The Fine Craft of Gardening
by Ashley Stewart
No craft is as deeply rooted in the history of the Plateau as gardening.
As the world became more industrialized through the 19th century, our isolated mountain oasis was still a harsh and unforgiving place to live. So much is owed to the pioneers that settled Cashiers, in particular, Elvira Zachary.
Elvira grew up working alongside her father in the daily company of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. She became fluent in the Cherokee language, and most likely learned the many uses of native plants. In 1852, she married Mordechai Zachary and moved to Cashiers to manage the boarding house he’d built for her. They raised 13 children while keeping boarders and their livestock as they passed through the mountains.
In order to keep all those people fed, Elvira kept a large garden. There are very few records of what Elvira actually grew in her garden, but based on the extensive research by historical landscape artist Mary Palmer Dargan we can make an educated guess.
Based on Elvira’s experience with the Cherokee, it’s likely that she included the “Three Sisters:” corn, pole beans, and squash. The corn provides a trellis for the beans, while the beans provide nitrogen and other nutrients for the corn. The broad leaves of the squash provide ground cover to prevent weeds.
It’s also likely that she included root vegetables such as carrots and onions. Root vegetables can be stored for long periods of time without refrigeration. In addition to food, it’s likely that she planted medicinal plants and flowers such as spiderwort or echinacea.
The Cashiers Historical Society has brought this important aspect of history to life with Elvira’s Kitchen Garden at the Zachary-Tolbert House.
Led by co-chairs Teed Poe and Bette Hines, the garden has been meticulously recreated to be historically accurate, albeit on a smaller scale. It’s an heirloom garden, using only naturally pollinated seeds harvested over 50-100 years, just as Elvira would’ve used.
Sandi Rogers, Education Director at the Zachary-Tolbert House, has been working with local schools to organize field trips to see the garden and learn about its history.
“We believe it’s important for children to learn where their food comes from,” says Garden Co-Chair Bette Hines.
To learn more about the garden, or to volunteer to help maintain the garden, contact Kyle Dreher at the Cashiers Historical Society at cashiershistoricalsociety.org or call (828) 743-7710.