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Podcast Episode 15 – Gardening in the Early Talbot Settlement

Inside this episode we will explore the gardens at Fairwood Farm in Wallacetown, dairy entries from Merinda Williams-Pearce, and Colonel Talbot the horticulturalist to give you an idea of early plants, trees, and vegetables of Dunwich and Aldborough townships.     

Did you know that Thomas Talbot was an avid horticulturalist?  I didn’t until I read Sidelights on the Talbot Settlement by Ella N. Lewis.  If you aren’t familiar with Thomas Talbot I suggest listening to Episodes 1 and 2 of our podcast.   

Ella takes anecdotes from Talbot’s peers who were guests at Port Talbot.  Mrs. Anna Jamieson, author of Winter Studies and Summer Rambles, visits Talbot in 1837 and she mentions he has a love of flowers and his 2 acre rose garden were from slips brought from the homeland (England and Ireland) and tenderly cared for on a long voyage.  He would have cared for the rose cuttings on board ship from England to Canada.   I like to imagine the cuttings were from Castle Malahide in Ireland, Talbot’s family home, but alas we have no resources to prove that.  A rose bush at that time could have grown up to six feet tall and would look shrubby in nature.  Their flowering season, typical in all old roses, was a short summer flowering when the entire bush would be covered in hundreds of blooms.  By 1828 there were 2,500 varieties of old rose varieties as this pre-dated the introduction of the China rose. 

On a personal family note a Bobier ancestor chauffeured Anna Jamieson when she collected information for her book.  Anna mentions there were 16 acres of orchard at Port Talbot including apples, pears, plums, and cherries.  Wild strawberries and the same orchards are mentioned by another visitor.  Lady Victoria Welby  (maid of honour to Queen Victoria) visits with her mother Lady Emmeline Stuart-Wortley in June 1849 and describes lilac trees at Port Talbot.   


Not far away is Fairwood Farm just west of Wallacetown on Talbot Line, owned by William Pearce and his wife Anne Moorhouse.  We have handwritten memories by Eva Pearce who lived there with her brother Stewart of the farm.  A flower garden was surrounded by trees and there were several connected lots for vegetables. 

Three or four of the original pines were still standing in 1967 when Stewart recorded his memories.  By the front gate was a hemlock tree, native to Canadian swamps.  A Norway spruce was in the garden because on the way to the doctor’s office the family saw little trees growing in the ditches so the family stopped to pull one up, brought it home and planted it.  At the time Stewart compiled his notes it was 100ft high, 3 ½ feet through, and still growing.  They think it is the same age as John Leslie Pearce who found it. 

Eva’s Dad, William, used to say they’d have to cut it down, every spring, because it took too much moisture from the gardens. One of William’s sisters, would say that land isn’t scarce, so the tree stayed up. 

In the garden to the west of the house was a “feathertree”.  As this is a nickname the Pearce family used we aren’t sure what type of tree is really was.  If you have a guess please leave a comment or email the museum  For years and years, it would not bloom. It was ugly. One of the Pearce Aunts hated it and she was going to cut it down with an axe. The spring after she left, the tree burst into bloom.  Maybe it should have been called the SPITE TREE.  It blooms in June every year with small petals and long stems in clusters about ¾ inches. “Like pure white shredded tissue paper”. 

Walnut trees were everywhere at Fairwood as they are at Backus-Page House Museum.  Large California Walnuts, they are reportedly good for nutcracking. 

As for flowers at Fairwood the Pearce’s had a Syringe plant, Mock Oranges, and native tiger lily.  A Union Rose with red, white and streaked blooms.  It was very delicate and hard to maintain.  It was from the US and named for the British the War of the Roses.  There was a Michigan Rose, Native Rose, and the huge Prairie Green.  The PG was old in 1875 but was still blooming in1967 at the side of the house. 

The first lily they had they called the “Canada Lily”- may have been a trumpet lily that blooms from the end of July into August.  When they cut and burnt the timber to clear land for a field, these plants started blooming and still bloomed in the farm’s fence corners. 

Stewart’s Mom Rebecca was the daughter of Robert and Mary Ellis Sifton, the oldest of eight kids.  From what I gather, she was highly intellectual and could have done great work in her studies if her family wasn’t always moving.  After marrying, she continued her studies and took up gardening. 

Rebecca’s garden was at the back of the house, with a picket fence and a little gate.  “She had all of the nice flowers and used to grow her house plants from seed.   

  • Johnny Jump Up Roses, fuschias of all colour ranges and other greenhouse plants 
  • Dad went in 1890 to Regina and brought back Saskatoon (berry bush) sprouts and a black currant bush, both still growing. Saskatoon berries ripen in early spring, the birds love them. The family still uses the black currant bushes as of 1967. 
  • Begonias grew all along the front of the trees as they like the shade. 
  • White and red gardenias 
  • Crystal flowers are a low North American herb with basal rounded leaves and greenish flowers 
  • Frilly flowers are an improved breed of crystal flowers Heuchera ‘Frilly’ looks like a coral bells that got a perm with heavily ruffled leaves in shades of copper, caramel and tan with pink flowers. 
  • Pendulas for the hanging baskets  The flowers of this plant are yellow or greenish yellow and the name pendula means ‘pendulous’ or ‘drooping’. 

