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July 19, 2005 > Friends of Heirloom Flowers

Friends of Heirloom Flowers

An "Heirloom" is defined as a valued possession passed down through generations of a family. For instance, a pocket watch, carefully protected for a century, might have been the pride and joy of a grandfather or great-grandfather. Its luminous cover and prized mechanism simultaneously represent a lifestyle of past generations and a link to the present; timepieces may differ in design, but the primary function remains the same.

Just as an honored watch can install a sense of continuity, plants that continue for a century and more instill a sense of wonder and awe. Those of us junior in experience marvel at past glory, decades of change and hardships overcome to survive and thrive. A group of Tri-City volunteers has been tending and watching over a group of hardy heirlooms, with sturdy roots and colorful blooms, for decades. These "heirloom flowers" often begin as a "cutting" from an older plant and represent the continuation of a line of plants that graced gardens generations ago.

Founder, Eva Ricciarelli says that the group of approximately 50 members, ages 30 to 90, has been meeting since 1994 and maintains a fairly consistent number. "There are always new people joining the group. Once they come and garden with us, sit down and have tea when we discuss everything 'from soup to nuts,' they are ready to stay." Although not all members work in the garden, many tend the Shinn Estate garden every Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. and the Niles Rose Garden every Thursday morning at 10 a.m. "If people want to join us but are unsure of how to work in the garden, we are happy to help and train them," says Eva.

General meetings are held in "the cottage" on the Shinn property. Eva says that Admiral Shinn always wanted a garden club at Shinn Park and gave use of the cottage to the group as a headquarters and meeting place. Meetings are held the third Wednesday of every month at 10 a.m. and newcomers are always welcome to visit meetings or gardening sessions.

Although some members of the group are octogenarians, one of the roses in their care at the Shinn property has seen more years than they have - over a century of life. Eva recalls that many years ago, a woman approached the group with a rose bush that had been in the family for over 80 years and asked if they would continue to care for it. Pale pink roses currently adorn the thriving plant just inside the fence surrounding the Shinn property. Eva is careful to point out that older "heirloom" plants can be of many different types. She adds, "Every now and then, we get some old Iris plants; not all heirloom flowers are roses. We have a big Iris garden at Shinn House."

When "Friends of Heirloom Flowers" began, Eva says it was the only garden club in Fremont. She happily reports that now there are several clubs in the area, each with its own focus. As a member of the National Garden Clubs, Inc. (NGC) and California Garden Clubs, Inc. (CGCI), Bay Bridges District, members attend district meetings to discuss gardening ideas and exchange tips. Eva notes that although many clubs are social gatherings, "The Friends of Heirloom Flowers" is one of the few that, as a group, "get our fingers in the dirt." The club planted roses along the fence at the Shinn House. "There was nothing planted there except a few trees when we first started," says Eva. The club also helps maintain the "Butterfly Garden," a project of the Audubon Society. She notes that a different group keeps up the Japanese Garden at Shinn House. "That garden requires less maintenance; our areas of responsibility require more continual care - weed control, planting and watering." The club also plays a supporting role in restoration work by Eva's husband, Rod, of a vintage trolley car currently located behind the Shinn House.

Although the initial goal of the group was to restore the Shinn Gardens as they existed in the early years of the 20th century (a short history of the Shinn family, written by Jill Singleton, can be found at, little is written about the gardens on the property. However, Eva did find some notations in Admiral Shinn's writings and was able to plant some historically accurate flora. "That was all I had to go on. There is only one picture that we could find of the outside area; taken near the big tree, it doesn't show much of anything." Members of the family remember the garden, but with few specific plant identifications. In the absence of detailed information, the group has concentrated on planting and maintaining the same type of plants that would have graced the area at the time. "That's about the best we can do," says Eva. "It is looking better all the time. There is always something to do; the garden is never completely finished."

Friends of Heirloom Flowers

General Meeting
10 a.m.
3rd Wednesday of every month
Shinn House (cottage building)
1251 Peralta Blvd. (at Mowry Ave.)

10 a.m.
Tuesdays: Shinn House
1251 Peralta Blvd.
Thursdays: Niles Rose Garden
Niles Blvd. (near Mission Adobe Nursery)

For more information, call Eva Ricciarelli at (510) 656-7702.

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