Life is a Garden: Happy Anniversary, Sarah!

Spring is in bloom around Locust Grove, and with that comes a very special anniversary. Locust Grove isn’t just known for the historic house and the people who lived there–we also have 55 beautiful acres that are lovingly cared for by our wonderful gardener, Sarah S.. Today, March 17 is Sarah’s 15th anniversary at Historic Locust Grove! Thanks to her, our gardens flourish, our Hemp Program is full of promise, and the occasional chicken pays us a visit. Sarah is originally from Ohio, and earned an Art History degree from Berea College before getting into gardening. She is notoriously attention-shy, but she graciously agreed to answer a few questions before donning her bandanna and heading back outside.

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Sarah plants her first crop of hemp at Locust Grove.

How did you become involved at Locust Grove?

Little known fact: I came here with the Little Loomhouse (where I was a volunteer) to help set up (put threads on) the jack loom which used to be in the girl’s bedroom. A few years later, after I got into gardening, I saw an ad for Locust Grove in the paper, looking for a gardener…

What is your goal for the gardens at Locust Grove?

Besides eradicating all weeds? I would like to have a more agricultural setting for the site. This was a farm, first and foremost.  If we’re going to track down the exact shade of verdigris for the farm office, or the correctly dated piece of furniture for the parlor, the same effort should go into the plantings and grounds to fully restore the grounds of Locust Grove.

How did you become interested in historic gardens?

I was already gardening using modern methods and plants, but I developed an early interest in heirlooms through my father. When I saw the job listed, I saw it as a chance to unite my love of gardening with my researching skills from my art history degree. Did you know the plants, nuts, flowers, fruits and trees artists put in paintings can tell you so much about the painting and the people of that time?

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Sarah cares for the kitchen garden, which contains herbs and other plants used for cooking and medicinal purposes.

What are the resources you use for the LG garden and grounds?

I’m still Luddite enough to use books! Ones written now, by such authors as William Woys Weaver and Peter Hatch, as well as books written in that time period. I also enjoy digging into an old garden diary on a rainy day! I have contacts at other historic sites, where I can ask those “what do you do when…” kinds of questions. For plant material, I am a member of the Seed Saver’s Exchange and swap material all around the country! And of course there’s the internet, but as always “trust but verify” applies to online searches.

What does your typical day look like in each season?

Winter is a lot of cleaning and “house chores”. Towards the end of winter I begin gathering seeds, soil, tuning up equipment, potting figs, making seed packets, and doing early pruning.

Spring sees a lot of pruning, tilling and planting, orchard work, and the start of weeding.

Summer – watering and weeding, weeding and watering… and tidying up after weddings!

Fall is when I begin gathering seeds, digging up tubers for overwintering, putting beds to rest – but still weeding.

There’s so much that isn’t “typical”, like decorating for Christmastide, schlepping books, the Gardener’s Fair booth, moving split rail, setting up and cleaning up after events, mucking out the springhouse, spraying yellow jackets, etc…

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Winter in the gardens at Locust Grove is still as beautiful as Spring and Summer.

What is your favorite time of year at LG and why?

There are a few days in early spring where you can see, from one day to the next, the hillside by the barn green up vividly, then suddenly the henbit blossoms and the slope is a riot of emerald and burgundy-pink!

What are some of the challenges of your job?

Deer–destructive and vexing.   I find the visiting public (and neighbors) a blessing and a curse. We need them, or why else would we exist? But they really tear the place up, driving 4-runners up the creek, dumping Christmas trees and yard waste at the property edges, taking axes to the trees, emptying hot pans of food or coolers full of ice into the beds, driving EVERYWHERE, putting nails into the trees and broken glass in the mulch, making paths through the beds at will, trash in the shrubbery, bongs in the woods….aargh!!!

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love our volunteers! They’re just the nicest people you could ever meet and I get to see them every day I come to work – what a blessing!

How did you become involved in the hemp program?

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture is hoping to revive our hemp industry and is expediting the revival by encouraging farmers and research institutions to grow hemp using industrial (as opposed to hobbyist) methods. It’s a tightly-controlled, by-permit-only process where detailed notes are kept and reported back to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. This information is then compiled and data extracted. The theory is that eventually we will have a crowd-sourced knowledge of how best to grow and process hemp in Kentucky.

The program had run for one year (2014), and while I was interested, I was put off by the “industrial” label attached to it. I just didn’t think our historic site was what they were looking for, but rather big farms growing acres and doing serious research. When the applications went out for 2015 Carol encouraged me to try, because, after all, the worst that could happen is they’d say “no”. I was very surprised, but also very happy, when we got it!

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Sarah grew this hemp!

How can others recreate historic gardens in their own backyards? Is it even possible? 

Oooh, that’s a big question. Yes, BUT… it has to be specific to your area and climate. As much as I love old-school English cutting gardens, for example, our climate will not support some of those cool weather/moisture loving plants. Also, I am a firm believer our climate is not what it was 200 years ago, and plants the Crogans and other locals apparently grew with ease really struggle in the extreme heat and drought of our summers and the Polar Vortex of winter, which are our new normal. It takes a lot of poking around and asking to find heirlooms that will work, but so worth it.

What do you wish more people knew about historic gardens?

