The ‘Ronde de Nice’ is a rounded ball-shaped zucchini, which comes from either France or Italy, depending who you ask. Photo by Leslie Cox

Duchess of Dirt: There is something to be said for heritage

With a large family reunion coming up this month, heritage has very much been on my mind. Many who will be coming to the event are fourth-generation descendants from our ancestors who arrived in Victoria from England in 1888.

Naturally, I have been delving into the family archive files to refresh my memory of the many branches stemming from that particular ancestral family of 13 children. There is a whack of cousins, to be sure.

Genealogy is a fascinating hobby I find – whether it be human or plant. It is equally interesting to read about a great-uncle’s military career and the story behind a favoured pole bean called ‘Lazy Wife,’ which I often grow. (It is also known as ‘Lazy Housewife.’)

This bean dates back to 1810, and that is the date when it was first known to be grown in America. German settlers who arrived in Pennsylvania brought the seeds with them so who knows how far back in time this bean variety actually goes.

Know how it got its name? Apparently, it was one of the very first beans which did not need de-stringing. You know that tedious job to get rid of the tough cord that runs the length of the bean pod. Hooray to evolution when it makes a woman’s job in the kitchen a little easier.

Another favoured old variety I grow is ‘speckled’ lettuce. This one predates 1799, which is when the seed arrived in Ontario from Pennsylvania. A little more research and I find this lettuce actually dates all the way back to 1660 where it was grown in Holland. Imagine – a lettuce that has been grown continuously for over 350 years.

And how about that dinosaur kale, also known as ‘Lacinato?’ It might not be as old as the dinosaurs themselves but pretty impressive that this kale dates back to the early 1700s. It is a perennial favourite in our garden since we eat a lot of kale salads throughout the season. (If you have not tried my Best Kale Salad recipe yet, you can find it here:

Another heirloom favourite is ‘Ronde de Nice’ – a rounded ball-shaped zucchini. There is some discrepancy as to which country this zucchini originated from. Most say France, but a few say this is an Italian variety. And I have not pinpointed an exact year for this heirloom zucchini so the best guess it is at least 50 years old, but more likely 100 years or older. No matter its nationality or antiquity, this is a delicious zucchini and worthy of a little garden space.

When it comes to tomatoes, there is much hybridizing happening so lineage gets a little blurry. But there are a few favourites such as ‘stupice,’ a cold hardy type native to the former Czechoslovakia. The seeds thankfully became available worldwide in 1976. Great for growing in cooler regions as well as in pots for balconies and patios, this is a tasty tomato with decent yields.

As for my family lineage, every once in a while I pick up the Internet search for relatives and just over a year ago, I found a treasure trove. Turns out there is a third cousin in Quebec who has a doctorate in genealogy and she has done extensive research into our family and been kind enough to share her information.

And thanks to her, this Pauline family reunion is happening in Victoria. Seventy-odd cousins are arriving from across Canada, the U.S. and England. Various events have been planned for this momentous gathering, not the least of which will be a recreation of the original family photo taken in 1890 on the porch of the historic Tod House in Oak Bay. Pretty darn cool.

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is at and her column appears every second Thursday in the Record throughout the spring and summer months.

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