Sowing the seeds of history

Jean Gamble donates much of her time to the garden at the Wood County Historical Center and Museum. She
helped create the original plans for the garden and has experienced its beauty during 26 years of
volunteer work.
In 1993, Gamble and fellow members of the Black Swamp Herb Society decided to propose a garden at the
museum. The group decided to enhance a small garden next to the Pestilence (Pest) House, a former living
space for men with communicable diseases.
Gamble said the original plans for the garden were the group’s “own design.”
“We thought they had an herb garden by the pest house, and we wanted a garden for people to learn about
herbs,” Gamble said. “We thought the best way for people to learn about herbs was to have a garden.”
The herb-enthusiasts started polling the community, and most people seemed to support the idea of the
garden. Residents and businesses donated money and supplies. The group also worked with the museum to
acquire supplies for the garden.
“At the start, people were good to us. But some people thought we were going to be growing marijuana,”
Gamble said with a laugh.
Any concerns were short-lived. Once the gardeners had enough supplies, they put their hands in the dirt.

A year later, the museum held a ribbon-cutting ceremony and dedicated the garden to the public. The
American Herb Society visited the garden and was surprised with how excellent the garden looked in such
a short amount of time, Gamble said.
At one point, the volunteers sold handmade items, such as dried flowers and potpourri, crafted with
materials from the gardens.
“We became our own best customers when we sold things in the museum gift shop,” so they decided to halt
sales, Gamble said.
Gamble said the garden has gone through many changes since its beginnings. Members of the Black Swamp
Herb Society have grown older over the years, so most of the original volunteers aren’t working in the
garden anymore.
Yet Gamble still finds pleasure in working there.
Although she has stepped down from her position as garden chair, she still plays a pivotal role in the
garden, assisting garden chair Ruth Steele.
“I’m Ruth’s right-hand man,” she said. “It’s been a hobby; I’m not a master gardener, but I know a lot
about plants and spent time with the earth. I know what the plants need.”
Gamble currently manages the Medicinal Garden and tends the rose bushes. Her sister, Dorothy Golden,
manages the Culinary Garden.
If the weather permits, the sisters and other volunteers head out to the garden in early spring to prune
leaves, divide perennials, add compost to soil and check plants for diseases.
“We have a lot of chores in the spring,” Gamble said.
During growing season, more intensive work begins. But thanks to a new sprinkler system, the volunteers
have a little less labor to complete when they tend to the garden, usually on Thursday afternoons.
They work against nature itself to help the plants survive. Last year, heavy rains packed down the clay
soil, lowering its oxygenation. Volunteers had to rotate the soil so the plants would survive.
“We try very hard to please the plants, but sometimes they don’t please us,” Gamble said.
The garden has always been home to an abundance of herbs, such as basil, lemongrass, rosemary and
tarragon, found in the Culinary Garden. Lavender and germander hedges divide sections of the garden.
But sections of the garden have changed through the years. The Children’s Garden was removed and replaced
with the Grandmother’s Garden. There was a native garden, “but that didn’t last,” Gamble said.
“There was a time I was there all day until dark,” she said. “We’re just trying to keep the garden open
to the public. It’s a great place to meditate, picnic and enjoy the fragrance of the herbs.”
Gamble hopes new visitors and volunteers can experience the garden’s beauty. Some volunteer work isn’t
very physically demanding, so nearly anyone can help.
“Nothing lasts forever, but I hope the garden lasts,” Gamble said.