WILLIAMSBURG-Eve Otmar, Colonial Williamsburg Master Gardener, has been tinkering in the dirt since she was a child.
“I’ve been gardening my whole life,” she said. “I started gardening with my dad at home when I was a kid.”
For years, Otmar operated her own commercial greenhouse and retail establishment in the Midwest.
“Owning your own business has very deep rewards,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world. I could grow what I wanted to. I enjoyed experimenting and offering plants that people couldn’t find anywhere else.”
Otmar shifted gears following the September 11 terrorist attacks. A friend encouraged her to apply for a position at Colonial Williamsburg. She came aboard in 2006 and has been a part of the gardening trades program since 2017. She became Master of Historic Gardening in January 2022. She works alongside two apprentices to help tell the story of horticulture and agriculture in the colonial era.
“Everything is tied to what they did in the 18th century and how they grew their own food,” she said. “We are the public face of gardening in the 18th century and share knowledge, tips, and techniques and educate and encourage people to garden on their own.”
The garden at Colonial Williamsburg is filled with all the vegetables that people typically eat today as well as native plants that would have been here in the 18th century. Otmar tries to stay true to what gardening was like in the past.
“For example, early carrots were red and yellow, so the carrots we grow in our garden are the correct color for that time period,” she said.
Additionally, Otmar has been instrumental in the introduction of two other gardens, an indigenous garden that features vegetables and plants that American Indians grew as well as a garden dedicated to West African vegetables and plants that were part of the diet and culture of those who were enslaved in the 18th century.
“We have only plants that we know were here for sure at that time,” Otmar said. “I find it fascinating to grow things either from a seed or a cutting, the challenges, and finding ways to encourage plants to come up.”
Colonial Williamsburg is expanding its gardening trades program and plans to move its garden from Duke of Gloucester Street in 2024 to a larger space adjacent to the Chiswell-bucktrout House along Francis Street. The move will allow for the opportunity for more hands-on experiences for visitors.
“It’s very exciting,” Otmar said.