In the Pioneer Garden
Crab Apple Tree
There are approximately nine species of crab apple trees native to North America, and while most use these trees only for ornamental properties, their fruit is in fact edible. Often mixed with other varieties, crab apples contain an intense apple flavour, which when not cooked is rather acidic.
They can and have been made into jellies, jams, and baked goods. Crab apple trees can grow extremely well in very poor soil conditions, as they are very tolerant plants. Because of this, they make an excellent addition to gardens in areas like ours, for shade and privacy, with very infertile ground
Seeing rhubarb sprout up is a sure sign that spring has sprung in the pioneer garden. As a resilient and easy growing plant, this fruit was a staple in Ontario gardens. Though rhubarb is commonly associated with baking, it was once thought to have been good at combating digestion issues.
Though we eat the stalks of rhubarb, the leaves of the rhubarb plant are actually considered toxic, as they contain a substance known as oxalic acid. This is a nephrotoxin, meaning it specifically affects the kidneys. The leaves of the plant are still sometimes used, however, after being treated to remove the oxalic acid.
Blooming in the evening, these yellow flowers are often extracted for their oil. These plants can grow in very dry, gravelly soils which allow them to flourish in our area. Medicinal purposes include treatment of eczema, premenstrual discomfort, and menopausal symptoms. Evening Primrose is self-seeding, meaning they will drop seeds where they are planted to grow again the following year. With that in mind, plants with this trait can often spread beyond their intended planting site.
While peonies are often seen in pioneer gardens, they are not native to Ontario, but rather Asia, Europe, and Western North America.
These magnificent blooms were seen in European gardens by the early 19th century, by the 1850s seen across North America, often in homesteaders’ gardens.
Lilacs are not a native species, but were introduced to Canada by European settlers and are a physical sign of colonization. As these plants do not easily cultivate naturally, if you encounter a lilac, they are often marking a past homestead.
Though they are often attributed to being ornamental, lilacs historically have been said to have anti-periodic properties, a term used to describe things that can halt reoccurring illnesses. With astringent qualities, they also dry tissue, making them something that would have been applied to cuts, rashes, or skin ailments. Additionally, their floral quality left them used in tea making and infusions.