If we don’t plant them, old varieties are gone forever. Why should we care? Because we still need that biodiversity and may need to call on it one day to save the species. For example, for the last 40 years the Cavendish has been the one and only banana variety in our grocery stores, but it is now being wiped out by a very specialized disease. Scientists are racing to develop a new banana using old landrace banana varieties scattered throughout the world. Historic gardens are a joy to look at, hopefully beautiful and informative, but they also serve the serious purpose of protecting genetic biodiversity!

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Anything else you think people should know?

The quads, 4 cutting beds, all around the buildings, the parking island, the herb garden – all areas which need to be kept weeded. This is a lot of real estate for one person to keep weeded, and I’m not even full time! Throw in all the events, planting, research, pruning, “other tasks as assigned”, and keeping Locust Grove looking tidy is pretty daunting! I could use help keeping the weeds at bay, so if you have a few hours a month or a grandchild you can bribe into it, bring it on!

In addition to being a master gardener, Sarah is also available for children’s parties and Bat Mitzvahs. Locust Grove wouldn’t be the same place without her! Thank you for all of your work over the past 15 years, Sarah! Here’s to 15 more!

Gratefully yours,

Hannah

Huzzah for Hemp!

Locust Grove’s first ever Hemp Festival was held on August 9, and it was a roaring success! More than 1,300 people came to try hemp foods, listen to speakers discuss Kentucky agriculture, tour the house, enjoy a concert by Appalatin, browse the booths of hemp goods and demonstrations, and of course, see the hemp crop at Locust Grove!

Hemp is a crop tied to Kentucky’s agricultural heritage, and we know that when surveying the land around Locust Grove, William Croghan pointed out its usefulness for cultivating hemp. His son, Colonel George Croghan, looked
into growing hemp at Locust Grove in the 1840s, but we are unsure if hemp was ever grown here. Farmington was a hemp plantation, and in the nineteenth century, hemp was Kentucky’s biggest crop. At any rate, our small hemp crop is the first to be planted in Louisville since World War Two, and was planted by our gardener Sarah Sutherland with special permission from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. Our hemp is categorized as “industrial” hemp, and though it is Cannabis sativa, and is related to marijuana, this hemp lacks THC. Hemp oil has been used for food and fuel, and hemp seeds are incredibly healthy and make a wonderful bird seed, as Sarah discovered when doves began to flock to our hemp patch! Hemp can also be used for cloth, paper, rope, canvas, and construction materials.

Program manager Brian Cushing notes that “The natural factors that occur in Kentucky are perfect for hemp, making it big business in the past and especially crucial now that so many tobacco farmers have ceased their production. The uses for it are endless and it is incredibly renewable, setting the stage for an environmentally positive economic boom for Kentucky. And not just the environment where it’s grown- the wide variety of products that come from it could lessen the need for certain synthetics and chemicals, such as those required to make wood pulp into paper. Hemp paper is also ridiculously more sustainable and durable than wood.” It was these factors that lead to Sarah becoming involved in the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s pilot project for industrial hemp. Hemp Festival has the tagline “Educate and Cultivate”,  as a reminder of all the uses for hemp, past and present.

And what a fun day to educate, cultivate, and celebrate hemp! See below for pictures of the event, and let us know what you thought of our first Hemp Festival!

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Our hemp is growing tall and starting to bud!

Vendors sold all sorts of products, from hemp oil, clothing, rope, foodstuffs, and much more!

Vendors sold all sorts of products, from hemp oil, clothing, rope, foodstuffs, and much more!

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We were pleased to welcome Rainbow Blossom as one of our event sponsors!

We were pleased to welcome Rainbow Blossom as one of our event sponsors!

Intern Melissa models a satchel made out of hemp fabric!

Intern Melissa models a satchel made out of hemp fabric!

The Hemp Cafe sold hemp foodstuffs of all kinds!

The Hemp Cafe sold hemp foodstuffs of all kinds!

Our friends from Farmington, a Kentucky hemp plantation, came to show their support!

Jeff and Diane, our friends from Farmington, a Kentucky hemp plantation, came to show their support!

Farmington even brought a hemp break to demonstrate the second step of the hemp cultivation process!

Farmington even brought a hemp break to demonstrate the second step of the hemp cultivation process!

Indiana Hemp Industries Association joined us to educate and celebrate!

Indiana Hemp Industries Association joined us to educate and celebrate!

Mose Putney, of Kentucky Hemp Industries Association, provided Locust Grove with our hemp seeds! His children Henry, Charlie and Virginia were also on hand to talk about hemp in Kentucky!

Mose Putney, of Kentucky Hemp Industries Association, provided Locust Grove with our hemp seeds! His children Henry, Charlie and Virginia were also on hand to talk about hemp in Kentucky!

We had a full house to hear speakers from across the state speak about hemp cultivation in Kentucky.

We had a full house to hear speakers from across the state speak about hemp cultivation in Kentucky.

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Our evening finished with a concert by Appalatin on the lawn!

Our evening finished with a concert by Appalatin on the lawn!

Hemp tote bags are still for sale in the Locust Grove Gift Shop!

Hemp tote bags are still for sale in the Locust Grove Gift Shop!

Four hemp happy Locust Grove staffers!

Four hemp happy Locust Grove staffers!

It was a splendid summer day for our hemp festival; we hope you enjoyed the celebration!

Hemp at dusk

Hemp at dusk

Stay tuned for the future of Locust Grove’s hemp! The rest of our summer and fall events can be found here.  You can also find out about other coverage of Locust Grove by visiting the “Locust Grove in the News” tab at the top of this page. We hope to see you soon!

Hemptastically yours,

Hannah