Johnson County Master Gardeners will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Taste of the Heritage Garden on Wednesday, July 13, from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
Following a two-year hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic, the annual celebration is back – in-person. The Taste is a tribute to Iowa’s history and food. The event is held at historic Plum Grove, 1030 Carroll Street in Iowa City, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Cost is $5 donation.
Donations fund the gardens and Kirkwood Community College horticulture scholarships and 4-H Awards.
Built in 1844, Plum Grove was the home of Robert and Friendly Lucas. Robert served as the first governor of the Territory of Iowa from 1838 until 1841. Iowa was admitted to the Union as a state Dec. 3, 1846.
This year, Master Gardeners will honor Betty Kelly, who died March 30. Betty organized efforts for the gardens at Plum Grove and “The Taste.” The Taste cookbook will serve as a program and will feature recipes for the food served as well as a tribute to Betty Kelly. Her family is commemorating Betty with a tribute bench recognizing her service.
For years, Betty negotiated with the State Historical Society of Iowa, owner of Plum Grove, for permission to plant a heritage garden as the state planned its sesquicentennial celebration in 1995. Betty, along with Joanne Leach, diligently researched the Lucas family, including Friendly’s diaries and letters, and newspapers to identify what people ate during that era and made every effort to be accurate in the garden and each undertaking. “The garden was another opportunity to inform the public about the state’s history, agriculture and its citizens.”
Today, Plum Grove boasts four gardens: vegetable (1995), Grandma’s Heirloom Flower Garden (1998), a wildflower garden (2000), and the Quester’s Rose Garden (2010). The historic vegetable and flower gardens are part of the Smithsonian Archives of American Gardens. Plum Grove gardens have received local, state and national recognition including the first Iowa State Service Award, National Smithsonian Garden Award and an Irving Weber Award. Plum Grove has been a featured garden on the Project GREEN Garden Tour.
The gardens provide a glimpse into history. They are laid out in typical 1850s fashion with four sections and rows of vegetables planted in a north-south direction. The gardens are raised beds gardens – following the archeologist’s request that the ground would be minimally disturbed. The flower garden is located on the old barn site.
Johnson County Master Gardeners prepare and serve. Menus always include a variety of items featuring vegetables that Friendly Lucas might have grown and served in the mid-1800s. This year’s menu includes some favorites from past years including plum dishes – purple plum soup and plum oat bars and a plum topping for the ice cream. Also on the menu will be King Arms Cabbage slaw, Iowa applesauce cake, Dane’s Dairy ice cream and rhubarb punch.
The Old Post Office Brass Band will perform as they have for many years.