Guest Writer Chris Armstrong

New life is sprouting in Discovery Park of America’s 1800s settlement with the introduction of a Heritage Garden. Historical interpreter Mike Ramsey has begun a heritage garden that will serve as a long-term educational and demonstration project. A labor of love for those who work in many different departments at DPA, the multipurpose garden will display samplings of traditional heirloom plants used for produce, flowers for dyes and even medicinal herbs for Ramsey to utilize in future demonstrations.

“The first year will be for experimentation, the second year for adjustments and the third year we’ll really go for it,” said Ramsey. Due to the poor quality of the soil, he predicts it could take three years of cultivation for the garden to meet his expectations, but he’s excited about sharing the transformation with DPA guests.

Heritage Gardens are designed to honor the cultural and natural heritage of specific areas like West Tennessee while utilizing sustainable gardening practices. They promote the use of native plants, sustainable landscape and gardening techniques and educate communities about the history of their region.

The project won’t come without challenges. Only through persistence and good fortune combined will the garden flourish. Ramsey repeatedly mentioned, “Mother nature will need to be kind,” a sentiment sure to resonate with many of those in the agriculture business in the area. While concerns like diseases, poor weather or soil issues are universal to the farming experience around the world, DPA also has a share of unique complications that Ramsey has to consider. Due to the cooperative nature of the project between multiple departments, all care given to the garden will need to be carefully recorded as just one mistake could ruin months of preparation. Diligent supervision will be required to ensure the garden isn’t harmed by guests or one of the park’s frequent visitors after-hours—rabbits.

Because of its location in The Settlement, Ramsey intends to primarily use resources and techniques that were common practice in the 1870s. Heirloom seeds and plants will be on display, and he intends to utilize “companion planting” techniques, where nearby plants will provide benefits to other crops to increase the overall productivity of the garden. While crops might change due to the experimental nature of the garden, some staples like corn, okra, peas, and older versions of modern hybrid flowers are all expected to make an appearance.

Jennifer Wildes, DPA’s exhibits director noted, “Everyone involved with the garden understands their responsibilities and is excited about learning new tasks and finding new things to share with our guests as it evolves.” Ramsey enthusiastically shoulders most of the responsibilities that accompany this venture. Any DPA guest who would like to learn more about his farming techniques, what the future of the garden has in store or his extensive history with similar programs are encouraged to visit The Settlement on Saturdays when he’s on hand to interact with visitors to the museum and heritage park.