Monday, May 24, 2010

Niles - The California Nursery Company Exhibit

The best exhibit for the California Nursery Company would be on the site of the old grounds. A commercial nursery could set up within the original building near the lath walk. With sustainability all the rage, organic fruits and vegetables could be grown with produce sold in a weekend farmer's market. Remaining space could be alloted for community and demonstration gardens focused on organic growing methods. An annual flower show could be held, much as Filoli holds their annual Mother's Day Garden Show. The California Nursery used to hold tulip and rose festivals and could do so again.

The old Vallejo adobe could be opened on a regular basis as a tea room, as it had been used by the Roedings from the 1930s through the 1960s. A museum could be set up in both the old office and in the Landers house. Picnic tables could be set up throughout the grounds, encouraging people to come check out plants while having a family get-together.

Like Daniel Burnham said, "Dream big." It certainly worked for John Rock and the Roeding family. The strongest connection to today would be the sustainability angle, which would allow people to purchase fresh organic fruits and vegetables within 25 miles of their home. People are constantly learning anew ways to healthier living, and Niles's horticultural heritage could be used to bring in tourists and tourist dollars in the same way the Niles Canyon Railway and the Essannay Museum are utilized.

The California Nursery Company used to extend from Alameda Creek to Mission Blvd. Today the old grounds front Niles Blvd. (a road was literally cut through the grounds c. 1930), and the short section of road perpendicular to Niles and Mission is called Nursery Ave. Here is a pointed clue to Niles's horticultural history!

An old rose planted on the nursery grounds. There is a rose garden on the site now, featured in an earlier blog. There is enough space for different demonstration gardens focusing on different plants, dry gardening, organic gardening, etc.

Walking through the grounds now is like discovering a secret garden. You can see some of the palms used to landscape the 1915 Pan Pacific Exposition in San Francisco on the skyline.

There are flowers in addition to the many heritage tree specimens. The California Nursery Company Legacy Council is in the middle of setting up a self-guided walking tour that identifies historic plants and structures. They are also intending to set up a pergola with historic storyboards. This will be an interesting challenge due to the long and complex history tied up with John Rock, George Roeding Senior and George Roeding Junior, with their multiple contributions to California horticulture.

One of the old California Nursery Company trucks could be restored and displayed to interpret one part of a long and complex story.

Some of the old archives back in the early 1970s. These materials could be cataloged and housed in either the old office or the Landers house, to be used by historians or horticulturalists for research. Among the items are 16mm films of the nursery's flower shows held between the 1930s and the 1960s; these could be utilized into a more digital type of display. The park should also have a Facebook page because everyone and every entity has a Facebook page! (My age is showing....)

Old equipment stored in one of the barns during the 1970s.

Equipment could be restored and displayed as it is at Shinn's Nurseries and Ardenwood.

The iconic lathwork of the walkway and the circular sales area could be restored. I found an image of it from the 1920s in George Roeding Sr.'s scrapbook at the Museum of Local History, plus another photograph of it taken (I believe) during the 1960s. I took the most recent photograph of it; the circular display area has deteriorated and is now considered unsafe. It could also be restored and used for commercial sales or educational displays.

Fruit culture was once the specialty of the California Nursery Company. An old test orchard was once planted on this exact spot; it has recently been replanted with the same varieties. This fruit could be sold at a weekend farmer's market held on the grounds. Niles folks have to go to Centerville right now if they want fresh produce.

One of the old roads. The remaining roads could be resurfaced for safe walking and would allow for wheelchair access.

Some of the still existing outbuildings could also be restored to interpret the story.

Community horticulural and gardening classes would be offered. Other subjects could include ecology, pottery, landscape design, edible gardening, ornamental gardening, etc.

The California Nursery Company closed in the late 1960s, but Bruce Roeding today still sells peach seed. This and a plot of land are all you need to plant a new orchard. If you don't own any land, come and plant on a communal plot. Needless to say, community interaction would be a vital component to making the California Nursery Company exhbit viable and sustainable.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent photos and history text. Thank you Julie!