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Saskatchewan’s Heritage Nursery

He received an honorary doctorate from the U of S and was inducted into the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame.

Honeywood Heritage Nursery near Parkside, Sask., has the distinction of being the only heritage nursery in Saskatchewan. It earned the designation through the tremendous horticultural contributions of its founder, Albert (Bert) Porter.

Porter came to Parkside as a five-year-old with his family in 1906. He became a teacher, but learned it was difficult for male teachers to get work during the early 1930s. In one case, he was told he was being rejected in favour of a female applicant because there were a number of eligible bachelors in the district, including some on the selection board.

Unable to support himself teaching, Porter and his wife Winnie moved to the Porter homestead near Parkside. He came up with the idea of selling apple and plum trees and fruiting plants like strawberries and raspberries to area farmers for a nursery in Estevan. Porter took orders, and then delivered the stock when it arrived by rail.

This, however, was the Depression and many clients were unable to pay, so rather than returning the rejected stock, Porter began planting it on his land in hopes he could sell it at a later date. He also sold produce from the raspberries and strawberries.

Unfortunately, most of the stock proved too tender for Prairie winters, and Porter began experimenting with crossing the tender varieties with hardy wild fruits. His efforts yielded “Honeywood Black,” the first black raspberry; a sweet honey-coloured raspberry “Honey Queen”; plus improved crabapples, plums, currants, sandcherries, gooseberries and rhubarb.

Correspondence with another horticulturist, Percy Wright from Carrot River, got Porter interested in Asiatic lilies. In 1948, Wright sent Porter a box of lily bulbs to plant and test, and once he saw the beautiful blooms he was hooked. Porter soon began his own lily hybridization and over his lifetime, officially introduced more than three dozen new lily varieties.

For many years, Honeywood Nursery issued a yearly catalogue advertising lily bulbs and fruit stock, and by the 1960s was receiving lily orders from around the world.

Porter was well recognized for his horticultural efforts. Among the accolades was the North American Lily Society’s highest award for outstanding contribution to the genus lilium. A silver medal was awarded to a collection of his lilies exhibited at the Stuttgart Outdoor Garden Show in Germany. He received an honorary doctorate from the U of S and was inducted into the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame.

After the Porters retired, the 80-acre nursery property went through a few hands, and was eventually purchased by a group of longtime Honeywood patrons. Their plan was to reclaim the nursery grounds, restore the Porters’ log house, locate and acquire plants introduced by Dr. Porter, and promote the nursery as a historic tourist attraction.

Site manager Judy Harley says the work is ongoing. Through the efforts of the owner group, Honeywood Nursery is now an official heritage site, and hosts a number of educational and commemorative events throughout the year.

Reclamation efforts continue to uncover new treasures: towering linden trees, yellow-fruited chokecherries, hazelnuts, Siberian larch, a Douglas fir grove, a Siberian pinyon pine grown from a tiny cone brought by a visitor from Siberia. There are peonies, roses, irises, lilacs and lilies growing everywhere.

“We have a yellow-fruited mountain ash and a very old Hyers 14 apple that may be the only one of its kind,” Harley says. “We have found martagon lilies in the bush, a delphinium patch and probably 150 varieties of the peony on the property. They’re still coming up in the grass.”

For more information, visit www.honeywood-lilies.caor call (306) 747-3307. From spring to fall, Honeywood Nursery is open Monday to Friday, 9 a. m. to 5 p. m.

Darlene Polachic writes from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

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