In the 1860s, gardening was “women’s work.”
And like the rest of the women in those days, Felicité Manson was responsible for providing much of her family’s food. In her long dress and bonnet, she planted a kitchen garden behind her house with seeds brought on her family’s journey west.
More than likely, Felicité grew vegetables to be eaten or stored for winter, herbs for medicines, and colorful flowers — mainstays of the typical 19th century garden.
Produce grown and tended by the women augmented purchased staples such as meat, flour, sugar and coffee. Without the produce she raised, her family would have had to endure a bleak winter of limited foods, often causing poor nutrition and possibly failing appetites.
Today, Manson’s kitchen garden is replicated behind the Visitor Center at Champoeg State Heritage Area and is open for inspection by park visitors who are entranced by the historic scenario above.
“History is, of course, a primary aspect of the park,” says Kim Maley, the garden ranger for Champoeg. “There were several people involved over the past few decades to get the historic garden started, and, as these things typically do, it has evolved ever since.”
While visiting the 1860s Kitchen Garden, stop in at the threshing barn and the Historic Butteville Store. For more information and a schedule of events, visit champoeg.org.
Maley says the park’s goal is to present a “stage” which represents the typical 1860s era from the emigrants’ point of view.
“What they brought, what they planted, how they viewed and managed the land they now inhabited can all be represented to a large degree in the gar-dens they planted,” she says. “From the food crops to the flowers they chose to pest control methods, their worldview and what they deemed important is clearly illustrated. What a fun venue to examine the past.”
Historical information provided by Champoeg reports that by the time Felicité planted her first seeds, the Willamette Valley was completely claimed, towns were growing, and Oregon was a state. Donald Manson moved his family to Champoeg in 1857 to live out his retirement years as a farmer. Donald and Felicité then lived on a farm on what is now park land, and the barn behind the Visitor Center was their barn.
“Similarly, as garden designs and practices would vary in different regions of the continent, we strive to stay authentic to what would have been present in the Willamette Valley in both crop choice and design,” Maley says. “The Manson family whose homestead we are replicating to our best guess was a wealthy family and, as such, would have had a somewhat fancier garden than many of the emigrants in the area. The white picket fence, some more ‘expensive’ varieties — French finger-ling potatoes for example — are part of our garden to portray the affluence, status, and access Donald and Felicité Manson would have enjoyed.”
According to Champoeg’s historical reports, Donald Manson had been an officer with the Hudson’s Bay Company, which conducted agricultural experiments as part of its busiby hand after lugging water from a well or up from the creek, park rangers use hoses and sprinklers to keep crops going, and Maley says all the plants are heirloom varieties.
“We collect our seeds for replanting and, when necessary, purchase heir-loom seeds from reputable sources such as Seed Savers,” she says. “Though this is technically the Victorian Age, we do not have a Victorian garden as that would not like-ly have been the focus in this part of the world at that time.”
Because apples are easy to grow, store and preserve, the Mansons also had an orchard approximately where the Visitor Center parking lot is today. Near the kitchen garden, the park has its own small orchard, with eight varieties of apples.
Seldom-grown vegetables and flow-ers such as Salsify, Yellow Eckendorf Mangle Wurtzel Beets, Cardoon, Cupids Dart and Shoo-fly are among the unusual varieties found at the garden, which offers self-guided tours and hosts guided tours at 1 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday from the Fourth of July to Labor Day.
“People may visit the garden any time the park is open,” says Maley, who is there from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. “The focus is usually on food, and I enjoy pointing out that any of the items represent more of the emigrants than merely survival. It represents what they left behind, what they brought under dire circumstances such as comfort measures and reminders of their homes and family.”
Maley conducts garden tours on Saturdays, and workdays are held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays for “any interested in getting their hands dirty.”
Cooking demonstrations will start once produce is ready for harvest, she says.
“We also bring produce into the campground, and visitors are welcome to try things and purchase, if desired,” Maley says. “We sell the seeds in the store as well.”