Old Salem gardens follow Moravians’ lead

Gardens behind the Single Brothers` House

I felt guilty the entire time we toured Old Salem in Winston-Salem last week because I had planned to list their gardens in my book and ran out of space. The juggling of entries — what to put in, what to leave out — was a difficult part of writing the guidebook. So, dear Old Salem, I apologize, and hope to get you in the second edition, if there is one.

What I most appreciate about the several gardens is they focus on heirloom plants, impressive when you have a tight budget and staff, as Old Salem does.

First, some background. The history museum/attraction is on land originally called Salem and settled in 1766 by Moravians, a German-speaking religious sect. They came from Pennsylvania to build on a 100,000-acre tract called Wachau. (Wachovia, first established there, took its name from Wachau.)

Buckwheat, an heirloom crop (late summer 2009)

Originally, each lot in the community of 300 Moravians included a garden. In the spring and fall, they grew cabbage, lettuce, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower; in summer, squash, okra, peppers, cucumbers, beans and peas. I can’t say it looked great in the dead of winter, but spring is around the corner! (I first visited in late summer two years ago, and it looked much livelier, of course.)

Because the community was built on a ridge, some gardens are terraced. The earliest garden interpreted here is Triebel, which is planted diagonally, a popular design in the 1700s. (Might we want to revisit that, trendsetters?)

Was this Early Flat Dutch cabbage the reason for purchasing a fistful of seed packets?

Here’s perhaps the greatest testament to the power of Old Salem’s gardens. For three years now, a huge part of my life has been focused on farms and growing things. I don’t have a garden, partly because I’m on the road so much, and partly because I’m overwhelmed by tasks as it is. My partner has shown no interest either — until visiting Old Salem. Today she returned from the store with a fistful of seed packets, including squash, tomato, brussel sprouts and cabbage (she’s Dutch, what can I say?), cantaloupe, beets, lettuce, and more. Frankly, I think starting with seeds will be very challenging. But we’ll see. If anything comes of it, I’ll be sure to share the big news.

Please do contact Old Salem directly about their garden-focused tours, and tell them I sent you. That will alleviate a teeny part of my guilt.

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