of Geneva, IL off ILL Rt.38 on Garfield Road. This historically intact former 1840s Illinois prairie farmstead is being restored as an 1840s working farm museum by donors and volunteers from around the country.

For more information about Garfield Farm send an e-mail message to: or call 630/584-8485.