Features ~ Sonoma Valley Sun


The garden at Maysonnave House

Posted on May 15, 2008 by Sonoma Valley Sun

The Sonoma League for Historic Preservation began the transformation of the Maysonnave House and property into a Heritage Center to provide space for community archival documents. With the help of many volunteers and the building contractor, Thom Bridges, the project is nearing completion. The interior was meticulously repaired, maintaining as much of the original building as possible. The Library will provide space for research of the archives: there will also be changing displays showing the historical character of Sonoma and space for educational programs for the community and school children.
The historical character of the property extends to the garden. The Maysonnave Garden layout replicates the garden style of 1910 using plants that were either used in 1910 or similar varieties that have some characteristic that makes them better choices than the exact cultivar of the period.
The gardens at the Heritage Center at the Maysonnave House represent the historical context of the way the Maysonnaves lived. Mrs. Maysonnave, known to be good cook, relied on her garden to feed her family. In the new garden, there are herbs, vegetables, a small orchard of fruit trees including Gravenstein apples and pear varieties and a vineyards of table grapes. Some of the plants that were saved from the old gardens were vintage roses, peonies and a crepe myrtle tree. The gardens were designed by Patricia Cullinan and installed by Cline Landscaping.
Gardens in 1910 had a variety of needs and functions:
They provided some of the food that a family would use; we have represented that aspect of the garden with a small orchard and vegetable garden.The citrus trees that have lived in the Maysonnave garden for years are going to be retained, and apples and pears will be planted. Sonoma had many pear orchards into the 1960s. Vineburg had a packing shed and dehydrator for pears and peaches. Grapes will grow on the fence as they would in a period garden that made use of all available garden areas.
In addition to the practical aspects of a 1910 garden, family and social life made extensive use of the garden. At the Maysonnave House people will enjoy both a lawn and a patio with a fountain in the garden.
Shade was necessary for the hot summer days and the garden plan contains a variety of trees, deciduous and non-deciduous. Existing willow, native sycamore, and oak will be joined by flowering crab apples and crape myrtles.
Water was not as readily available in a 1910 garden as it is today, and often the garden plants would get only occasional water and therefore had to survive periods of drought. Today there is much talk of using plants that fit our Mediterranean climate, but it was the necessity of drought tolerance generated in 1910 by the lack of irrigation systems that gave most of the 1910 gardens a truly Mediterranean garden character.
The post -Victorian garden era, following the spirit of exploration of the Victorian era, had a wealth of plants garnered from around the world available for the 1910 garden. Chaenomeles japonica, flowering quince, is a plant that blooms every spring and looks lush and green all summer with little water. Rich Valley topsoil nourishes daphne, hydrangea, bergenia, and ferns in the shade. These are all plants that were also propagated and passed from gardener to gardener in 1910. Some native plants like the fern polystichum munitium were collected on trips to the coast and brought back to grow in the shade of valley gardens.
Bulbs also formed part of the 1910 palette of plants, both in the sun and shade. This time of year amaryllis belladonna (Naked Ladies) grace our gardens. At other times daffodils, narcissus, hyacinth, and crinums bloom. These are included in the design of the Maysonnave garden.
Drought-tolerant and exotic aloes, sedum, and echeveria will grow in a pile of rocks that originally made up part of the foundation of the Maysonnave House appropriate to the spirit of recycling that was integral to the lifestyle of our ancestors.

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