Lilacs at Hanley Farms are original descendants planted by the Hanleyís in 1850. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Pioneer Plantings

CENTRAL POINT — When Carole Evans waters tomato plants in the greenhouse at Hanley Farm, she greets them like old friends.

Consider the costoluto genevese, an heirloom variety which received a soaking from Evans.

"Now this is a real pretty tomato — it's fluted," said the Southern Oregon Historical Society volunteer. "That's one that Hanley farm has had all along.

"And over here is a Paul Robeson, another wonderful favorite," she added as she sprayed a leafy green pal across the aisle.

That would be the Russian heirloom black tomato, named for the renowned African-American singer and actor who went to Russia in the 1930s. Like the talented singer, it still has a large following.

Heirloom tomato plants, along with garden vegetables, flowers and trees that would have been planted on the farm when it was a sprout in the mid-1800s, will be among more than 5,000 plants that will be offered for sale during the farm's fifth annual heirloom plant sale from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. The farm is at 1053 Hanley Road, between Jacksonville and Medford.

The plant sale is part of an annual Hanley Farm fundraiser which also gives visitors a taste of local history at the farm owned by SOHS.

Pioneer Michael F. Hanley bought the original 636-acre farm in the late 1850s. His direct descendants — sisters Mary, Martha and Claire — were the last family members to live on the farm, which has been pared to 37 acres over the years. It was deeded to the SOHS in 1982 by Mary Hanley, one of the founders of the society.

Lilac bushes that were propagated from old Hanley plants will be sold Saturday.

"The first generation of Hanleys on this place planted lilacs," said SOHS volunteer Alice Mullaly. "Many of these are probably from their original plantings. They are very special. They are dark purple, very fragrant."

In addition, there will be old-time favorite flowering plants found in pioneer gardens such as snapdragons, phlox, cosmos and flowering quince.

There also will be a variety of vegetables, from cucumbers to zucchini. Young fruit and ornamental trees along with flowering shrubs also will be sold on Saturday.

The farm was known for its rich soil. Several fruit trees planted by the original Hanleys, including a Gravenstein apple, an Italian plum, a fig and a persimmon still thrive on the property.

"Anybody could grow plants in this soil — this is wonderful soil out here," said volunteer gardener Judith Meuser as she pulled weeds from a flower garden.

"I like Paul Robeson, Cherokee purple," she added of heirloom tomatoes. "Unfortunately, Bob the peacock likes Cherokee purple, too."

That would be the peacock who quietly slips in behind a visitor before letting out a screaming shriek guaranteed to startle.

Meuser makes a tomato sauce from a mixture of several different heirloom tomatoes.

"You can't improve on the taste of heirloom tomatoes," she said. "The new tomatoes are pretty but they taste bland in comparison."

Close to 75 varieties of tomato and about 50 varieties of peppers will be sold, nearly all of them heirlooms, Evans said.

The peppers range from those as cool as cucumbers to others that are hotter than firecrackers. One heirloom variety is the California wonder bell pepper dating back to the 1920s. There are habañeros, too, the kind that sizzles on your tongue.

With the innocent-looking padron peppers, you could get both hot and mild. Although most of them are mild, about every 10th pepper is hotter than blazes.

But the tomatoes such as purple Russian, big rainbow, German red strawberry, brandywine and other old timers are likely to steal the show.

"Rutgers — that was the tomato that went up in a space ship," said Evans, a retired commercial baker who also is a master gardener. "They wanted to see if going up in space would genetically modify it. So far they haven't found anything."

Then there is the indigo rose.

"Where the sun hits it, it turns purple," she said. "But where it is shaded it stays red. It is supposed to have more antioxidants because of the color purple. That's a new one for us."

Then there's the chocolate stripe.

"Oh, yes, that has a real good flavor," she said. "And the chocolate stripes are iridescent on the outside. It's just wonderful."

But for those who love tomatoes when the garden has been put to bed for the season, she recommends the orange strawberry tomato.

"They last a long time," she said. "We picked them at the end of the season and were still eating them in December."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or email him at

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