Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Thinking Spring

By Karen Osburn, Archivist

I know some folks enjoy winter, but I am not one of them.  Right now I am very tired of hats, coats, gloves, boots, shovels, salt, shovels, ice, below zero wind chill temperatures, yak trax, shovels, salt, shovels and everything ( did I mention shovels?) about winter.  While perusing some photos in the archives I came across some images of a snowstorm that buried Geneva in 1925.  The photos are from the end of January and beginning of February.  The images of Exchange Street are impressive, with streetcars and automobiles drifted up to their windows.  I was reminded that this doesn’t happen very often in Geneva. We are fortunate enough to be in a place that seems to get bypassed by the worst of the winter weather.  Yes, we get the bitter cold, but we don’t seem to get the snow that places like Buffalo, Syracuse, or Rochester get. I am quite happy about this.  Still I can’t help but wonder if the residents of Geneva in the 1920s, 1960s, 1970s and other memorable tough winter years waited impatiently for nursery catalogs the way some of us do today.

For me, the colorful nursery catalogs are harbingers of spring, much like the robins, red winged blackbirds and crocuses.  Even though I don’t really have a place to put in many plants just the thought of gardens full of flowers, vegetables and trees or bushes loaded with fruit are warming to my beleaguered winter spirit. 

I look at maps of Geneva from the 1850s and see acres of land occupied by nurseries and wonder if the horticulturalists and nursery owners waited as impatiently as I do for the first blooms of spring to show themselves?  I wonder if they planned their gardens and new plantings as eagerly as some of us will at the end of this winter?  I suspect they did, how could they resist the multitude of colors and fragrances they knew would become available in the warmer weather?

Did you know that Geneva and many of the towns and cities in upstate New York were once home to many nurseries?  Geneva had W. & T. Smith, Maxwell Bros., to name only two of our many nurseries.  We also had the New York State Agriculture Experiment Station.  Newark, NY had Jackson and Perkins Roses.  Rochester had Elwanger & Barry’s Mount Hope Gardens, VanPuttee Seeds and other nurseries plus Highland Park to showcase gorgeous plants .The upstate area was a hot bed horticultural innovation and it showed. 

The New York State Agricultural Experiment Station developed several varieties of apples and grapes including: Cortland, Empire, Jonagold, Jonamac and Macoun apples and ‘Noiret’, ‘Corot noir’ and ‘Valvin Muscat’ grapes.  They have also bred various new types of berries and other plants.

Jackson and Perkins developed many new varieties of roses during their time in Newark.  I remember one called “Tropicana” which my mother grew.  It was a beautiful shade of coral and smelled a bit like sweetened tea.  It was lovely.  My grandmother had a very small yard in Rochester and crammed it with as many roses as she could.  The smell of warm earth and roses from June through August plus the buzzing of bees making their way from flower to flower remain some of my best memories from childhood.

Today, New York State is home to 58 species of wild orchids in shades of pink, yellow, white, and brown.  Among the showiest orchid of our native species are the “Lady’s Slippers” often found in pink and yellow.  We are also part of an area filled with extensive grape vineyards and many orchards of apples, apricots, peaches, cherries, plums, and nectarines.  Numerous small variety farms grow strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, gooseberries, red and black currents, dahlias, gladiolas, peonies, squash, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, beans, cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, kale, spinach, and rhubarb. I don’t think I have even come close to naming all the crops grown in this area.

How can I not look forward to spring?  Even when I don’t grow the crops myself nursery catalogs and the hint, the tantalizing thought of spring help me shovel that last pile of snow, throw salt on the last bit of ice, pull on my yax tracks one last time, because I know that around that corner are the colors of spring, the smells of spring and the taste of spring.  Spring is coming!

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