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In the Garden





THE 24-BY-24 FOOT GARDEN, BRIMMING with herbs, annuals and perennials, is enclosed by a neat white picket fence -- a refreshing oasis on a bluff of summer-parched grass surrounded by a scattering of ghostly white deserted buildings.

But what is it doing here?

Attend History in Bloom, a dedication of the garden at Fort Humboldt State Historic Park Aug. 2 at 1 p.m. and you will learn all about the beautiful, historical 1850s garden crafted by a group of Humboldt County master gardeners.

It took Eileen Amos, Judy Moranda, Gisela Rohde, Gayle Teter, Michele Tourné and Barbara Wilkinson -- recent graduates of the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Program -- more than a year to conceive and build this project. To fulfill the Master Gardener program's requirement, each was required to put in 50 hours volunteer community service.

[photo of garden volunteers] Garden volunteers from left to right:
Judy Moranda, Gisela Rohde,
Barbara Whikinson, Eileen Amos
and Gayle Teter.

"This is great, just great," commented California State Parks District Interpretive Specialist Alan Wilkinson, who supervised the project. "Look at this place. There is not much happening right now. It's pretty bare, so this (the garden) is going to be infusing life into this fort. It is another aspect where people can come up here and take a look and see that there is something actually happening, growing. I think residents who have been here don't remember it (Fort Humboldt) is part of their cultural history," he added.

Months of research went into this cooperative effort between California State Parks and the Master Gardener Volunteer Program. In May 1999 volunteers began pouring through volumes of books, letters and photographs to come up with historically accurate plants and design.

"We wanted to make this as historically accurate as possible, so we did quite a bit of research," said Rohde. "We found lots of references to gardening in the Fort Humboldt literature. We went to the Humboldt Historical Society. The state parks have a lot of reference information. We found there were lots of personal gardens, kitchen gardens, hospital gardens, company gardens. It was really fun once we started," she said.

The perfectly square garden, designed by Rohde, is located on the south side of the hospital which is now the museum. It is laid out in a formal style of raised beds made of 2-by-12 inch redwood boards. Central to the garden is a 6-by-6 foot, 24-inch deep raised bed in the center filled with chamomile and a rosemary plant in the center. Crushed gravel paths separate the beds.

Since historical accuracy took precedent, attention to detail is quietly evident. Lumber for beds and the picket fence came from wood recycled from 100-year-old barns. Square nails that will eventually rust hold beds together. The uneven plot was not leveled. Beds were filled with cow manure and topsoil.

Simple, yet elegant, beds host an assortment of annuals, perennials and herbs typical of the period. Because the fort's surgeon most likely had a garden, this one is medicinal in nature planted with herbs like mint, chamomile, lavender, comfrey, feverfew, lemon balm, borage, rue and valerian, to name a few.

The volunteers learned in their research that gardening was necessary for sanity as well as for food and medicine. "He (the surgeon) talked about what a dreary place this was and how the flowers brought him pleasure. Gardening was something to do because it was so lonely and isolated out here," Wilkinson said.

"It was neat because gardening wasn't just for vegetables," said Rohde. "We came across an excerpt from the first surgeon that said he wrote a letter to his sister back East and said, `I have the flower seeds from Captain Sutter that I hope to grow this year and I will send you the seeds if they turn out.'

"They were definitely into flower gardening back then," she added.

Colorful blooming plants like Johnny-jump-ups, columbine and larkspur bloom freely among the herbs. Actually, finding heirloom 1850s stock was not easy.

"It's been a challenge and you will see some holes in the garden because we have had trouble finding some of the old-style plants. There are lots of cultivars today, but none of the original plants," said Wilkinson.

Fort Humboldt Illustration by Roger Goddard[illustration of fort]

"Like the columbine," Rohde added. "We got a columbine from one of the nurseries, but they wouldn't have had that cultivar in the 1850s," she explained.

Before construction could begin, a few bureaucratic hurdles had to be jumped. Permits were necessary, according to project supervisor Alan Wilkinson. "There were quite a few restrictions. Since this is a historic and archeological site there were historical and archeological considerations like appropriateness to the setting, ground disturbance. They really had to put together a lot of data, cultural inspection and natural history inspection," he said. The volunteers broke ground April 1, and by the end of the month plants were installed.

While some funding for the garden came from the state, the majority of plants and materials were donated by the volunteers as well as local businesses. "One of the master gardeners, Gayle Teter, bought the soil. That was a big investment and it was very generous of her," said Wilkinson.

The volunteers who started this garden hope that members of the community will not only visit it but participate in its life.

"People will learn a lot about gardening if they get involved. Let's get together and see what we can do to make this an exciting thing for Eureka," said Rohde.

Wilkinson said she would like to see local schools and members of the community use the garden as a laboratory for learning.

"We hope that there are school groups and teachers that would write a curriculum or help us write one. They could come here and do classroom work in the history of the area. With children you could instill an interest in gardening and certainly increase knowledge of the local history though the schools. And also community members. I've heard people say about Fort Humboldt, `Gee, I don't even know where it is.' The garden can bring the community into working with the state park. It is a feel-good project," she said.

Fort Humboldt State Historic Park is on the bluff above the Bayshore Mall. To get there, turn on Highland Avenue between the Flying J gas station and Kragen Auto Parts. Take the first street to the left, Fort Avenue. It is plainly marked.


FEED -- Keep flowers and vegetables in peak condition by giving them a midsummer feeding. Applying fertilizer now will keep flowering plants healthy, vigorous and prolong blooming until frost. You will get more produce from your vegetable garden if you give it a shot of fertilizer. Several commercial preparations are available. Choose the ones that are high in phosphorous.

WATER -- Garden vegetables are juicier and sweeter if given adequate water during the dry summer months. Thorough, deep watering is crucial for good production. Insufficient water makes lettuce and cucumbers bitter, broccoli heads small and peas thin and dry. Corn is especially vulnerable when tassels begin to show. Lack of water can interfere with pollination of ears, resulting in sparse kernels. Newly planted shrubs and trees need regular deep watering until rains begin this fall.

GROOM -- Annuals and perennials will bloom all summer until late fall if you keep them deadheaded. Remove spent blooms on marigolds, zinnias, petunias, dahlias, snapdragons and daisies. Many summer blooming perennials will repeat their bloom in the fall if sheared back and given a bit of fertilizer and water.

PLANT MORE -- Extend the harvest of your vegetable garden into the fall by planting more now. Carrots, peas, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, onions, radishes, beets, celery and early-maturing bush beans can be planted this month. The soil is warm and seeds germinate quickly.

WATCH OUT -- Drippy foggy summer days on the coast invite rust and mildew to certain plants. Inspect susceptible plants like roses, zinnias, dahlias as well as squash and cucumber for signs of disease. Remove tainted leaves and spray with neem if disease becomes apparent.

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