By Emma Bowen Meyer
For The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
While area history buffs realize that setting foot inside the Gruenewald Historic House is taking a step back in time, many are unaware that a stroll though the garden is as historically accurate as the interior of the home.
Deciding that a beautiful blooming lot was simply not educational enough for this local treasure, the Madison County Master Gardeners determined to create an heirloom garden that features only plants that were in existence before 1900. Since the home at 626 Main St. was completed in 1874 for Martin and Christiana Gruenewald, the garden theoretically could have looked similar to its modern-day appearance.
“It gets touchy how I say it,” said master gardener Loretta Heiniger with a laugh. “I used to say that every plant we grow is 100 years old but one day a woman from the Harter House stopped me by saying: ‘No they aren’t. I watched you plant them yesterday.’ ”
Heirloom plants are species that have survived for at least 50 years. Since that qualification didn’t reach far enough into history to ensure accuracy, gardeners consulted magazines and catalogs from the 1800s to see what was available for purchase at the time.
“I’m big on native plants,” said Heiniger, known in her circles as “the butterfly lady.”
“It just makes it more of a challenge to have to use plants from the 1900s. You have to start from seeds because you can’t buy them at the store.”
Susans and herbs
Despite the high temperatures and dry conditions this summer, the garden is awash with color. Heavily blooming now is the rudbeckia triloba, commonly known as brown-eyed Susan. Native to the area, the small yellow daisy type flowers are overflowing in the cottage garden and pouring over the brick walkways.
Also in bloom is one of Heiniger’s favorites, the zinnia peruviana (youth and old age zinnia). Unlike most flowers that lose their petals as they age, this variety retains the petals — although the color does fade. One shoot will have several blooms of different shades, the brightest being the youngest and the palest the oldest.
While this species is not native, it was available by 1804. England routinely sent ships to foreign lands to seek out exotic goods, including new varieties of flowers. From England, favorites would make their way to the United States.
Dedicating a strip next to the house to be the herb garden, the master gardeners sowed a number of useful plants. Culinary herbs include thyme, basil, parsley and sage. To brew perfect teas they planted lemon balm, lemon mint and peppermint. Medicinal herbs are Echinacea (coneflower), Joe Pye Weed and feverfew. Anthemis and false blue indigo were added for colorful dyes.
Although this section was supposed to be relegated to those purposeful herbs, volunteer flowers crossed the brick pathway to join them.
“The seeds just blow this way,” said LeAnna Reardon, master gardener. “The flowers pop up and we just leave them.”
Although the gardeners are busy with their extensive gardens at their own homes, they make time every week to work on the heirloom garden as well.
“It’s just in my genes,” said Heiniger. “I have always gardened since I was a little girl.”
Each week, Emma Bowen Meyer features a Madison County home. If you know of a home that should be showcased, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.