Event organizer

Taste of Heritage Gardens honors deceased organizer with 25th anniversary celebration

Johnson County master gardeners Carolyn Murphy and Betty Kelly look at the lettuce patch in Friendly’s vegetable garden in Plum Grove in Iowa City in July 2015, inspired by 19th century garden designs. Kelly, who died March 30, was instrumental in organizing the garden and the annual event. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Johnson County Master Gardeners Carolyn Murphy (left) and Betty Kelly stand in the vegetable garden at Friendly in Plum Grove in Iowa City in July 2015. Kelly, who died March 30, was instrumental in organizing the garden and annual event. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Dinner in honor of Betty Kelly scheduled for July 13

IOWA CITY — After returning from a two-year hiatus, the 25th anniversary of Taste of Heritage Garden will honor the late founding member who was instrumental in the success of the event.

Betty Kelly, who spearheaded efforts to establish historically modeled gardens in the Plum Grove and Taste of Heritage Garden diners, died March 30 at the age of 94. As her fellow Johnson County Master Gardeners celebrate 40 years of service to Johnson County, this year’s event will pay special tribute through her recipes from The Taste cookbook and a new bench plate that will be dedicated by his family.

The dinner, for a $5 per person donation, benefits gardens, horticulture scholarships at Kirkwood Community College, where Kelly taught, and 4-H awards.

If you are going to:

What: Taste of Heritage Gardens 25th Anniversary Celebration

When: Wednesday July 13 from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Where: Plum Grove, 1030 Carroll St., Iowa City

Cost: $5 donation per person

Details: Eat a variety of favorite recipes that have stood the test of time, made from traditionally grown produce at Plum Garden.

For years, Kelly negotiated with the State Historical Society of Iowa, owner of Plum Grove, for permission to plant a heritage garden as the state of Iowa celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1995. For 15 years , from 1995 to 2010, she helped establish a vegetable garden, heritage flower garden, wildflower garden and rose garden using historical research to identify what people ate when Plum Grove was established and how they would have maintained the garden.

“The garden was another opportunity to educate the public about the state’s history, agriculture and its citizens,” Kelly said before his death.

Plum Grove was built by Iowa’s first governor and his wife, Robert and Friendly Lucas, in 1844, two years before Iowa was admitted to the Union. During his 25 years in the care of the Johnson County Master Gardeners, he received the Iowa State Service Award, the National Smithsonian Garden Award, and an Irving Weber Award for providing insight into history.

The gardens, laid out in typical 1850s fashion, planted rows of vegetables in north-south directions in raised beds.

“Since history was important to her as a teacher, she decided to take it upon herself to have Plum Grove represented in (Iowa’s sesquicentennial celebration),” said Carolyn Murphy, County Master Gardener. Johnson. “When she decided to do something, it happened.”

Murphy, a mentee of Kelly’s, said she will remember Kelly for her perseverance and articulate research to preserve Iowa’s history.

“The past really needs to be remembered and we need to celebrate it,” Murphy said. “Betty wanted to share what we were doing in Plum Grove.”

“She never did anything halfway,” said Linda Schreiber, another fellow Master Gardener. “She saw it as a good opportunity to promote master gardeners and do something beneficial.”

This year’s menu features a variety of items that Friendly Lucas might have grown and served in the mid-1800s, including plum dish favorites from previous years:

  • Purple plum soup
  • Plum oat bars
  • Canned plums on ice
  • King Arms Coleslaw
  • Iowa Applesauce Cake
  • Farmhouse Corn Salad with Trail of Tears Cherokee Beans
  • German Baked Potato Salad
  • Pickled Egyptian Walking Onions
  • Tomato cheese bread
  • Rhubarb punch, an annual favorite

The Old Post Office Marching Band will perform, as they have for many years.

“Betty was a historian by all means,” Murphy said. “We will honor Betty and keep her memory alive for as long as we can.”

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