Getting back to the garden at Gore Place

The raised garden beds at Gore Place in Waltham show the variety that can be grown in the area. The raised garden beds at Gore Place in Waltham show the variety that can be grown in the area. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)
By Clara Silverstein
Globe Correspondent / July 7, 2010

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WALTHAM — This month, peas, onions, and cabbages will ripen in the fields of Gore Place, continuing a tradition that started more than 200 years ago. There are more extensive plantings this year than in recent years. “The house has been more of a focus in the past,’’ says education coordinator Tamar Agulian. “Now we’re doing more with the farm.’’

It’s all part of interpreting history at the 19th-century estate of Christopher Gore (1758-1827) and his wife, Rebecca. Gore was Massachusetts’ seventh governor (1809-10) and afterward served in the US Senate. The 1806 brick mansion, decorated with peacock-patterned wallpaper and outfitted with a billiards room, exemplifies elegant country living at the time. The Gores also ran an extensive farm and sold vegetables and meat at Quincy Market. A demonstration garden, animal barns, and a farm stand now re-create this aspect of the estate, bringing visitors back to a time when gentlemen farmers raised their own food.

The Gores owned 400 acres that stretched from Main Street in Waltham to the Charles River in Watertown. Now 45 acres of the original estate remain intact. “It’s the real deal,’’ says Scott Clarke, director of gardens and grounds, a veteran of 23 years. “We have vegetables, meat, poultry and eggs, even though it’s on a smaller scale than the Gores’.’’

During the season, signs in the garden will explain what vegetables are growing. In the fall, Sam Hunt, chef at 15 Walnut restaurant in Hamilton, will cook dinners at the farm with its produce. “Instead of an ‘I need’ mentality, it is a ‘what do you have?’ approach to planning the menu,’’ says the chef.

The dinners connect to a time when the Gores hosted sumptuous parties for friends, including James Monroe and Daniel Webster. In “The House Servant’s Directory,’’ published in 1827, Gore butler Robert Roberts wrote about “A Most Delicious Salad Sauce,’’ which uses hard-boiled egg yolks and cream, and “Lemonade Water,’’ which calls for “loaf sugar,’’ lemons, and “essential oil of sulphur.’’

A daily account of chores from 1820 to 1826 left by farm manager Jacob Farwell shows how the estate functioned. This summer Agulian started sending daily tweets from Farwell’s journal to offer an insider’s view. He describes a variety of crops growing from March through November. In July 1822, he writes about “haying, harrowing, sowing turnips, and planting corn . . . weeding onions and carrots in garden.’’ By mid-August, he was digging early potatoes, picking apples, pulling beans, and making cider. He also mentions raising and butchering heifers and hogs. Gore saw his farm as a business, says Agulian, though he had other means of income. He called it “My Farm at Waltham.’’

Garden director Clarke uses Farwell’s journals as a reference in selecting heirloom varieties and planning what to plant. This year’s crops include Waltham butternut squash, as well as garlic, turnips, and kale. Boston Area Gleaners, a nonprofit group in Waltham, harvests several times throughout the season and donates the produce to food pantries, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters.

For visitors, Clarke planted five raised garden beds that show the variety that can be grown in this area. He groups herbs in one, mixed vegetables in three others, and ornamental plants in the fifth. Cabbages, beans, and squash are similar to what the Gores grew. Lemongrass and bok choy reflect a more modern, global marketplace. Merino sheep and Dominique chickens in the barn are breeds that date to the 19th century.

A farm stand with an entrance on Waltham Street sells fresh eggs and produce. “We can pick it today and put it out for sale,’’ says Clarke. “People like the casualness.’’

Gore Place, 52 Gore St., Waltham, 781-894-2798, Grounds, which require no admission fee, are open dawn to dusk. July 26-30, Gore Place will host a weeklong farm program for children ages 6-8, from 9 a.m.-noon.

Clara Silverstein can be reached at