Historic Stewart Farm curator Jerrilin Spence stands beside one of the heritage garden beds with a grove of apple trees behind her. The farm grows more than 30 varieties of apples.

Surrey history thriving at Stewart Farm

Volunteers needed to help with farm's heritage gardens

Members of Surrey’s Heritage Services are hoping to plant a seed that will lead to a growing tradition at the Historic Stewart Farm.

Publicist – and avid gardner – Dani Brown and farm curator Jerrilin Spence are looking for volunteers to roll up their sleeves and go back in time with the heritage gardens adjacent to the iconic farm house, located at 13723 Crescent Rd.

Vegetables, herbs, flowers and other plants that thrive in the garden beds during the spring and summer can all be dated back to the days when the pioneering Stewarts built the home alongside the Nicomekl River in the 1890s.

“Mr. Stewart was a hay farmer, but they still grew all of their own food,” Spence said, noting the Stewarts won prizes at fairs for their scarlet runner beans and white carrots, among other produce. “Everything we grow would have been available to Mrs. Stewart in the 1890s to 1910 range.”

All that is grown in the gardens are heirloom varieties, and volunteers use techniques that the Stewarts would have used, which means no pesticides, Spence said.

In order to select what would initially be planted in the garden beds, about 25 volunteers researched the tools used, as well as flower and vegetable varieties, Brown – who was one of the aforementioned volunteers – said.

“It was a bit like being a detective,” she said, noting that a typical Victorian garden, which many associate with the time period, would be out of place in rural Surrey. “They had no time to do fancy gardens. It would have been very practical because they had to feed themselves.”

Brown noted that the volunteers had very little records to go on when selecting items for the garden, and those that they did find in heritage gardening books had become increasingly difficult to locate and purchase.

“Many old varieties are either gone or have become very, very rare,” she said.

But with time and some studying, the garden, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, is now full of history, Brown said, which has also inspired her at her personal garden.

She noted that with the new variety of tomatoes – which are often hybrid species – it is not possible to harvest and grow the seeds. But by looking through catalogues and even online, it’s possible to find heritage seeds – and the stories behind them.

Brown recalled a variety of lettuce – called Grandpa Admire lettuce – which was named after civil-war veteran George Admire, which can still be found in garden beds, as well as a variety of bean that was carried over by the Cherokees during their march on the Trail of Tears.

“I can’t grow (vegetables) without thinking of those stories,” Brown said. “It creates a level of romance with heritage.”

Many of the things grown in the plant beds – and out in the apple orchard, which features more than 30 varieties of apples – are used throughout the farm’s many programs. Spence noted that the team pickles radishes, makes kale chips, uses the rhubarb for desserts and the pumpkins for the timeless pumpkin pie.

“Food is a neat way to connect with history,” Spence said. “You’re basically eating something that someone 100 years ago would eat. Food hasn’t changed that much, as much as technology has changed.”

Now, Brown and Spence are hoping to share their passion for the garden with others in the community – including the younger generation.

“Many hands make light work,” Brown said.

Spence added that while there are obvious benefits to working in the garden – including seeing hard work come to fruition – it’s a great way to meet friends.

“Volunteers really enjoy it. They feel needed and welcomed and develop these meaningful relationships,” she said,

Volunteers must have good basic gardening knowledge. Full training will be provided. Contact 604-502-6461 or email heritagevolunteers@surrey.ca for more information or to sign up.

 

 

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