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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Van Meter garden growing the past

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Saline County Master Gardeners Gale Chevalier and Judy Kersten build up the hills around stalks of Indian corn they planted in an interpretive garden at Van Meter State Park.
An unusual-looking garden is growing on a plot of land at Van Meter State Park near Marshall, bearing fruits and vegetables and serving as a glance into the past.

Copying the Hidatsa Indians' agricultural methods, a group of Saline County Master Gardeners volunteered to plant, cultivate and harvest an American Indian interpretive garden presenting corn, beans and squash, known by Indians as the life-giving spirits they called the three sisters.

Master Gardeners Mark McRoberts of Marshall, Judy Kersten of Malta Bend and Gale Chevalier of Miami used the book "Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden -- Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians," written by Gilbert Wilson, to design the garden in the traditional Indian way. Along with the three sisters, the garden contains pumpkins, watermelons and sunflowers.

Park employees staked off the approximately 24-by-36-foot plot of land and, aside from using a modern tiller, the Master Gardeners have literally been gardening by the book. Instead of being planted in rows, six to eight corn seeds lie underground in several hills. Squash is planted on the outside of the plot, and Kersten said the original reason for that pattern was to keep animals from disturbing the plants. She said the big, tall vines served as a fence. On the back side of the garden lie gourds donated by the Indiana Gourd Society, and the park's site administrator, Connie Winfrey, gave the gardeners some beans to plant. The front of the garden is lined with Blacktail Mountain watermelons and Kersten said sunflowers are planted on the four corners because the Indians used them to mark the borders of their garden, showing the separation between neighboring gardens. Chevalier said the arrangement was also made in that way to keep out the deer.

Taking turns or working together, the Master Gardeners cultivate the garden on a regular basis. Although not all the seeds have been planted, the garden is already serving its purpose.

One evening last week, McRoberts was doing some planting and weeding in the garden when some children approached him, asking what he was doing. McRoberts explained the project and variety of seeds used in the garden and the main inquirer, a girl just out of fourth grade, said she recognized some of the plants because her grandfather had some in his garden.

"She was trying to relate that garden to her own experiences and that's how history comes alive for people. That's what we want," McRoberts said.

As the garden progresses and fruits and vegetables are harvested, the park and Master Gardeners group plan to include the cultural demonstration in park programs. Visitors to the park may also have an opportunity later this summer to enjoy a meal consisting of food raised in the garden.

Contact Naomi Campbell at


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