Saanich Cottage Garden Societies in the WWI era

Part Three – How does your garden grow?

Fruit trees and brassicas in a Saanich cottage garden. Photo by Annie Girling. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

So, what did these “suburban” gardeners grow? Many Saanich residents were new to gardening, but there was lots of opportunity to learn what to grow and how to grow it. As the Ward 4 gardeners planned, “Several public meetings are to be held in different parts of the ward, when it is hoped to have government officials to address the people.” (Victoria Daily Times March 13 1918) Saanich Cottage Garden Societies benefitted from their proximity to the Provincial Department of Agriculture in Victoria and the Dominion Experimental Farm in Sidney.

…Plans for Autumn and Winter are now being made. It is intended to hold lectures on subjects connected with gardening, community improvements etc. and to procure and distribute literature among the members.

Saanich Gardeners Will Hold Exhibit, The Daily Colonist September 2 1917

Mr. E. White, Assistant Provincial Horticulturalist and Inspector of Pests, Department of Agriculture, spoke to the Ward Seven Cottage Gardeners “of the different kinds of vegetables which may be grown in Saanich, also concerning the use of fertilizers. He stated that it was often difficult for the inexperienced gardener to know what vegetables grow well on different lands without knowing the difference in altitude of their location, illustrating his remark by the statement that one neighbour’s plot of land might be much higher than that of another, thus making it impossible to grow the same kind of vegetables.”

Professor Lionel Stevenson of the Dominion Experimental Farm gave a talk at the Ward Four Cottage Garden Society “All vegetables that could be easily grown in Saanich were named and hints about each were given. The potato, bean, pea, onion, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, corn, Swiss chard, beet, carrot, and tomato were each in turn discussed and questions asked about them. Prof. Stevenson laid great stress on the cultivation of the bean and pea, for there is no waste, and the soil of Saanich is especially adapted for the cultivation of these vegetables. Larger crops should be grown and exported, for there is more protein per pound in beans than in the very best cuts of meat.” (The Daily Colonist March 28 1918)

Nature study of a bean pod. Photo by Annie Girling. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

In May 1918, Professor Lionel Stevenson gave an “interesting and instructive address” to the Ward Seven Cottage Gardeners about sugar beets. During the latter years of the War, there was a scarcity of sugar. Professor Stevenson talked about the food value of the sugar beet and explained the process by which sugar could be easily extracted for use in cooking. He gave the Society’s Secretary some sugar beet seed and would try to get some for members. Sugar beets were also tried in Ward Four cottage gardens and Garden City member P.C. Coates won a prize for sugar beets at a garden show. There were other talks on the Brassica family (cabbages etc.) (Mr. J. Black) and Onion and Leek Growing for Exhibition and Profit (Mr. Charles Bennett, gardener)

…The biggest number of entries was found in the “spuds” division. The district must be well-suited to production of this edible, as all the specimens shown were of first-class quality.

Victoria Daily Times September 10 1917
A bumper crop of potatoes from the Girling garden! Photo by Annie Girling. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

Prize lists from the garden shows demonstrate the range of vegetables grown in Saanich gardens

  • Artichoke
  • Beans, broad, kidney, runner, string, wax
  • Beets, long, turnip
  • Cabbage, white
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Citron (melon)
  • Corn
  • Cucumber
  • Lettuce
  • Mangel wurzel (root vegetable)
  • Marrow (squash)
  • Onions, large, pickling
  • Parsnips
  • Peas in pods
  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Rhubarb
  • Shallots
  • Squash
  • Sugar beets
  • Swedes (Rutabaga)
  • Swiss chard
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnips

Saanich was renowned for its fruit trees in Gordon Head and Keatings, and our more “suburban” cottage gardeners were also growing apples, peaches, pears and plums.

Mr. Munson, Provincial Horticulturalist of the Fraser Valley section, gave a lantern lecture on grafting and pruning to a large and keenly interested audience of Ward Seven Cottage Gardeners: “The time allotted for pruning had been exceeded, so the remaining pictures, numbering about one hundred and fifty, were shown more rapidly and briefer talk given…After talking for two hours on pruning, he gave a demonstration of grafting, having a considerable quantity of wood with him. (The Daily Colonist March 4 1919)

A branch of Saanich apples. Photo by Annie Girling. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

On August 13 1918, Saanich Council members had a nice surprise when Councillor Anton Henderson (Ward Four Cottage Garden Society president) brought them a “peck of peaches” grown in his back yard!

