Landscaping in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the late 1800s and early 1900s could be lush or sparse, depending on the location and nearby logging activities.
A picture from the 1880s of the Harmon cabin off Highway 9 shows many palms that look like Canary Island date palms. Perhaps they were imported from a nursery in San Francisco and carried down here by railroad. The landscaping is lush and full of plants.
Pictures of the Locatelli barn in 1892 near the grammar school in Boulder Creek, however, show the hills nearly cut clear. Railroad tracks at that time ran right through downtown. Simple houses with picket fences stood very near the tracks, and those yards had no trees, shrubs or flowers at all. It must have been quite hot for them in the summertime.
By 1905, residents of the area had settled in and planted fruit trees, vegetables and ornamentals. A photograph of a chicken ranch on Huckleberry Island shows lots of landscaping around the house. Certainly, the available chicken fertilizer helped the roses and wisteria that appear in the pictures.
Up on Alba Road, in Ben Lomond, the J.N. Walters family grew strawberries and peaches. Photos taken in 1915 show palms and hollyhocks in their yard.
Out on Bear Creek Road, the Ercoli villa featured yucca, which I saw in many other photographs. Most likely, the yucca originated from the deserts in Southern California and Mexico and were brought north by the missionaries.
California fan palms and canna lilies appear in many landscapes. The Middleton house in Boulder Creek was heavily planted with native western sword ferns.
Black locust trees, planted for their fragrance and flowers, are still seen today here, where they have naturalized. Originally planted for erosion control, particularly on strip-mined areas, their durable timber was used for homes.
The 1915 Panama Pacific Expo introduced more plants to the public. In 1916, construction of a home in Brookdale featured timber, flooring and doors shipped from the expo to this area by the Southern Pacific railroad. When the house was finished in 1926, photographs show a beautiful home surrounded by hollyhocks, roses and wisteria.
Also in the San Lorenzo Valley Museum archives are the scrapbooks of the Valley Floral Club, later called the Valley Garden Club. Dating back to 1947, the books contain old newspaper clippings, as well as the minutes of monthly meetings, details of various speakers’ talks and pictures of plants and members. One old clipping from 1928 shows an ad for “California redwood burl ferns” for 75 cents that were a “guaranteed curiosity in any home for several years.”
That’s my trip down the memory lane of horticulture. Many thanks to Linda Phillips and Maya Caldwell from the museum for their help in researching this information.
If you have any of these plants in your garden, remember the early settlers who also enjoyed them. You might even plant a historical garden for the fun of it.
Jan Nelson, a California certified nursery professional at Plant Works in Ben Lomond, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.