Bath Twp.: In the 1800s, there were no craft stores selling faux greenery or garden centers offering ready-made pine roping and fresh wreaths.
If houses were decorated at all for Christmas, it was with whatever nature provided.
So that’s just what four area garden clubs used to adorn building exteriors in Hale Farm and Village’s fictional Wheatfield Village, a re-created 19th century town built from structures that have been moved to the living-history museum. Last week, representatives of the clubs gathered at Wheatfield to adorn four houses and the Meeting House with period-appropriate seasonal decorations created by their members.
In past years, the buildings were decorated by the Hale staff, but more sparingly, Site Manager Jason Klein said. The idea of tapping garden clubs to create more substantial decorations came from Kathie VanDevere, a member of Hale’s advisory council and the Akron Garden Club.
The Akron club was joined in the project by the Bath Gamma, Hudson and Sunday Afternoon garden clubs.
The groups endeavored to make the decorations as authentic as possible, said Pam Reitz, a member of the Bath Gamma club and an organizer of the project.
They tried to use materials Ohioans could have gathered from their surroundings around the time of the Civil War, the period represented at Wheatfield Village. And they tried to match the decorations to the houses — more elaborate adornments on the homes of people of means, simpler ones on the homes of Wheatfield’s less prosperous residents.
Of course, there were a few exceptions. It’s unlikely folks in the remote Western Reserve would have had access to flocked floral ribbon or the leaves of a southern magnolia, but these are gardeners, not horticultural historians.
For the most part, the decorations were simple yet elegant. The Greek Revival Jagger House, for instance, got a front-door wreath that Hudson Garden Club member Barb Earnhardt made by attaching dried artemisia to an old barrel hoop and accenting it with holly, sumac, dried pomegranates and an osage orange. The Akron Garden Club supplied understated wreaths of greenery and berries for the doors of the Meeting House and the graceful Goldsmith House.
At the Saltbox House, Bath Gamma club members flanked the front door with sap buckets from Hale Farm, filled with branches of boxwood, juniper and holly. Nails pounded into the window sill with Klein’s permission (the houses are due for patching and painting, he explained) held arrangements of greenery, celosia plumes and dried hydrangea flowers.
At the Herrick House, garden designer Francis Weng led members of his Sunday Afternoon Garden Club in attaching decorations that included pine roping and swags on the front fence and decorations studded with pinecones and winterberry on the windows. They labored to the strains of Christmas music that member Jim Switzer revealed came from “my genuine Colonial iPhone.”
Member Meg Calby estimated 90 percent of the materials used by the Sunday Afternoon club came from the members’ gardens.
“It took awhile and cajoling to get people to think about what they could use,” Calby said with a laugh. Eventually, though, the double garage where the club stored the materials became so crammed that the members were able to be selective about the colors and textures they used. It was, she said, “like a candy store.”
Reitz said the organizers hope the decorating project will increase the club members’ interest in Hale Farm and Village and spur their participation in other undertakings.
But in truth, the project was more than just a public service. It was also a friendly competition.
Organizer VanDevere was working on arranging for a professional to judge the results, Reitz said. And guests on Hale Farm’s Christmas-season lantern tours are getting the opportunity to vote for their favorites to determine the winner of a people’s choice award.
After all, what’s more authentically American than a good old-fashioned rivalry?
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.