Tag Archives: San Lorenzo Valley history

Early Horticultural History of Felton & San Lorenzo Valley

Felton is celebrating its 150th anniversary this month. When I first came to this area I lived for 23 years in Felton so it’s close to my heart. My interest in early local horticulture started after looking at early family photographs of the homestead i where I used to live. My friends’ family had a resort on Highway 9 before the turn of the century. Featuring a natural spring and rock-lined forest paths it was very near the Big Tree Grove resort, now known as Toll House which opened in 1867. I remember looking at the photos and marveling at all the flowers surrounding the dwelling. The redwood trees have now grown tall but back then there was lots of sunshine- a by product of clear cutting in the late 1800’s. I could see roses, lilacs and shasta daisies in the photo surrounding the wrap around porch.

Felton Covered Bridge- present day

Most of this area was heavily forested until the late 1800’s. Boulder Creek, in 1899, was the 5th largest shipper of timber in the entire country. Quarry operations also used forest trees and shrubs to fuel the lime kilns in Fall Creek. Early logging techniques were very hard on the environment. Clear cutting was common and included the understory madrone and tan oak. After the removal of the broadleaf trees, the conifers were cut, to be followed by burning. To clear the bark from the logs and thin the shrub growth to facilitate with log removal, a fire was set. This first fire in itself was no problem since the trees could and would re-sprout from the base. But after removal of the logs by ox team, another fire was set and since these fires were uncontrolled, they would burn surrounding areas as well. The result was a sequence of fires that would kill the growing sprouts and saplings and allow invasion of shrubs, thus delaying the natural reforestation. Burning plus severe soil erosion at times so damaged the land that it could no longer support trees. In other areas the forest did not return until a long successional sequence of brush-land to woodland to forest had occurred.

So what could a woman do to make a house a home back in those days? Many settlers arrived from the east coast, the midwest and Europe and brought with them seeds and starts of plants. As early as 1871 nurseries in San Francisco were importing plants such as pittosporum tenuifolium and the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco allowed many more plants to become available to homeowners. Hebe from New Zealand were all the rage. The brochure for the world fair describes a Palace of Horticulture and Tower of Jewels as …” a great garden, itself, a marvel of landscape engineering skill… one side of a magic carpet on which these beautiful palaces are set with its floricultural splendors for a wondrous beauty, has never been equaled.”

Wildwood rooming house- Boulder Creek

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 to bloom.

Up on Alba Rd. 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 Rd., the Ercoli villa featured yucca which I saw in many other photographs. Most likely they originated from the deserts in the 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 here today where they have naturalized. Originally planted for erosion control, particularly on strip mined areas, their durable timber was used for homes.

If your relatives have lived here a long time perhaps you have old photographs that show the plantings around their homes. If you’re willing to share I’d love to see them.

A Little Slice of Heaven in the Santa Cruz Mountains

toolsOutside of the historical agriculture exhibit at the Santa Cruz County Fair I have never seen so many antique farm implements and tools. Vintage tractors and parts were tucked underneath massive black walnuts. The winding driveway was dotted with more equipment, tractor wheels and parts. A storage shed displayed a collection of vintage chain saws and other small tools. California poppies bloomed in small clusters. I was here to visit an old friend in the hills above south Felton near the Toll House resort to see if I could help with advice about his ailing plum trees.

Al HIley has lived in this idyllic location since Vista_from_house.2048he was a boy and that’s a long time as his 92nd birthday is this month. His father bought the 18 acres in 1906. The original house still stands shaded by a grape vine arbor that protects the door and windows in the heat of the day. He lives close by in another house where he enjoys a vista which includes Mt. Umunhum, the Summit and Boulder Creek. Al says he used to be able to see downtown Felton but the redwoods have grown since the late 1800’s when this area was logged.

I had to laugh that Al was asking me for advice. He’s been farming this land starting since WWII ended. His father pAl_Hiley_in orchard2.1600lanted the original walnut trees in the hopes of making a profit from his land but “he was no farmer”, according to Al. I glanced at the catalogs on the 12’ long redwood burl coffee table. You can tell a lot about a person from what they read. Strewn about were several tractor catalogs, Popular Mechanic magazines, Heartland cataantique_chainsaws.1600logs, miscellaneous tool catalogs and a book entitled ‘Chainsaws: A History” which touts to be the first book on the worldwide history of the chainsaw.

With his lab, Sonny, at his side, Al and I went out to the orchard to take a look at the fruit trees. Originally in the 1960’s he had about 95 fruit trees. He grafted different kinds of apples onto his father’s trees and planted peaches, and pears as well as plums and prunes. We passed the blueberry bushes which were starting to show some fall color. Nearby grew a fig with a gnarled trunk the likes I have never seen. Loaded with hundreds on hundreds of ripening figs he invited me back to pick some when they ripened.

Al couldn’t verify the exact variety of red apple that caught my eye. It also was  loaded with beautiful fruit. He red_apples.1600got me a bag to pick as many as I wanted to take home and they are crispy and juicy. He grows a yellow delicious apple also but after eating the red variety I didn’t think anything could rival them.

The plum trees weren’t doing as well. They all had some yellow leaves and golden colored sap oozing along the branches. This condition is called gummosis and occurs often in stone fruit trees like cherry, apricot, peach and plum. It can be caused by several very different things.

The tree may have gumming from a pathogen that invades and kills bark and cambial tissue through a wound such as a pruning cut, sun scald or hail. If you scrape the outer bark under the sap the dead phloem will appear cinnamon brown in color Prevention is the key to managing this problem. Keep trees healthy with optimal watering, mulching and nutrition.

gummosis_on_plum.1600Borers can also cause gumming. In a plum tree, weakened trees or places where wounds have occurred will be susceptible. Ooze is often clear. Management of these pests is difficult and may include bark sprays during the growing season.

If you are not sure that a pathogen is causing the gummosis, scrape the outer bark away. If the inner bark is still cream colored and healthy, the oozing is caused by non-living factors and there is nothing you should do. If the wood is tan to brown, it is dead, and was most likely killed by a pathogen.

For my friend, Al’s plum trees I determined that the gummosis was caused by excessive irrigation. Due to the drought, Al had tried to limit watering during the summer. When he saw the trees being stressed he deep watered several times in the past month or so. The apple trees loved it but not the plums. He is happily going to deep water much less often until the trees go dormant.

I left Al and Sonny with the promise that I’d be back when the figs ripened. I’m sure I’ll be needing a fresh supply of apples, too.