Though the Mothard Orchard within Niles of Fremont has long been
removed from the property, its role in producing trees through
grafting scions from high quality trees emphasizes California Nursery
Company’s desire to pursue different techniques for top quality
products. The Mother Orchard was created by American nurseryman
John Rock in the late 1800s. The sixty acres of land became an
essential area for producing and testing various tree species.
Rock wanted to ensure that the nursery trees grown would meet the
contrasts of soil and climate throughout California. Quality and
quantity were taken into consideration. The trees produced were
from scions, also known as buds, cut from parent trees that were
known to adapt to various climates and soil. These scions were
then grafted onto the rootstock of another plant, thus creating a
new plant type. By opening such an experimental orchard, Rock was
able to introduce more European trees than any other nurseryman at
the time. These heirloom trees were then sold to agriculturalists
on the West Coast. Such meticulous work required additional help
from California Nursery employees, specifically one that would be
able to handle a managerial position.
Ah Yen, a Chinese immigrant who worked on the California Nursery
property, lived in an early Chinese housing site during the late
1880s. Yen was recruited from China due to his expertise in
agriculture. He worked under Rock as well as William Landers and
the Roeding family, the nursery’s later owners. Though Chinese
immigrants of the time were solely known as laborers, Yen held a
significant managerial position due to his diligent management
over the Mother Orchard. He held complete control of the orchard
and was trusted to handle the care of trees. Yen also maintained
records of each grafting experiment and labeled each tree
individually to avoid possible confusion.
Ah Yen proved especially necessary during the Roeding’s ownership
of the nursery, as George Roeding Sr.’s operations became popular
due to the careful organization of plant labeling and record
keeping. Mother Orchard grew to be the largest in North America,
providing scions worldwide that would cultivate different tree
varieties, including figs, plums, peaches, prunes, apples,
cherries, and many more.
Despite Mother Orchard’s great success, the operation was
removed between 1934 and 1936 after the death of George Roeding
Sr. Before this removal, several attempts were made to save the
orchard due to the surmount of certified pedigree plants that had
been so thoroughly categorized. George Roeding Jr. hoped to have
the University of California purchase or take over the land and
its operations. George Sr. had been a University of California
regent responsible for forming UC Davis, the Agricultural Schools
and Depository in California. Unfortunately, the university did
not have the funds to oversee such detailed work during this time.
A few rows of the orchard remained until the 1950s when it was
turned over for gravel extraction. Today this land is known as
Quarry Lakes, a local recreational area.
Though the Mother Orchard no longer exists, its great achievement
in grafting and selling thousands of new tree breeds deserves
acknowledgment and remembrance. The amount of effort put into the
Mother Orchard intrinsically links to the California Nursery’s
values of providing agricultural resources to all who wished to
learn about or grow various tree breeds throughout California.