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Plants from the past, for the present

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AUBURN | With its newly installed kitchen garden, the Seward House Museum's staff hopes to do more than grow food for the future. Through the garden, they hope to give the community a continuous glimpse of the past.

And this weekend, they planted the seeds to make their vision of long-term community engagement come true.

On Saturday morning, about a dozen volunteers — some adults, others young children — ventured to the historic South Street mansion's spacious backyard to help turn a mound of soil into the museum's first-ever kitchen garden. With the guidance of staffers, the volunteers planted a variety of both edible and aesthetic produce similar to what the William H. Seward family would have enjoyed at their Auburn home.

Hilary Ford, the museum's director of development, said that along with reading Fanny Seward's — the secretary of state's daughter — letters, the Seward House worked closely with Christina Selvek, of the Auburn Office of Planning & Development, to ensure the kitchen was as authentic and interesting as possible.

"A lot of the plants — especially the apple tree and raspberries — are mentioned in Fanny's letters to her father," Ford said.

Along with the fruit, volunteers planted pumpkins, pole beans, cauliflower, kale, Swiss chard, tomatoes, bell peppers and carrots, using heirloom varieties whenever possible.

In addition to the volunteers shouldering spades and kneeling in the fluffy soil, Ford said many community members lent help to make the kitchen garden possible. While some community members and organizations adopted sections of the garden, Ford said Dickman Farms donated the apple tree, many of the vegetables and a variety of annual flowers.

To Ford, the kitchen garden's debut was much approved.

"Obviously, it's successful," she said. "We've got people here."

Siblings Grace Staehr, 5, and Richard Staehr, 15, ventured to the Seward Museum House with their mother out of a love for both gardening and the museum.

"I like the Seward family because he has a big family," Richard said, listing the names and accomplishments of the Seward family.

Unperturbed by the dirt, Grace spent the morning creating and filling holes with verbinums. Explaining how much fun she was having with a happy squeal, Grace shared her gardening secrets.

"I put lots of dirt, and make it big," she said. "This is going to be great."

Over the summer, Ford said the museum's staff hopes community members will help make the kitchen garden great by visiting frequently and helping to weed and water the plants — and ultimately, falling in love a garden straight out of the pages of Seward's lauded history.

"We the laid slate path, we've got signs," Ford said. "It's all about engagement and involvement."

Staff writer Samantha House can be reached at 282-2282 or Follow her on Twitter at Citizen_House.


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