Demonstration of Agricultural Gardening Heritage

The new Heritage Gardens at O’Hara’s Mill Homestead turns the collection of old buildings into a living museum. O’Hara’s Homestead was the home of the O’Hara family for four generations dating back to James O’Hara, who bought the mill from Robert Taylor in 1847. It is now owned by Quinte Conservation and run by the O’Hara Volunteers Association.

“The gardens are not a restoration of the gardens the O’Haras once had,” said gardener Pam Joho. “They are designed to represent this area’s plant heritage in home gardening and agriculture.” She did say they planted a row of Havana tobacco because there is an old photo showing Squire James O’Hara standing in his field of tobacco.

The idea is to have plants grown in a typical homestead in central Hastings County from the mid 1800s through to the early 1900s

[img_assist|nid=110|title=O'Hara Mill Heritage Gardens Volunteer|desc=Volunteer gardener, Mary Berry picks peas and beans at the O’Hara’s Mill heritage vegetable garden. The garden is a demonstration of home gardening and agricultural crops from mid 1800s to early 1900s. Photo: Louise Livingstone|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=602]When the volunteers started work last spring the area was a building site, as foundations of the O’Hara House had had to be repaired. They started from scratch.

In late spring they held a “Let’s build a garden” day at Madoc Village Square and the local community donated plants and seeds.

The volunteers have expanded the parlour garden in front of the house, created a new herb garden to the west of the house, and put in a vegetable garden and a demonstration field crop garden to the north.

There is no water on site so they practice careful water conservation. “The O’Hara volunteers gardeners used the French intensive garden method with plants close together which creates a living mulch,” said Joho. They also used hemp straw mulch from the Moorcroft Farm, which is light and easy to use.

Water is gravity fed out of a tank, which has to be filled. Next year, they plan to put in rain barrels to collect water off the roof of the O’Hara House.

“Children visit O’Hara’s Mill enjoy watering the garden using watering cans,” said Joho.

“Working together on the garden to create something builds friendship,” said Joho. “Now, it looks as if someone lives here. It looks like a private residence.”

They dug up the old lilac tree in front of the house and used the branches to build the trellis for the beans and planted a range of hardy old favorites like day lilies, hydrangea, lily of the valley, cranesbill, peonies, hosta and roses.

In the herb garden they planted a range of herbs used for medicine, cooking, for dyeing and other purposes.

The kitchen garden is designed to be beautiful as well as productive, said Joho. It is divided into four beds containing rows of heirloom vegetables with root vegetables, leafy vegetables and tomatoes. The beds will be rotated each year. One of the most striking plants is the Capuchinjers Soup, which has blue pea pods.

“It is important to grow heritage vegetables to keep the genetics of these varieties,” said Joho.

They have planted rows of basic field crops grown at the time for livestock and to provide flour, meal, cereals and beans,” said Joho.

There are longer-term plans for a learning centre for horticultural studies, plant and water conservation, culinary arts, composting, rural and agricultural history. Already, they have a composting demonstration area with bins provided by Quinte Waste Solutions.

Each week, the volunteers take healthy, fresh produce to the Madoc food bank, and so far they have taken over 40 pounds. They also give vegetables to seniors who drop by the gardens.

“Gardening is infectious and all sorts of people come out to help,” said Joho.

The gardeners meet each week for a ‘Weed, Water and Wisdom’ morning. They keep careful records of what is growing and the yields, and also take turns in showing people round the gardens.

The gardens will continue to be productive until temperatures drop at the end of September, and then they will put to bed for the winter.

If you would like to help please contact Pam Joho (613) 473-2389