The Harris Flat Ayrshire

Back in the 1850s, the Harris family came across the plains to California, and after trying out the Gold Country, eventually settled in an area of northern Santa Cruz County known as Harris Flat. There is little left there now to remind us of their farm- a small cemetery where a couple of people are buried, and a small grave for Mr. Harris’ leg. In 1865, he encountered a grizzly bear while on a fishing trip with his two sons. The leg had to be amputated. That story was written in Santa Cruz County Place Names by Don Clark in the 1980s, and at that time, no one knew what happened to the family.

Don Clark started in on Monterey County Place Names right after finishing Santa Cruz County. In the course of his research, he came across a Harris family in Pleyto (now the location of Lake San Antonio), and it was the same family. “Peg-leg” Harris and his family moved there not long after the bear incident, and some of  his descendants still live in the area. Don put the story together, and now the family holds some of their family reunions at Harris Flat in Santa Cruz County.

OK, so that’s a fascinating story all by itself, but why am I telling about it? Where does a rose enter the story?  Sometime in the 1990s I met Barbara McCrary, an avid horsewoman, and part of the McCrary family that owns Big Creek Lumber. They own lots of land in northern Santa Cruz County, including Harris Flat. Each June she is part of an endurance horse race that goes through Harris Flat. Across the race course  and up the hill from the reviewing stand is a rose that happens to be in bloom every year during the race. She told me about it when she heard of my interest in Heritage roses. So my friend Tamara and I went to Harris Flat with Barbara, and collected cuttings. Barbara showed us the rose, and some evidence of a rock foundation indicating that it was the site of the cabin. We took a bunch of cuttings, having little idea what kind of rose it was. The canes were very long, but even at the base, they were no thicker than a pencil. It also did not seem to mind growing in the shade of the trees. The buds and flowers were similar to ‘Blush Noisette’, but we really had no idea what it could be. Eventually, with some research, and input from more knowledgeable friends, I realized it was an ayrshire hybrid. There aren’t many of them, but botanist Fred Boutin has seen a few from old locations in other nearby counties. Whichever variety of ayrshire hybrid it is, it’s not in commerce now, and doesn’t match the description of any that are available.

Harris Flat Ayrshire

My plant of the "Harris Flat Ayrshire"

Tamara and I gave Barbara one of the plants we propagated from the cuttings. She had it in the pot for several years, not sure where she wanted to plant it. Then an opportunity came up…

Sandy Lydon is a retired history professor, and takes groups of people on bus trips to areas in and near Santa Cruz County. Not long ago, he led a trip to Paso Robles. Barbara McCrary signed up for the trip. Then she found out that one of the Harris descendants, Don Harris, was going to meet them down there. She realized what she should do with the potted rose- it has now been reunited with its family.

Harris Flat Ayrshire

After reading this post, Sheila Lee Prader sent me the following photo. She was on that bus trip, and was there to see Barbara McCrary present Don Harris with the family rose at Pleyto Cemetery, where E.S. Harris (minus his leg) is buried.

Harris Flat Ayrshire at Harris' grave

The potted rose and Harris' grave.


About Jill Perry

Since 2005, I have been the Curator of the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden, a part of Guadalupe River Parks and Gardens near downtown San Jose. I write about the Heritage Rose Garden, my garden and my travels when I feel inspired and have time. Since I have no regular schedule, if you'd like to know when I write a new article, please subscribe to this blog.
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