Sunday, May 30, 2010

Aaron Augustus Sargent Garden, Nevada City

This is a continuation of last week’s post about the California Preservation Foundation conference in Grass Valley and Nevada City. The historic downtowns of both Grass Valley and Nevada City have been nicely rehabilitated to accommodate current business enterprises and to provide an appealing destination for visitors. Most of the businesses and many of the homes in and around the downtowns have been restored – including the gardens.

Between education sessions of the conference I wandered around downtown Nevada City taking in some of the shops and admiring the homes. One of the properties that piqued my interest was the Aaron Augustus Sargent Home and garden. The home is currently unoccupied and the garden, though showing signs of short-term neglect, was intriguing. It occupies a corner lot and is defined across the front by am ornately-detailed wrought iron fence and gate covered in Cecil Brunner small, pale pink roses. The fence is set in a stout, rectangular concrete curb.

At about the corner of the house the fence changes to a 2x2 wood picket fence also set in a stout concrete curb, but here the curb is rounded on top. As you turn the corner, the side property line fence is an old-fashioned twisted wire fence similar if not identical to one that was in my grandparent’s yard.

It is a large, gently sloping lot with several specimen trees and an eclectic assortment of garden paths that were intriguing because they seemed to lead to nothing or end abruptly with the suggestion of something that use to be there.

The trees included a very large Redwood near the sidewalk, a large, multi-trunk Deodar cedar, and a Umbrella Pine (Sciadopitys verticillata), which my friend Janet Gracyk identified for me. I was vaguely familiar with the plant but know that I’d never seen one that large in a private garden. Sunset’s Western Garden Book says it grows to 120 feet in Japan where it is native, but only to 25-40 in western gardens. This is not really a pine but it does have 3” to 6” long needles that are thick and glossy – quite unusual. Each corner of the house was marked by a very old and sculptured Red Laceleaf Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum `Dissectum Atropurpurea’).

So, who was Aaron Augustus Sargent? Fortunately, there was a bronze plaque embedded in a boulder that told me everything I needed to know. He came to Grass Valley during the Gold Rush as a journeyman printer and went on to become the editor and owner of the first local newspaper – The Nevada Journal. He passed the bar and served an Attorney General from 1855 – 1857. He was the first citizen elected to the House of Representatives in 1861, and later the first to be elected to the US Senate in 1873. During his tenure he authored the bill that created the first Continental Railroad, and was an advocate for women’s suffrage.

After exploring the garden I headed off to the Pioneer Cemetery where I encountered Mr. Sargent again buried at the top of the knoll. Though much of the cemetery was shaded, Sargent’s tomb was dramatically illuminated by the afternoon sun – clearly I was meant to notice this monument. Here I learned that Sargent was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts on September 28, 1827 and died in San Francisco in 1887 where he was buried until all who were buried in San Francisco were disinterred for reburial in Colma, at which time Mr. Sargent made his way back to Grass Valley, thanks to the Native Sons of the Golden West.

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