When Horticulture Manager JoHannah Biang started at the estate in 2022, she was finishing her PhD in Crop Science from the University of Georgia and had put in a lot of time working in the UGA trial garden and student community farm. Unsurprisingly, she has taken a special interest in the Vegetable Garden here at Hills & Dales. In the Fall 2023 edition of our Portico newsletter, JoHannah wrote:
Here at Hills & Dales Estate, we have a long legacy of growing food crops in the garden. According to an article written by Barbara Madison Tunnell in 1920 entitled “The Garden of Memories,” she described trees “supplying an abundance of fruit and nuts” planted on the terraces. Her list noted pear, peach, Japanese and native plums, figs, apricots, cherries, Japanese persimmons, pecans, walnuts, and chestnuts, along with grapes and scuppernongs. We also know there were pomegranate, peach, and pear trees growing near the sunken garden in earlier times. While many of these are no longer extant in their previous locations, due to the natural ebb and flow of a garden and how the spaces change over time, the horticulture staff has been working to incorporate more food crops into the garden landscape as a tribute to those who have tended this property in the past. That, and because it’s fun!
Throughout the estate’s history, the designated area for the vegetable garden has been in several different locations. In the late 20th century, it was located where the cutting garden is now, near the drive border and the greenhouse. This location was later abandoned for vegetable growing, due to the buildup of root knot nematodes in the soil. While there are some nematodes that are beneficial, this particular type invades the roots of crops, especially tomatoes and carrots, where they negatively impact the plant’s health and ultimately its vigor. This is one reason why rotating crops within a garden space is important. By rotating crops of various families, you can prevent the numbers of harmful nematode species from proliferating. When I came to work here in January, I found the latest space was located within a small picket fence west of the historic greenhouse, and mixed with beautiful climbing roses, peonies, and iris. Personally, I’ve always loved the idea of combining flowers and vegetables together and quickly decided that this would be the best place to continue and revitalize what had already been started. My goal in this project wasn’t to reproduce the 9-acre organic farm that I previously managed, but to take those same principles and scale them down to what could be done in someone’s backyard. I wanted to provide an example to our guests, giving them a vision of what a home vegetable garden could look like.
I’m proud of what we have accomplished already in this space and have found joy watching the children and grandchildren of our volunteers and staff pull fresh carrots out of the earth. Immediately, smiles cross their faces as they see this bright root crop emerge, and the smell of carrots and fresh garden soil permeates the air. Another staff member spoke of how her daughter loved watching her cut the beets on their cutting board at home because it stained the board red. I’ve always enjoyed observing how gardens can bridge the gap between all ages, connecting us through the power of growing food.
Plant varieties found in the vegetable garden are seasonal and ever-changing. Examples of vegetables grown include kale, collard greens, mustard greens, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, beets, turnips, garlic, tomatoes, squash, beans, peppers, and onions.