Rosemary adds a dramatic aspect to the garden.



A history of heirlooms on the Point

Published on Fri, Feb 24, 2012 by Rhiannon Allen

Read More In The Garden

Heirloom plant … do you ever see that term in seed or plant catalogues? Does it bring back memories of grandmother’s garden? A cozy cottage? Seed and plant merchants use the term to describe plants grown in gardens in the first half of the last century.

But in the past, gardens differed dramatically across countries and regions. The wallflowers and rhododendrons I remember from my youth are not the artichokes and sunflowers of someone else’s memories. What people grew depended both on availability and on local conditions and desires.

What did people grow in Point Roberts before the development of modern hybrids and modern marketing? When the first European settlers came, one of their immediate needs was to clear land. Since survival was a priority, most settlers set aside large plots for serious food growing. In addition to feeding the family, some raised early potatoes for sale in the Vancouver area, with a lively competition emerging between Point Roberts and Ladner farming families.

But every family had a large vegetable garden with a mandatory rhubarb patch. The emphasis in these home gardens was on vegetables that would keep well: root crops such as parsnips and carrots that would winter over in a root cellar, good keepers like cabbage and onions, and canning vegetables such as corn and string beans.

The occasional family would also plant family favorites of loganberries, raspberries, strawberries, radishes, tomatoes and peas for summer enjoyment. However, since many of these plants were also grown in quantity in Ladner, some families preferred to purchase rather than cultivate them, often buying large quantities for home preserving.

Orchards were also established during the early settlement years as a long-term investment. Itinerant tree salespeople who came by in the early decades sold the five types of apple trees, such as King apples, that survive today, still yielding Point Roberts fruit for cider, eating and baking.

Although not grown on as large a scale, a number of families planted fruiting cherry, plum and pear trees, and even the occasional peach tree. Most of these trees have names familiar to us, such as Royal Ann Cherry and Bartlett pear. Fruit trees were not confined to the orchards of permanent settlers. Summer communities such as Maple Beach also planted fruit trees for summer shade and eating enjoyment.

Slower growing walnuts eventually yielded both nuts and shade. And hazelnut trees also appeared in the early 1930s. The very large filbert trees that we see around the Point were probably planted by early families. One wonders if those early residents were as frustrated as we are in beating the squirrels to the nuts.

Gardening was not restricted by the need to feed the family. As soon as the settlers had cleared the land, they felt a need for shade and ornamental shrubs and trees. The first to be planted were locust trees, since they grow so rapidly. There are some impressive, rough-barked towering survivors from those early years, as well as their scattered descendants.

Ornamental hawthorns also appeared; you can tell them and their progeny from our native hawthorn by their reddish pink (not white) late spring flowers. Purple lilacs and honeysuckle were popular choices for their scent. A few families planted evergreens such as rhododendrons, boxwood, ornamental cedars and hydrangeas for summer interest.
As early as 1920, roses were planted – not modern hybrids and tea roses, but old-fashioned varieties like cabbage roses, ramblers and climbers. These ornamentals were planted throughout Point Roberts and were especially popular with summer families, who were concerned less with storing crops for the winter than in providing shade, scent and structure once the construction of their cabins was complete.

Of course, once the land was cleared and houses built, gardeners with a taste for ornamentals had a blank slate. Permanent residents invested in spring-flowering plants such as daffodils, bluebells, yellow primroses and species tulips to herald the end of winter.

These were not common choices in seasonal areas, however, since families were generally not around to plant in autumn, or to enjoy the results in spring. But full- and part-timers alike filled their gardens with nasturtium, pinks, purple-blue bearded iris, huge lupins, lavender, poppies, violets and whatever else they could mail order or bring in from New Westminster and Ladner. We sometimes see the descendents of these plants on older properties. Along roadsides, we also see the descendants of self-sowing garden plants like rose campion and foxgloves.

Nowadays we do not need to restrict ourselves to these old-fashioned plants – but wouldn’t it be nice if each of us grew a reminder of Point Roberts history in our garden?

I would like to thank all the residents who delved into their memories for information to share with me. Any errors are mine or due to the unreliability of memory.


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