The Daily Colonist August 14 1918

Many fruits were bottled or canned to preserve them for winter. The 1918 Ward Seven garden show had a competition for bottled fruit (six varieties). “The showing of bottled fruits was much larger than had been expected, and the judges added another prize to the list on account of the all round high quality of the fruit.” Cottage garden shows also had categories for pickles and canned vegetables.

Cottage Gardens weren’t just about vegetables – self-sufficiency also came from small backyard livestock and their produce.

Goats were a ready source of milk to drink or to make into cheese. Goats were popular at the 1918 Ward Seven garden show: “‘The backyard cow’”, as the exhibit of goats was called, was a feature of exhibition and attracted an entry of twenty-seven kids and thirteen goats. (Victoria Daily Times September 9 1918) and the next year: “A specialty for this year will be the goat exhibition, for which the society is now open for entries. Last year over forty goats were exhibited. The class of goats is divided into three kinds, Toggenburgs, Saanens, and unregistered.” (The Daily Colonist June 29 1919) Here is the Girling family’s “backyard cow”, a Saanan goat.

A Saanan goat in the backyard. Photo by Annie Girling. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

Rabbits in the backyard were also a popular feature of Saanich Cottage gardens. The Girlings also kept rabbits and Mr. G.G. Girling spoke to the Ward Seven Cottage Gardeners about the care of rabbits. Here’s a prize category list showing a wide variety of rabbits.  

A Belgian hare, a Flemish giant, Best utility rabbit…prizes at the 1918 Ward Seven Show

Many Saanich residents kept chickens in their back gardens. They collected eggs (always a prize category at garden shows) or used them for meat. In 1918, the Ward Seven Cottage Garden Society heard a talk on “The scientific killing and plucking of poultry.”

The caption on this photo says “Boy with a prize-winning rooster.” Photo by Annie Girling. Photo credit: Saanich Archives
Ellen Elizabeth Mills Girling tending to chickens circa 1912-1913. Photo by Annie Girling. Photo credit: Saanich Archives
Many Saanich poultry keepers may have read the “P.P.P.” Journal of the West, a Greater Victoria publication. Photo credit: “All About Victoria”, University of British Columbia Open Collection

Garden pests!

Experts taught our new gardeners how to deal with pests of the insect kind, but gardens also faced four-legged threats. In May 1917, the Cottage Gardeners Society of Ward 2 was complaining to Saanich Council about stray dogs. “A letter was received from the Cottage Garden Fair [Society] requesting that all stray dogs in Saanich be done away with. It was found that there were a considerable number of dogs in the district straying about, killing chickens and doing considerable damage.” (The Daily Colonist May 2 1917)

Saanich Council Meeting Minutes May 1 1917

A year later, there was still a problem: “The Cottage Garden Society of Ward Two, Saanich, is engaged in an active drive for increased production. Like most societies engaged in this class of work, they have gone on record in favor of more stringent enforcement of the pound by-laws and particularly abatement of the stray dog nuisance.” (Victoria Daily Times March 12 1918)

A dog in the lettuce patch! Photo by Annie Girling. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

Another problem was that of living in a semi-rural area. Here is an account of a March 20 1917 Saanich Council meeting. Councillor Carey said that in the districts adjacent to the city there are people who cannot afford to build fences around their property to keep the cattle off which are continually roaming about the district. Councillor Henderson said people could not keep gardens on account of the numerous cattle roaming about the district and he considered that the pound law should be more strictly enforced. Later, on a motion of Councillor Henderson, it was decided to consult the solicitor to see what could be done in regulating the fencing of property and the stopping of cattle running at large, as it was so difficult for people to have gardens. (The Daily Colonist March 21 1917)

The Cow Issue seemed unresolved, as “the Ward Two Cottage Garden Association wrote the Council regarding the advisability of establishing a pound on the municipal property on Carey Road, the main ground for the request being the need of keeping livestock out of the gardens, which are expected to be a great feature of Ward Two in the coming Summer.” (The Daily Colonist February 24 1918) A couple of months later, Saanich Council was still addressing the issue: “The question of cows straying over gardens was taken up and the meeting decided to take steps and see if this nuisance could be stopped. It was annoying for the gardener to spend many hours on his garden and then a cow comes wandering over the property, causing considerable damage.” (Victoria Daily Times May 29 1918)

Cows on Wilkinson Road in the WWI era. Photo credit: Saanich Archives

Part Four – The Competitions!