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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Green gardens, green thumbs: Carroll Mansion Museum home to history, lavish landscaping

  • The lush green gardens at Carroll Mansion Museum don't get as many visitors as the lavishly-decorated rooms inside.
    Gloria Sturges, a master gardener who heads Carroll Mansion's Victorian Herb and Heirloom project, would like that to change.
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  • The lush green gardens at Carroll Mansion Museum don't get as many visitors as the lavishly-decorated rooms inside.
    Gloria Sturges, a master gardener who heads Carroll Mansion's Victorian Herb and Heirloom project, would like that to change.  
    Not solely because she's proud of what she and her team of volunteers have accomplished, she said, but also because she believes the mansion's gardens are full of lessons for local green thumbs and even history buffs.
    The Carroll Mansion garden is a “demonstration” garden designed to teach about indigenous plants, historical horticulture and herbal medicine. It's also a lab of sorts, a canvas that shows how best to start and maintain a garden.
    Garden sections are dedicated to fragrant plants, medicinal herbs, butterfly-attracting plants, and heirloom greens.
    Before Sturges and her fellow master gardeners took over in late 2008, the mansion’s garden had been a rectangular patch of common herbs for as long as anyone can remember.
    Sturges and other gardeners began with a largely blank slate.
    The redesign started as many Carroll Mansion projects do — with research. Old photographs didn’t reveal much more than the familiar square patch, but Sturges knew the history must be deeper, if only because of what she had literally dug up.
    “I'm sure (the early residents of the Mansion) had a great garden because the soil is wonderful out there," she said.
    She also knew from research how important growing vegetables for home use, and cultivating herbs and other plants to treat common ailments, was to local families at the turn of the century and before.  
    Sturges’s design for the garden was intended to create a plan that would resemble a late 19th century/turn of the century garden, the time period representing Carroll Mansion's prime.
    "The Victorian design, with the spokes of a wheel, was very prominent in that period,” Sturges said. “The brick walkways, also."
    Laying the 4,436 bricks was one of the first challenges the gardeners faced.  
    The pathways are crucial for differentiating the varying “gardens” within the whole, protecting the plants and providing what Sturges calls “roots” for the entire layout.
    "There is a whole series of gardens in there to show people, 'This is how you can do these in your garden,’” Sturges said.
    In fall 2009, when the garden was barely a year old, Carroll Mansion was awarded best garden, or “Outstanding Project by Master Gardeners,” in the state by Kansas State University.
    When entering the garden from the main house, visitors are first greeted by the Victorian Rose Garden, which pre-dates the other gardens and was started by a master gardener who worked at Carroll Mansion before Sturges.  
    Page 2 of 4 - As a visitor continues, following the old brick path, he or she will see a row of peonies, lined alongside a hedge of shrub roses.  
    “The peak of the garden is in the spring — the first of June, the end of May,” Sturges said. “All of the flowering vines are going, like Clematis and the iris, and the whole row of peonies.”
    The Tea Herb garden is buzzing with bees visiting the blossoms.  
    “Bee Balm was used during the Revolutionary War period,” Sturges said, pointing out the plant. “During the time of the Boston Tea Party, because they didn’t have any tea – they used Bee Balm. It is like Earl Grey.”
    In another patch, Sturges plucks leaves of various mint plants to demonstrate flavor.
    “We have Kernel Mint, which they used for Mint Juleps,” she said. “We have chocolate (mint), orange (mint), spearmint, and peppermint here.”
    The Fragrance Garden makes itself known before visitors reach it — the almost spicy scents of Lemon Verbena, Bergamot, and various sages.  
    The Salad Garden is already producing lettuces and cabbages, and the Heirloom Garden has unusual vegetables like Casper Egg Plant, Chef Jeff Supper Peppers, and Lilac Pepper that are going strong.  
    In the Cottage Garden, next to the Tomato Garden, where the Roma tomatoes are doing particularly well, Sturges points out a lush green plant in the corner.  
