The extensive historic kitchen garden at the William Trent House is designed and managed by Historic Horticulturist Charlie Thomforde, with the assistance of numerous dedicated volunteers from the Rutgers Master Gardeners of Mercer County.
When William Trent built his home in what would become the City of Trenton there were no grocery stores or produce markets. Families needed to be relatively self-sufficient. A kitchen garden served to provide food and medicines. Vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruits were grown side by side and used for food, drink, cosmetics, medicine, and more.
Though considerably smaller then Trent’s own garden would have been today’s garden is planted in an 18th century style with raised beds and tamped dirt paths between and within the beds. Just as the Trent House is symmetrical, so is the garden. It is divided into four equal squares, as was the custom of the day. All the plants grown in the garden are heirloom varieties, similar to those that would have been grown in the Trents’ garden.
While the name of many of these 18th century plants are often familiar, the appearance frequently is not. Some of the plants are not as big or colorful: pumpkins are almost beige, cucumbers white, radishes black! Carrots are short and stubby. Cardoons, a member of the artichoke family, have a strong bitter flavor while citron melons have little taste at all.
A close view of the heirloom garden during the summer when vegetables are almost ready for harvest, showing the beautiful variety of greens and a row of lavender flowers paralleling the red brick rear perimeter wall.The kitchen garden is a year-round activity. Peas, cabbages, lettuces, spinach, turnips, and radishes are planted during the cool spring weather. The warm days of summer find melons, beans, cucumbers and carrots growing while the cool days of fall require planting “cover” crops, such as winter rye. In the spring these crops are not harvested but are turned into the soil to add nutrients. Some crops, like cabbages and peas are planted in the fall and allowed to “winter-over,” ready for harvest in the spring.
Children and adult groups come to the Trent House Museum throughout the year to learn about early 18th century gardening methods, plants, and plant uses.