Farm Additions:

  • They had the honey house under the elm tree and the replica is at Backus-Page House Museum.  
  • At the corner of the honey house was a grapevine that grew up into the hemlock tree. It still produced fruit in the high parts. Sweet green grapes. in the 1960s 
  • Stewart liked to take care of the bees, but after nearly dying from bee stings three times the doctors told him he had to give them up. 
  • When he had to give them up, he took to the vegetable garden, growing enough that they would have extra and give some away. 
  • Barns and the sheep house were built close to the house because they needed water. 
  • Sugar bush was a fair size and started with a few hardy maples.  Sap was gathered in 40-gallon pails and carried by a yoke and manpower.  Boiled in a wood-sided pan, heated in an iron kettle, then poured back into the pan to finish. This system was later updated to an iron pan on a saving pole.  Tapped 600-650 trees, got 80-125 gallons of syrup (on a good year)  40 gallons of sap = 1 gallon of syrup  Season stopped when the buds started because that was the end of quality syrup.  Prices went from 90 cents to $1 to $6 by the end of it.  Feeder pans and an evaporator were installed in 1906, updated to Grimm’s evaporator in 1923. Help started leaving and they had to stop. 
  • 3 or 4 men were hired in the summer to add to the two year-rounders. All were very nice. 

The Property 

  • 250 acres of the original farm are now parts of Wallacetown, the fairgrounds, and other houses are on it.  Parts belonging to the aunts were sold and have traded hands a lot. 
  • 217 acres was left to the original farm that faces Number 3 Highway to the north. Ths House still faces the south.  In 2022 the remaining outbuildings and the house will be demolished. 

The Family 

  • Both Rebecca and John Leslie Pearce were gardeners 
  • Dad also did field work, but his kids never saw, so one day they asked if he knew how to plough, and he got very indignant. 
  • Dad was a “little short heavy chunky man,” as the notes say. 
  • Grandmother Anne Moorhouse came with her family and the Dubins from Ireland in 1819, while the Pearce family came from Rhode Island in 1809 
  • The Dubins didn’t stay long before moving to Sydenham River. 
  • Ann married William Pearce and they lived in the original homestead by the lake. 
  • Ann was a weaver, as was eldest daughter Fanny. Mary Ann, the other daughter, married young to John Simpson and didn’t have time for fancy stuff. 

Merinda William-Pearce’s Diary Notes FROM 1892 give a wonderful synopsis of farm life.  Often she writes only one or two lines but for historians this is pure gold!  Merinda Williams married Thomas Pearce.  Their farm on Iona Road was willed to their son William in 1912, who then sold to his brother Samuel Pearce.  It is Samuel who sold the farm at 50% of its value to the United Church in 1960 to become what is now Pearce-Williams Christian Centre.   


  • Large Amaryllis bloomed April 29th, 1892.  This is an easy care houseplant that would be kept inside on the windowsill.   


  • Tomatoes and onions planted in May 
  • Garden dug on the 24th.  
  • Early apple trees fully bloomed by 26th.  The harvest would be in October even though there is no mention of apples later in the diary.   
  • Hills potatoes planted on 27th.   more soil or organic material is hilled up around the young potato seedlings so that only the top leaves stick out 
  • Corn ploughed and garden seeds sown on 28th 
  • Geraniums set out May 30th  Tropical plants should remain in their winter storage until temperatures no longer fall below 10 ° C.  


  • Dahlias on June 1st While dahlias are not frost hardy they are perennial and this means we can grow the same tubers year after year—if they are protected from freezing temperatures with winter storage. 
  • Began planting corn June 7th, finished on 9th  
  • She shared the Dahlias with neighbours 
  • Sheep sheared in June 
  • Getting cabbage plants on 22nd  grow from seedlings that are 5-7 weeks old 
  • Neighbours share their resources, so Sidney Silcox shared strawberries. 
  • Bees became problematic around June 26th  


  • Start attempts to sell sheep in July 
  • Hay drawn on the 7th through to 15th, other families still working on theirs, the boys give help. All hay finished by 19th
  • Berry patches ripe by July 11th  
  • THEY COULD SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS ANGELA THAT IS SO COOL! (Why light pollution why must you take this awayyy…) 
  • Gooseberries on the 16th, preserves started on 19th
  • Wheat cutting started July 21st  
  • Pet cats were brought between neighbours houses to catch rats. 
  • Agapanthus in bloom on 22nd Lily of the Nile perrenial blue and white flower 


  • Wheat finished around August 11th, moved on to oats and peas. Peas finished on 13th, oats on 17th
  • Still trying to sell wool on August 22nd


  • Elderberries on September 3rd  
  • Corn cutting starts September 14th  
  • Cut clover and preserved plums and pears on 21st so we assume they also have an orchard 
  • Sealed 2 gallons tomatoes and dug potatoes on 24th  
  • 4 gallons more tomatoes on 27th  


  • Dahlias in full bloom October 2nd  
  • More tomatoes Oct. 4th  
  • Plants from garden October 5th  
  • Bulbs set out October 13th I wish she told us what flowers she was planting.   
  • She’s had PEONIES this WHOLE TIME and she JUST thought to tell me!?!? How dare 
  • Peonies lifted on Oct. 17th The best time to move them is when the plant is dormant, sometime between October and March. Dig around the roots, disturbing as little of the rootball as possible and transplant them to their new home. Peonies can even be divided to make new plants when you lift them 
  • Setting bulbs on 18th same as planting 
  • Eclipse on October 20th, 1892  his was a deep partial eclipse, with 91% of the Sun covered for viewers closest to the center. This provided a significant spectacle for those who saw it. 
  • Threshing all through the month 
  • Oct. 28th bushel count: 1092 of wheat and 1700 of grain total 


  • November 5th, wheat went in St. Thomas for 63 cents a bushel. Catsup (old name for ketchup) was homemade   
  • Government people came to evaluated cows, determined they held no diseases, flowers were brought up, beets dug, and cabbage brought in on November 8th