Skip to main content
Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI Master Gardeners create historic gardens at Middletown’s Prescott Farm

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

MIDDLETOWN, R.I. – July 2, 2012 -- When the Newport Restoration Foundation decided it wanted to create historically accurate gardens at the 18th century Prescott Farm in Middletown in 2007, they turned to a group of University of Rhode Island Master Gardeners to research, design and install the vegetable, herb and flower gardens that they continue to maintain today. The project has turned into a showcase that combines period horticulture with contemporary gardening practices.

“When we first started, we tried to fix the existing gardens, but soon decided that was a losing battle,” said Susan Estabrook, who has coordinated the project since its inception. “So we got a committee together and worked with the Foundation staff to research the design of the garden, the material that would have been used for pathways and fences, and the appropriate plants and gardening techniques from the 18th century.”

The resulting kitchen garden includes time-tested produce like potatoes, squash, onions, beans, carrots, beets, parsnips, leeks, cucumbers and many others.

“A lot of these vegetables you would see in your own garden today, but back then the emphasis was on growing storage crops that would hold them over through the winter,” Estabrook said, noting that the produce is given to Lucy’s Hearth, a women’s shelter located nearby.

Then the team of 29 gardeners tackled the herb garden. Led by Master Gardener Johanna Becker and with expert advice from the staff of Sturbridge Village, they planted herbs that would have been used in colonial times for recipes, dying cloth, and medicines, including fennel for good digestion and horehound to relieve sore throats and reduce inflammation.

A historic flowerbed around the perimeter of the vegetable garden was also installed, a project led by Master Gardener Jean Anderson.

The most recent additions took place in an area near the rear of the property, which had been covered with invasive species and was cleared for use as a hummingbird and bee garden, along with what Estabrook called the Three Sisters.

“Back then, the Indian tradition was to grow corn, around which beans were planted to grow up the corn stalks, and squash was planted there to cover the soil and keep moisture in,” she explained.

Founded by philanthropist Doris Duke in 1968, the Newport Restoration Foundation aims to preserve the landscape and architectural heritage from 18th and 19th century Aquidneck Island. Prescott Farm is named for a British military officer who was captured there during the Revolutionary War. In addition to the gardens, the site contains an 1812 windmill and three 18th century homes.

The grounds are open to the public free from dawn to dusk daily. On Sundays, the Master Gardeners conduct free soil testing for anyone bringing a soil sample to the farm. “That brings people in that might not ordinarily come,” Estabrook said, “and we answer gardening questions that they might have.”

“This has been a wonderful partnership between the Master Gardeners and the Newport Restoration Foundation,” she concluded. “The Foundation has provided us with an opportunity to do some great organic gardening and educate the public, and they are so grateful for what we have done. It has been a great opportunity for both organizations.”

Prescott Farm is located at 2009 West Main Rd., Middletown. For further information, call 849-7300.