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Custead’s Nursery Catalogue, 1827

April 6, 2022

An Apple Blossom

If you went to a nursery 195 years ago, what kind of plants could you buy?

In 1827 Custead’s Nursery of York (Toronto) had 13 locations. The nearest to the Kawarthas were George Lount’s in Gwillimsbury (on historic Yonge Street, now Newmarket) and Jones’ Nursery in Cobourg.

195 years ago the first settlers were just arriving in the Kawarthas. The Robinson Emigrants had recently taken up land near Peterborough, and William Purdy was just opening his mill at Purdy’s Mills (now Lindsay). Ordinary folk would not have the luxury of importing ornamental flowers, but some of the aspiring gentry might take the time to cherish the beauty of an garden. An improved apple tree might just have been seen as worth purchasing.

Given how rough-hewn many of the colonial farms were, Custead’s nursery offered quite a variety of plants. Many were derived from European stock and might have a little trouble adapting to the Canadian climate. It took many years of trial and error for gardeners to learn which plants could thrive in Upper Canada.

Custead sold varieties of apples, including flowering crabs. Apple trees could not only beautify property, their fruit could make a big difference in what was available to eat. He sold Snow apples (the progenitor of Ontario’s famous McIntosh), several varieties of Russets (many families made cider), and Talman’s Sweeting (Tolman Sweet) that would grace so many farms for generations to come.

There were 25 varieties of pear, 17 plums (including 3 Gage), 6 Cherries, 9 Peaches, 2 Nectarines and 8 Grapes, 7 currants, 12 gooseberries, 3 raspberries, and 3 strawberries.

Ornamental trees included catalpa, willows, hickories, horse chestnuts, honey locusts, black walnuts and the popular Lombardy Poplar. It looked like a giant exclamation mark, and was very fashionable in the mid nineteenth century, but the trees were clones, and died off catastrophically.

A great many flowering shrubs were for sale, including honeysuckles, English night shade, barberry, New Jersey tea, cranberries, snow ball bushes, and the lilacs that came to beautify practically every farm.

Customers could buy love apples (tomatoes), rhubarb, leeks, shallots, hops, sage, wormwood, hyssop, dyer’s madder, fox glove, dill, tarragon, chamomile, dahlias, pinks, lilies, irises, daisies and primroses. There were many garden seeds and varieties of roses, tulips and hyacinths.

Check out the Catalogue:

The catalogue was published by William Lyon Mackenzie, who ten years later would be leading the Upper Canada Rebellion—when things went badly, he escaped. George Lount’s brother, Samuel, did not, and was executed as a traitor in 1838.

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