Harvest and the Garden Gate

Well, we’re finished with the restoration of the Samual A Heslet House.  No, not really.  But it feels good to know that we’re down to just fine tuning our log house.  This week we worked on the garden fence and gate, some interior storage and plumbing and or course, gardening.

The garden is beautiful right now.  We’re picking fruit and vegetables now, but we’re also letting select herbs go to seed for replanting or for the kitchen.  We’re harvesting coriander of all things.  I didn’t know that cilantro that went to seed yielded coriander.  Not sure what Rose Mary is going to do with it but I am enjoying harvesting it.  We also have a variety of peppers ripening that we’re going to freeze, stuff or sauté in olive oil and garlic to enjoy over fresh Italian bread.  But now she’s telling me she’s going to pickle them.  Let’s just make a decision, because I’m getting really hungry.  Our heirloom tomatoes are also coming on strong just now because we planted them so late.  We discovered that basil does really keep bugs off of tomato plants (except for one huge tomato worm that went on a one-way trip to worm heaven).  I’d tell you the varieties but the plant markers are buried deep in tomato vines.

All of this along with Sugar Baby watermelons, yellow squash, dill, French tarragon, Russian sage, and other herbs and mints on a plot about 20 by 20 feet.  Oh, and don’t forget the grapes, and the fig tree we’re going to espalier on the fence.

When I designed the outdoor spaces I wanted to strike a balance between a green, a garden, and a vista.  The green wasn’t actually my idea, but my good friend Norm, owner of Pittsburgh Restorations and Construction.  He felt the flagstone patio area I had planned would be too hot in this South facing sunny area, and I found I had to agree.

The area provides a welcome natural area that I bisected with a red brick sidewalk.  I also wanted to create a vegetable garden reminiscent of the Harmonist family gardens that were located between the houses that were laid out along the perimeter of the city block.  In the historic drawings and art of the village, some of this is depicted.  Street scenes in archival photos show gardens enclosed in picket fences.  There’s a photo taken from the church tower sometime in the late 1800’s where you can see part of our yard with a small outbuilding and of course a garden.  In the photo, the fence is there, but a bit cruder and realistic than our interpretation.  There are rows of corn (no room) and instead of an outhouse and washtub, we chose en-suite bathrooms.

As the first house at Old Economy, Heslet House was reconstructed on the newly laid out street corner in 1824.  At some time fruit trees were planted along the streets making efficient use of the land – a trademark of the Eckonomie philosophy – so that helped me decide what I would plant in lieu of the stumps and dying maples.  I chose a selection of pear trees for a variety of reasons.  Because of all the utilities I needed a more compact tree with a shorter mature height than traditional shade trees.  But in choosing a fruit tree I wanted a fruit that was disease and pest resistant to eliminate any need for spraying.  We’re picking three varieties of pears right now, but the plan is to graft other fruits onto the trees early next spring.  I think Father Rapp would have approved.

The Harmonists had a particular architectural style that isn’t easily discernible.  When you mention architecture, visitors think of the large buildings and make note of roof lines, facades, and other prominent features.  But what really reveals their style are the little details.  Even in their fence posts, they had a style I hope we captured.

Jason replicated a quarter round quarked trim for under the fence post caps that act as an entablature to a crown moulding that in this case is the fence post cap.  This is a detail usually only seen on prominent buildings.  Who would go to all that effort just for a fence post? Someone doing it to the glory of God would.

I made and hung the garden gate complete with hand forged Suffolk latch set from that period.

Suffolk latches came from all places, Suffolk, England.  Like any particular hardware that becomes popular, blacksmiths reproduced what people were used to thus what people bought.  So though these latches were originally imported, most from this period were mass produced in the area for general consumption.  I used forged square nails to not only give the gate an authentic look but clinched the nails over to lock the gate together.  Rose asked what the heck that means, so maybe I should explain.  Back in the day before screw guns and construction adhesive, there weren’t a lot of ways of connecting things together.  The Harmonists used traditional techniques such as mortise and tenons, wood dowels or pins, and wrought iron clamps and nails to hold things together in the house, furniture or in this case a gate construction.  Nails were precious up to this point in time because not only did it take a lot to make nails, but they cost money. Parts of the gate and fence weren’t just dimensional lumber, but little detailed parts and pieces and mouldings such as fluting, beading and other details that they felt they had to add.  Once the parts were planed, moulded, cut and laid out, the square nails were driven into the assembled parts.  The nails were longer than the wood they were piercing, so they then protruded out the other side.  When all the nails were pounded into the gate it would have been most likely stood up and the ends pounded over or clinched.  What a cinch.  Same thing.

There will never be an end to the work.  That’s not a complaint, but a hope.  Gardeners understand this, and restorers too.  I’m looking forward to making pasta sauce or a batch of red paint for the cellar doors and a couple thresholds.  Same thing.  There’ll be another coat of house paint too now that the house is done, but that’s for another blog.  Overall we’re very pleased with the garden.  We enjoy seeing people admiring what we’ve done –  and that’s our reward.  My hope is that visitors would get a feel for the way it was as they walk past to the museum grounds.  If you have a chance come by and I’ll show you some of the Harmonist details.