Mother’s Day celebration for “Mother of Flowers: Theodosia Burr Shepherd”
Pictured here is my mother Suzanne Paquette Lawrence, my son and I; we are costumed for a living history performance where I portrayed my great grandmother Anna Paquette and my mom portrayed an older fictional maiden aunt describing a fictional visit to turn of the century Ventura where she falls in love with the town as well as a man! All of the facts about life in turn of the century Ventura are true, save the fiction that ties them together.
My mother wore many wigs, literally, and she started a wig wearing revolution here in Ventura; she encouraged docents to not just talk about history but to become it. She wrote scripts for plays that became dinner theater events as well as living history performances and she was a very popular speaker until she died in 2010.
One of the people my mother portrayed was Theodosia Burr Shepherd’s daughter Myrtle Francis Shepherd in order to tell the story of her extraordinary mother, “The Flower Wizard of California” and the mother of the bulb and seed business of California, a role that I have subsequently taken on in performances at Ventura College and Pepperdine University.
Just as my mom got women out of their homes to act in historical plays, Theodosia encouraged women to grow seeds and bulbs. In fact it was said in Ventura County the “making” of new flower varieties was as common as new cake recipes in other places.
Theodosia Burr Shepherd said that “In the love of flowers…[it is] as if the soul of the plant comes in touch with our soul. If the plant possesses the power to around such strong vibrations within us, is it possible the vibrations from us are received by the flower? We and the plant are the manifestations of the same force.”
Using materials from the Ventura County Historical library, and interviews including from my grandfather who grew up in Shepherd’s Garden, she worked on the script in a creative writing class that I taught at Ventura College back about 1999. She realized quickly that it wasn’t working doing the piece as Theodosia, so I suggested she do it from another perspective.
Theodosia’s daughter Myrtle became the natural choice as she herself wrote a book about her mother in the 1946s, a book which is being launched today, Saturday, May 10, from 2:00 – 5:00 p.m at the commemorative garden which honors Theodosia Burr Shepherd, “The Flower Wizard of California” in the community gardens on the corner of Chestnut and Poli Streets in Ventura, California, the original site of the home and farm where Theodosia, the first woman in America to hybridize flowers, founded California’s seed industry with her world-renowned seed and bulb business.
Edited by award-winning author Matthew J Pallamary, the biography uses both story and photographs to capture the life of the pioneer feminist. The book is available on Amazon.com as well as at the event. Ten percent of the event’s book sales will support the community garden and their local food banks.
A new gazebo, entry arbor, flower beds, bench, historical signage and photos will be added to the gardens to pay tribute to Theodosia while creating a peaceful garden sanctuary for Ventura locals and tourists. Host Shanti Mayberry will speak at 3:00 p.m. about Theodosia and her 1880s visions for flowers, equality and human rights.
Although C.O.L.O.R. volunteers maintain the gardens, funding is still needed for water, fencing, irrigation and ongoing costs. Both organizational and individual sponsorships are available through name recognition plaques, visible in the bustling heart of downtown Ventura. Revered by many as “the female Luther Burbank,” Theodosia Burr Shepherd hybridized flowers in Ventura while Burbank created new vegetables and fruits in Santa Rosa. An article in the Pittsburgh Gazette proclaimed: “The Woman Wizard, Mrs. Theodosia Burr Shepherd, is to the world of flowers all that Luther Burbank is to the vegetable kingdom.”
Theodosia sent her seeds and bulbs all over America and abroad, to England and Europe, even as far as Australia and Algiers. Her extraordinary gardens in Ventura were full of her exotic creations and drew many notable visitors; among them the famous seed man W. Atlee Burpee, suffragettes Julia Ward Howe, and Susan B. Anthony. It was said that her gardens “put Ventura on the map.”
Theodosia birthed many new flowers including new varieties of chrysanthemums, nasturtiums, poppies, geraniums, cosmos, calla lilies, cannas, dahlias, pansies, petunias, zinnias, fuchsias, azaleas, heliotrope, the heavenly blue morning glory, and the golden oriole rose, to name a few. And my great grandmother Anna Paquette was the midwife!
Along with C.O.L.O.R., other event supporters include the Ventura Botanical Gardens, The Begonia Society, COLOR Ventura Botanical Gardens, Green Thumb Nursery, Ventura Historical Society, Ventura City Parks & Recreation Department, and the Ventura Garden Club.
Happy Mother’s Day! How will you celebrate your mother and mother earth?