Praise for "Putting Down Roots"
Terese Allen, coauthor of "The Flavor of Wisconsin" and Organic Valley Food Editor
“How do you read a garden? Read it the way Marcia Carmichael does and you’ll learn about so much more than plants. Her rich, readable guide to the historical gardens at Old World Wisconsin explores the multi-layered meanings of food in nineteenth-century life. This is real-life, everyday history — not dates and titles, but seeds, tools, recipes, and meals that illustrate immigrant hopes, values, and traditions. "Putting Down Roots" is an entrancing heirloom feast for today’s cooks, gardeners, and food history buffs.”
Shelley Ryan, host of "The Wisconsin Gardener" on Wisconsin Public Television
“For anyone interested in gardening or cooking with heirlooms, "Putting Down Roots" is a marvelous resource. If you can’t visit Old World Wisconsin in person, this book is the next best thing to being there. Recipes such as black salsify salad, potato candy, and more recapture the flavors of Wisconsin’s past. What a treat!”
Jenniver Fandel, "ForeWord Reviews"
"In a time when people are increasingly concerned about organic gardening practices and the need for more variety in our plants for the health of the planet, Carmichael shows readers the value in drawing from the past for the good of the present. For avid gardeners and simple admirers of other people's gardens alike, "Putting Down Roots" is an absorbing book of Wisconsin's history and culture."
This feature by Laurie Arendt appeared in the May 2011 issue of "M Magazine."
"They definitely brought seeds, tubers and cuttings from the Old Country," says Marcia Carmichael, historic gardens coordinator at Old World Wisconsin. "And when they arrived, they attempted to grow them. They had some pretty great expectations here in the Midwest with our good soil. But they didn’t realize that in addition to our cold winters, Wisconsin also has beastly hot summers."
Through trial and error, heritage gardens eventually help sustain those early immigrant families. Generations later, a trend among home gardeners is to revisit those heritage plantings in their own gardens.
"A great place to start is by checking family recipes — you'll be able to tell which vegetables and herbs were used in your grandmother and great-grandmother’s kitchen," suggests Carmichael. "From there, you can make a list of what you’d like to plant."
She says 21st century gardeners are quite fortunate in that heirloom seeds and plants are much easier to source than they have been in previous decades.
"You can go to Seed Savers Exchange and find a lot of them," she says. "Or you can try and source them locally or through friends and family members."
She encourages beginning heirloom gardeners to cut themselves a little slack in the beginning.
"If you know your family grew cabbage for example, it's perfectly find to just plant the kind of cabbage you remember without worrying about a specific variety," she says. "There's this belief that the old gardeners planted single, specific types of plants, but we've found there was a lot more variety than has been assumed. I also think our modern palates are more sophisticated, so there's a chance that the exact herb your great-grandparents grew may not appeal to you at all."
Another good source for home heirloom gardeners is Carmichael's new book, "Putting Down Roots," which is being released this spring by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. The book details the work and research surrounding many of the heritage gardens now established at Old World Wisconsin. It can also serve as a blueprint for anyone drawing their inspiration from those particular ethnic groups.
"There are also distinct differences between the gardens," says Carmichael. "For example, we know that a lot of the early American gardeners laid out their gardens like the European monastery gardens, with small beds that could be weeded by hand since they didn't have any tilling equipment."
She says there are aesthetic differences, too.
"The Scandinavian gardens, well … they were pretty bland and sparse," she laughs. "But that was because so little grew in their cold climates and they were accustomed to that kind of gardening. And the Poles and Germans often planted herbs, vegetables and flowers in the same little square, so they had very colorful, merry gardens."
While early gardeners weren't concerned with landscaping, they often planted flowers, both in the garden itself and near their homes where they could be easily seen and bring "something pretty" into what was often a very hardscrabble life, particularly for women.
Carmichael will spend this growing season working throughout the various heritage gardens at Old World Wisconsin. So what’s her favorite?
"It's whichever garden I'm working in," she says diplomatically. "I feel something for every garden; each one is special to me."
This feature by Mary Bergin appeared in the "Green Bay Press-Gazette" on Friday, May 6, 2011.
A look at state's 'roots'
May is a month of hope and faith for gardeners who begin with seeds or fragile stalks and dream of a cornucopia of color and food.
A shady yard, brown thumbs and limited dedication challenge my success, but even visions of spindly tomatoes and out-of-control perennials get me revved up during this time of year. It's time to shake off winter's blankets and take on the weeds of spring.
Now add "Putting Down Roots: Garden Insights from Wisconsin's Early Settlers" by Marcia Carmichael (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, $24.95), which offers new reasons to pay attention to what grows here and why.
Deep roots, in this book, mean ethnic heritage and habits that help explain what we choose to grow and pass on to the next generation. The author is the historical gardener at Old World Wisconsin, a 576-acre living-history museum in Waukesha County, one of 11 state historical sites and museums.
We learn why Yankee settlers and six nations of immigrants planted what they did, how they gardened and what they typically did with the harvest. How did a German's garden differ from a Finn's? This new resource explains.
"Putting Down Roots" is a mix of recipes, history and folklore, just as Old World Wisconsin is a historically accurate reproduction of ethic and heirloom gardens, from plot design to plant species.
Today's average gardeners "are fortunate to have access to seeds and plant material from around the world, making it possible to create their own ethnic gardens filled with heirloom plants," Marcia writes.
"As you continue the tradition of passing along these heirlooms, you will experience the joys these garden treasures have brought to people for generations."
This review by Jennifer Fandel appeared in "ForeWord Reviews" in May 2011.
Walk into a garden and you can find more than tomatoes heavy on the vine, trellises filled with green beans, and rows of flowers meant to please the eye and occasionally the palate. History and culture are planted there. This is the premise of "Putting Down Roots" by Marcia C. Carmichael, the historical gardener at Old World Wisconsin, the largest of Wisconsin’s living history museums.
In this fascinating cultural history amply complemented with 188 contemporary and historic photographs and illustrations, Carmichael examines the gardening practices and related traditional foodways that Wisconsin’s Yankee settlers and major European immigrant groups— the Germans, Norwegians, Irish, Danish, Finnish, and Polish—brought with them to their new state in the nineteenth century. The author bases the book on her research and gardening at the 576-acre Old World Wisconsin, which contains traditional immigrant homes moved from their original homesites throughout the state, as well as nineteenth-century heirloom gardens specific to each immigrant group. The color photographs of these gardens are not only educational but inspiring.
The helpful introduction presents a brief history of the first European immigration to Wisconsin and what that meant—particularly in a state known for its harsh climate—in terms of gardening. The rest of the book, set up in chapters by nationality, looks at planting trends, particular garden tools, popular plant varieties, and favorite foods and meals, including easy-to- follow recipes. Within the chapters, Carmichael uses as examples the family histories of those who owned the homes in Old World Wisconsin to give readers a true feel for the people who worked the gardens and relied on them for sustenance.
Additionally, each chapter contains interesting sidebars; advertisements for tools, seeds, and available land; and documents illustrating garden plans and gardening techniques. The appendix contains tables of the plants commonly grown by each of the groups. For further reading, Carmichael includes extensive notes by chapter and a selected bibliography.
In a time when people are increasingly concerned about organic gardening practices and the need for more variety in our plants for the health of the planet, Carmichael shows readers the value in drawing from the past for the good of the present. For avid gardeners and simple admirers of other people’s gardens alike, "Putting Down Roots" is an absorbing book of Wisconsin’s history and culture.