The Living Heirloom Treasures of Forest City
Did you ever wonder where all the old apple and pear treesin Forest City came from?
While some may have sprouted from seed, there isa good chance that many were purchased from the Barren Hill Nursery in Nevada City, owned and operated by Felix Gillet, beginning in 1871. This was the second nursery in the state of California and served the hungry miners and homesteaders in the Sierra Nevada.
Felix Gillet was a Frenchman who came to Nevada City to “strike it rich” but soon discovered that the only money tobe made was in supplying the miners, ranchers and homesteaders. He became a barber and set up shop on Pine Street,in downtown Nevada City. There, he shaved enough chins and saved enough money to purchase the “barren hill” east of town. The land had been stripped of treesfor use in the mines,and because people knew where the barren hill was,the name of his nursery easily became The Barren Hill Nursery. Gillet soon went back to France where he purchased the best plant materials of many different species he could find and brought them home to propagate.
For the restof his life,he imported the highest quality fruit and nuts from all over the world, propagated and sold what would become the agricultural cornerstonesof California and the Pacific Northwest. These included, not only apples and pears, but strawberries,walnuts, filberts,almonds, chestnuts,ap1icots, figs, table and wine grapes,prunes,plums,peaches, beechnuts, hickory nuts,pecans,
roses, and many other edible and ornamental plants. Some call him the father of Pacific Coast perennial agriculture.
The Felix Gillet Institute,started by Amigo Bob Cantisano, Adam Nuber and Jenifer Bliss,is dedicated to finding these old trees. They evaluate the health of the trees, identify the varietiesand propagating the best of them for our modern appreciation and use. Each tree is an heirloom treasure unto itself, surviving over ahundred years,often without human care. The twisted,broken apple and pear treesof Forest City are just as precious as the rusty monitors and creaky floorsof the Saloon. perhaps even more so becausethey are still alive, for now.
You may see Adam, Jenifer or Amigo Bob in town,checking up on the “grandmother trees,”as they areaffectionately known. Some of the old time apple varieties they have identified are: the Winesap, Stayman Winesap, Winter Banana, Bramley’s Seedling, Calville Blanc, Autumn Strawberry, Scarlet Stayman, Stripped Gilleflower,Wahington Strawberry, Yellow Newtown Pippin, Yellow Belleflower, Monarch and Dutch Mignon ne.The pear tree.just outside the front door of the Saloon is a Beurre d’Anjou. Of course, there are many more.
These precious old varietiesare the best of the best that our European ancestorsworked generations to propagate and protect. It is one of the goals of the Felix Gillet Institute to honor their hard work and diligence by propagating the fruit of their efforts,and propagating them for the next generations.
To learn more about the Felix Gillet Institute go to: www.felixgillet.org.To contact them,send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org ;Phone: (530) 292-3619;or write:The Felix Gillet Institute, P.O. Box 942, N. San J uan, CA 95960.