Gardening at the Plains Conservation Center

The Plains Conservation Center in Aurora, Colo., is a historic farm and living classroom where visitors can learn what it was like to live on the plains in 1887.

One recent Saturday morning I had the chance to step back in time and see and feel what it must have been like to live on Colorado’s eastern plains in the late 1880s.

I was writing about the heirloom garden at the Plains Conservation Center and wanted a first-hand experience of feeding the chickens, roosters and cattle, meeting the blacksmith and standing inside a one-room sod house.

I loved every second as my imagination took me away.

I don’t live too far from the Plains Center–as the crow flies–so the glimpse backward hit close to home. It was easy for me to stand on the windy prairie, look north and visualize what the plains looked like before development took over.  I’m so grateful this place preserves over 1,000 acres of open space for generations to come.

The heirloom garden at the Plains Center is protected by a tall fence, but that’s the only difference between the garden as it is now and as it would have been in the 1880s. The only vegetable varieties grown here are the ones available to settlers at that time, like ‘Brandywine’ tomatoes, ‘Stowell’s Evergreen’ sweet corn and ‘Emerald Gem’ cantaloupe. Radishes are coming up and once the weather warms, additional heirloom vegetables will be planted in the garden.

Stepping inside the  “soddie” reminds visitors of a simpler time when families lived together in a one-room house. Tudi Arneill, Plains Center executive director, explained the phrase, “Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite,” comes from a time when the ropes on the bed frame had to be pulled tight each night to keep bugs from biting while sleeping on a straw mattress.

The house was built by cutting sod bricks from the prairie and stacking them on top of each other.

Lewis and Clark are the resident steers and every Saturday morning visitors have the chance to feed them handfuls of hay.

There’s much more to the Plains Conservation Center including a blacksmith shop, one-room school house and Indian tipis. A year-round calendar of activities for students and adults is available at the Plains Conservation Center website.


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