A little-known secret in the Town of Elkton are the Gardens at 135 East Main St. These gardens surround the Historical Society/Arts Council building along with a large garden in the front of the Rev. Duke Log House.
The early settlers in America did not have the convenience of a corner store and they had to rely on their gardens to supply the food and medicinal herbs they needed to survive. Seeds and root stocks were highly valued and brought by the immigrants from their home countries. Gardens were close to the door to allow for protection from animals and for easy maintenance and harvesting. These were commonly referred to as “kitchen gardens.”
By mid-1800, there was a transition from edible gardening to flower gardening since markets selling produce became more common and the kitchen garden was no longer a necessity. In 1860 methods for pest control were available to help protect the flower gardens. In the late 1800s kitchen gardens were moved to the side or back of the house and front door gardens became maintained grasses or lawns. Victorians used professional garden designers and filled their lawns with beds planted with exotic flowers. Many of the scented herbs and flowers would have been dried and placed into a sachet, made of a handkerchief, and held in a lady’s hand when out and about town. She could sniff the sachet if there was an aroma that did not satisfy her olfactory nerve.
By the early 1900s Americans were moving to urban areas for the new manufacturing jobs and home gardens were more relaxed and used more native plants. Soon English garden design influenced American gardeners and large beds of perennials and groupings of shrubs became popular. To combat the food shortages during WWII, President Franklin D. Roosevelt urged home gardeners to begin growing vegetables again and “victory gardens” were planted. According to Wikipedia, “Victory gardens, also called war gardens or food gardens for defense, were vegetable, fruit, and herb gardens planted at private residences and public parks in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Germany during World War I and World War II. In the war time governments encouraged people to plant victory gardens not only to supplement their rations but also to boost morale. George Washington Carver wrote an agricultural tract and promoted the idea of what he called a “Victory Garden”. They were used along with rationing stamps and cards to reduce pressure on the public food supply. Besides indirectly aiding the war effort, these gardens were also considered a civil “morale booster” in that gardeners could feel empowered by their contribution of labor and rewarded by the produce grown. This made victory gardens a part of daily life on the home front.”
New garden products available in the 1950-60s helped gardeners with their pest and disease problems. The creation of Earth Day in 1970 renewed interest in growing produce at home. Being a rural community, Cecil County has celebrated the accomplishments of its gardeners. The Cecil County Fair has welcomed submissions of the bounty from your garden to be judged and awarded a ribbon. The local newspapers often published a picture of a gardener’s success. Garden clubs and tours are still active in the community and gardens have grown into combinations of ornamentals, herbs and vegetables.
The gardens at 135 East Main have evolved over time beginning with the front garden that is surrounded by a rock wall. Within the wall is a garden that was created in the memory of Joanne Hamilton using transplants from her own gardens. It is lovingly maintained by her family.
The gardens in front of the log house began at the request of the juvenile court system to be used as a community service project. Volunteers from the Historical Society and the Arts Council created the garden space and juveniles earned community service credit by working in the garden. Volunteers have continued to maintain and add to the perennial and herb gardens and vegetables are shared by all. The lovely garden in the rear of the Historical Society, has a brick path and is filled with many edible flowers and herbs like spearmint, chives, poppy, oregano, rhubarb, sorrel, and thyme
Initially the Historical Society wanted to have a brick walkway from Main St. down the side of the building to the log house. Knowing the Town of Elkton had old bricks that had been removed from in front of the Elkton Presbyterian Church, Paula Newton approached Mayor Alt about acquiring them for the walkway. Margie Blystone, Chairperson of the Arts & Entertainment District in Elkton, approached the Society about a plan for a side garden with seating that would be a respite for people in town. A plan was made and a volunteer crew headed up by Dick & Sarah Blystone, worked to clear out the overgrowth. Joe Tribble built the walkway and deck. Tables & chairs, lighting and all the garden materials were purchased using funds from an Operating Assistance Grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, made available to us as a designated Arts & Entertainment District. A mural was created as a Public Art Project. CCAC Member artist Colleen Tiefenthal created the image and attendees of Elkton’s First Friday Art Loop in September 2019 painted a portion of the image. An acrylic window grid was built to house the artwork and it was hung in a niche located on the side of the building in the garden space.
Large galvanized planters were installed and filled with mums and on a perfect Fall evening during First Friday in October 2019 the garden was dedicated. After the mums died off, over 300 bulbs were planted which resulted in a beautiful display of Spring flowers this year.
The Gardens at 135 have brought together people from numerous organizations who have a common interest and all volunteers have been welcomed. Gardening promotes exercise and a healthy lifestyle and we would like to share those benefits with the community. To that goal we are initiating the 135 Garden Club. If you are interested in joining, please contact Ann Marie Hamilton at the Arts Council or Paula Newton at the Historical Society.
The Historical Society will re-open to the public by appointment only beginning on Thursday, September 10, 2020. The appointment times will be 10:00 A.M.-12:00 P.M. and 1:30 P.M.-3:30 P.M. and we will only accommodate one party at a time. To make an appointment you can email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call and leave a message at 410-398-1790.