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A Spot of History

The old ditty about 'Mary, Mary how does your garden grow?' is answered at Huntington Beach's Newland House, where volunteers tend the flowers and herbs that educate and decorate.


William and Mary Newland would hardly recognize the place now. Their family home of more than 50 years has scarcely changed, thanks to the efforts of the Huntington Beach Historical Society, but look what's happened to the yard.

In 1898, when the modest, nine-room, two-story farmhouse was built, it stood on a lonely mesa with riveting views of surrounding farmlands and coast.

Now its entrance is through a bustling shopping center. Where horses and carriages once approached the tidily trimmed lawn, cars drive into a parking lot.

The Newland House, at 19820 Beach Blvd., near East Adams Avenue, is the oldest in Huntington Beach. The Victorian farmhouse was designed by William Newland and built by Santa Ana contractors Dawes & Kuechel. William and Mary Newland lived there while they raised 10 children and some of the area's first barley crops.

William became a prominent member of Huntington Beach society. After his death in 1933, Mary continued to operate the farm. Though she quit farming in the 1940s, she lived in the house until her death in 1952.

In 1974 the Newland family donated the house to the city, and volunteers from the Huntington Beach Historical Society set out to restore it.

In former days, fruit trees, berries, vegetables and herbs had provided the Newlands with an abundant harvest. Mary Newland also grew roses and other ornamental plants, including fuchsias.

But the gardens had deteriorated, and the Historical Society intended to restore them as well as the house. Objections came from members of the Pacific Coast Archeological Society.

The house had been built on the site of an ancient Native American village. The Newland family had discovered many artifacts while living there, and in the 1930s, WPA archeologists recovered some artifacts estimated to date to 5000 B.C.

A compromise was reached. Volunteer archeologists determined which areas had value for study, and those areas were not planted.

The house opened for public tours in 1978, but the Newland House Rose Garden was not dedicated until 1987. It was renovated recently by members of the Master Gardeners of Orange County.

"This [renovation] is one of the best things that has ever happened to us," says Virginia Whipple, the Newland House Museum trustee in charge of the garden.

The late Victorian garden, outside the sun room and kitchen, is about two-thirds the size of a tennis court. It is both a teaching tool and a replica of gardens typical of the 1890s to 1920s.

"We know that Mrs. Newland had planted roses, fruit trees, berries and herbs," Whipple says. "This garden is meant to be both aesthetically pleasing and a useful garden, since most of the plants were used by families at that time."

Surrounded by a white picket fence planted with white and yellow Lady Banks, talisman and other climbing roses, the garden also contains an arbor and seating area decorated by a Cecille Brunner, a climbing rose popular in that era and still sold today.

Walkways surround beds containing more roses of that era, including one originally planted by Mary Newland--Captain Andy, yellow with single petals.

A large lemon verbena shrub, matilija poppy, mulberry bush and wisteria vine form the garden structure. They share the space with numerous herbs and with day lilies and anemones, bulbs that will flower this spring. A bed containing 32 scented geraniums was planted earlier this year.

The new herb garden contains Lauris nobilis (bay leaf), English peppermint, rosemary, tansy, rue, santolina, Roman chamomile, English lavender and Tagetes lucida (Mexican tarragon).

Large pots filled with fragrant herbs including pineapple mint and silver thyme border what is called a "touch-and-smell walkway" created especially for the enjoyment of the blind. The adjacent lawn area is a popular site for weddings and receptions.

A concession to modern times is the fully automated irrigation system.

"This has to be a low-maintenance garden because it's tended by volunteers," says Whipple, a Huntington Beach resident who has been a Newland House volunteer since 1973. She spends about eight hours each week tending the compact garden.

Theresa Reynolds of Huntington Beach has been a volunteer just as long and conducts guided tours inside the house.

About 3,000 people visit Newland House each year. Christmas seasons are particularly popular because the historical society re-creates an old-fashioned, turn-of-the-century holiday.

Each room contains Christmas trees decorated with Victorian style ornaments, garland, wreaths and candles. The exterior is decorated with garland. As in older days, the windows are hung with candles, although these are electric as a precaution against fire.

The Newland House is open Wednesday and Thursday from 2 to 4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Call (714) 962-5777 for the holiday schedule and additional information.

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