The Garden at 485 Elm
People growing together:
a collaborative community garden in Montpelier, Vermont

Ancient Sage

150-year-old sage from Cambridge, NY

150-year-old sage from Cambridge, NY, takes root in Montpelier

This sage is growing in the herb garden plot of The Garden at 485 Elm. The wood it’s growing from is as much as 150 years old.

In the 1880s, a man named Mitchell built a 2-room cabin in Cambridge, New York. When the town began water service, Mr. Mitchell added a second floor for his wife and, eventually, two daughters. The family even had a bathroom.

Mr. Mitchell worked as highway superintendent. He kept the horses who pulled the drag to clear snow off the roads so carriages could pass.

The Mitchell family cultivated gardens at several locations on the property, including an herb garden. That’s where this sage was growing.

“There were inch-and-a-half long thimbleberries, even though they’re not supposed to grow this far north,” says Cindy. “If I’d known how hard they’d be to replace, I’d have taken them with me along with the sage and lilies.”

Cindy owned the old Cambridge house until the late 1990s. She bought it from another highway superintendent, a man who, as a boy, took care of the grounds of the old Mitchell house as Mr. Mitchell’s spinster daughter aged and, eventually, died. The boy grew up and purchased the house from the Mitchell estate. Cindy bought it from him.

When Cindy moved to Bennington fifteen years ago, she took herbs, peonies, and lilies. She’s been carting them around ever since. Cindy planted a clump of the sage in her North Bennington community garden plot.

A few months ago Cindy moved to Montpelier so Kaite could attend the New England Culinary Institute. She brought the sage to The Garden at 485 Elm and divided it into two clumps. One went into Cindy’s raised wooden beds. Lroy planted the other clump, pictured here, in the herb garden.

More Old Plants Find New Homes

Photo of Hemerocallis (Day Lily) by Andreas Krappweis

Photo of Hemerocallis (Day Lily) by Andreas Krappweis

Day lilies rest in pots, awaiting planting at The Garden at 485 Elm. Some of them came from the flower gardens at North Bennington’s historic Park-McCullough House.

A man named Maurice Kahn was a Brooklyn schoolteacher who got his hands dirty by becoming a Master Gardener through the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. He retired to North Bennington and rented an apartment on the Park McCullough estate.

Kahn worked in the estate’s old flower gardens and 150-year-old “grapery,” a structure that looks like half a greenhouse with passive solar. It was used for growing grapes and fruits out of season.

Kahn founded the North Bennington community garden. Cindy and then seven-year-old Kaite met him when they began gardening there. When Kaite was ten, Kahn gave her a job mowing pathways for the next six years.

Another job took Kaite to the Park McCullough estate, where Kahn directed her to pull out all the old day lilies. He objected to the length of time the job was taking Kaite. She explained that her mother said you had to pull out all the nodes in addition to the flowers or the lilies would keep returning. Maurice told Kaite and Cindy to give the lilies away.

The Park McCullough day lilies were common orange day lilies, all planted in estate’s┬áthe original, sifted-to-silt beds. Thanks to Cindy and Kaite, these lilies have many residences:

  • They’re stabilizing a hillside at Lake Shaftsbury State Park
  • They’re beautifying a ditch at the home of “The Food Lady,” now-deceased, who used to give out samples at the grocery store
  • They greet parishioners in front of the Capstone Church in North Bennington
  • They welcome all who enter the Bennington House apartment complex where Cindy and Kaite once lived

And once the lilies bloom at The Garden at 485 Elm, we’ll be able to see which ones started their lives at the Park McCullough House.