The MontereyBay area was settled in the 1800s; incorporation of Santa Cruz was in 1866, andMonterey in 1889. The area has a good number of older houses, and some current owners of those earlier residences might wish to create a garden that reflects their home’s historical landscape.
A landscaping friend recently began work with a client who lives in a residence built in 1895, and wants to create a garden typical of that era. My friend would like to identify plants that were in home gardens at that time.
A gardening nerd could not ignore such a challenge!
I search the Internet for lists of plants that were in residential gardens of the Monterey Bay area in 1895 (or around that time), and discovered that homeowners did not share lists of plants in their gardens.
There were several missions in central California that typically had gardens of edible and ornamental plants, and missions often recorded their activities. They seemed a promising source of information, but my searches yielded no fruit.
By chance, I learned that the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley was formally established in 1890 “to form a living collection of the native trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants of the State of California…” and “within two years the collection numbered 600 species.” Given this garden’s impressive online database of plants, compiling a list of native California plants of the era seemed simple.
I found, however, that the earliest entries in the garden’s database begin with acquisitions in 1900, and very few in the early years of the century. Vanessa Handley, Director of Collections and Research told me that the initial acquisition records were not maintained after the garden was moved in 1925-28 from its original central campus location to its current position in Strawberry Canyon, above the main campus.
I visited the website of the California Garden and Landscape History Society, which pointed me to “the most extensive scholarly treatment of California landscape history,” CaliforniaGardens: Creating a New Eden, by David C. Streatfield (Abbeville Press,1994). That book and others that looked helpful were available in used (but good) condition for quite reasonable prices, so I ordered a few additions to my library.
The first book that arrived is Restoring American Gardens: An Encyclopedia of Heirloom Ornamental Plants, 1640–1940, by Denise Wiles Adams (TimberPress, 2004). This book includes an appendix of plant lists extracted from nursery catalogs, focusing on about 100 of the most popular plants, organized by different regions in different eras. These lists represent an extraordinary research project by Ms. Adams.
Her lists for the Mountain and WesternStates include but of course do not target the Monterey Bay area. They would provide fine guidance for planning a historical garden for specific periods: 1870–1899,1900–1924, and 1925–1940.
The plants listed are mostly recognizable; today’s plants certainly existed 150 years ago. The plants we find in local garden centers or mail-order catalogs, however, are often contemporary cultivars that would have developed many years after early gardeners planted their gardens. Projects to create an accurately historical garden should feature species plants, rather than the latest hybrid introductions.
The next challenge would be to find species plants!