    “This is Toad Flax — I found this at a very primitive farmhouse, and it is very native to this area,” she said. “It is such an unusual plant. It is really pretty, I think.”
    Near the Apple Mint, which has a distinctly fruity flavor underlying the mint, Sturges plucks a few leaves from another dark green, rough-leafed plant, crushing them in her palm and offering up their scent.
    “This is an interesting plant — it is called Sweet Annie,” Sturges said. “They used to put this in the mattresses (for fragrance) years ago. It's kind of like fennel.”
    Sturges points out another towering stalk.
    “This is Polk," she said. "People used this as 'Polk Salad.' They would cook it, and drain the water off of it, and then eat it. The berries are purple and they used that for dye.
    "All of it is really 'heirloom' because so many of the plants are unique only to this garden.
    “For example, you’ve got Queen Anne’s Lace over there. Everybody knows what it is, but nobody lets it come up in their garden. So, you need to show this to children. The English gardens always had that in them.”
    Page 3 of 4 - Lilies are blooming under the canopy of towering trees in the Shade Garden, nestled beside Bleeding Heart, Violets, and Phlox.  And, butterflies are aligning on the Swamp Milk Weed, Verbena, and Whirlwind Blue Fan in the Butterfly Garden.  
    “I’ve seen huge amounts of butterflies,” Sturges said.
    The entire garden is beautiful, but Sturges is most proud of the Medicinal Herb garden, which she feels is the most unique offering in the Carroll Mansion gardens.
    Sturges delved deep to get the best examples of plants used to treat ailments and for health during the turn of the century, the 19th century, and as far back as the Civil War.
    “Because back in those days, they did not have any of the pharmaceuticals like we have today,” she said.
    “This Medicinal Garden is unique to the area — I don’t know of anyone else who has (these plants).”
    Plants in this section include Cat Mint for treating toothaches, dandruff, and rheumatism; Yarrow for treating measles, hemorrhoids, nosebleeds, and preventing strokes; and Comfrey, of which Sturges makes special note.  
    “Comfrey was used during the Civil War as an analgesic and to take down infection," she said. "They’d wrap the wounds in these leaves. They also made tea out of it. It was so important.”
    The honeybees go for the St. John’s Wort’s yellow blossoms as Sturges continues.
    “Red Basil, Montevello, Honeysuckle, all of the different things that are in here, to have a collection of this many different kinds of plants that have to do with early Americana is really interesting for me and for other people," she said.
    These days, Sturges and her volunteer team mostly tackle maintenance work —  weeding, deadheading, and cutting back overgrowth — every Wednesday morning. There are no plans for major expansion right now, and most of the plants are “winter-overs” and don’t need to be re-planted every year.
    The garden is supported by Carroll Mansion fundraising projects as well as specific initiatives planned just for the garden, like a plant sale organized and hosted in past years.  
    In 2009, garden supporters had success with selling a cookbook that focused on how to use and grow herbs, and sales provided funds needed to get the garden going.
    But, like most non-profits, there is always more work to be done than funding available.
    Sturges would, for example, like to expand electricity availability and install a new fountain in the garden in the near future. She also wants to get additional signage to provide visitors with more information.  
    Page 4 of 4 - What is the key to this garden’s success? Sturges believes at the heart of her bounty is the use of native plants, which resist pests and are more likely to be drought resistant and adapt better to the changing climate.  
    “Most of the plants are native to either Kansas or Missouri,” she said. “We have one or two exotic things, but not many.”
    “I think the secret is native plants, as much as we can. And we water sparingly.”
    Sturges is pleased visitors come to the garden after touring the Mansion, or on their own excursion, especially when she is there to show them highlights.
    But, Sturges laments the numbers who miss the garden entirely, often because they don’t know it's there.
    She’d like to share the history, knowledge and experience the garden represents, and pass on tips to other area green thumbs.
    “If anybody has a project like this that they want to do, they should research what we’ve done,” Sturges said. “It is a lot easier if you plan the garden before you start.”

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