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A Shaggy Garden Blooms in Tustin

Ah, spring, sweet spring in a Victorian garden, while sipping tea and listening to ancient music played upon a virginal, a type of early harpsichord, while beside my feet oregano grows rampant and overhead a great lemon tree dangles fruit the size of baseballs.

Over the Minuet in G, over the hum of voices of others at tea, from behind the avocado trees and the giant pecan tree, from beyond the old barn, the honking of geese is heard.

My wife remarks she is almost ready to move to Tustin to have an old garden like this one. She dreams aloud of planting vegetable seeds in the cleared space in the sun behind the barn where geese call and goslings practice swimming in a ditch filled by a trickling garden hose.

Jean Ebersole and husband John, descendant of an early Tustin family, draw up chairs in the shade of the lemon tree to chat with us. The Carneys join us. Ray Carney is the president of the Tustin Area Historical Society, sponsors of this alfresco celebration of the society’s 10th anniversary entitled “A May Day in a Victorian Garden.”

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Jean Ebersole remembers Charlotte Vance. They attended the old Tustin Union High School together. It seems that nearly everybody with whom we speak in the garden attended Tustin High School. Charlotte Vance used to live in the yellow frame house that fronts this beautiful garden.

Carney explains that the rooms and garden of the Vance house reflect the Tustin of yesteryear. He says the old house stands on property purchased by George Case in 1887 for $1,920. This house at 420 W. Main Street was sold in 1913 to Vinnie Cranston, a banker who reopened the old Tustin Bank and renamed it the First National Bank of Tustin. In 1917, he sold both the bank and his home to Charles Vance. The house remained in the Vance family until the early 1970s when it was purchased by its present owner, Charles Mitchell.

After tea, including delicious homemade cookies and cake, I excuse myself to talk with the virginal player, Stewart Robb.

Robb and his wife, Marilyn, who accompanies him on the violin, are from up the road in Anaheim. He says he has been playing the same virginal, a small rectangular keyboard instrument of the 16th Century, for the past 30 years. Its strings are plucked with plectrums of leather.

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“Look,” says Robb, “look at those keys.” They had worn depressions in their wood. “They are from my fingers playing on them over the years.”

It seems that the instrument, which can be set upon any convenient table, appears to be 400 years old. But it is a replica, he says, built by a friend of 30 years ago.

Robb plays from memory the oldest piece he knows, a 15th-Century dance tune named “My Lady Carrie’s Dump.” He cautions me not to be misled by the last word in the title, explaining that it was a form of dance. It’s a spritely tune, reminiscent of a catchy Christmas carol.

We thank the Robbs and then devote ourselves to admiring this garden in bloom--sweet alyssum, honeysuckle, bougainvillea, the elfin faces of iris, all growing in informal, shaggy profusion, the way an old-fashioned garden should look.

Behind a towering hedge at garden’s side we find Alicia Francis in her role this day as curator of the quilt exhibit. Her husband, Sam, is occupied in the old barn, overseeing a citrus-packinghouse exhibit. The couple had gone to Tustin High School. What’s more, there had been 27 of the Francis family who had attended Tustin High, making, she says, a Francis in nearly every graduating class.

We are beginning to feel we had missed something important in our lives by not having attended dear old Tustin High, which, we learn, was built in 1924 and razed in 1965. Students as far away as Laguna Beach went there.

However, I do remember how it looked. I tell my wife I’d driven by it many times when I lived in the Tustin area in the 1940s. This thought helps us to feel better about ourselves, as though anybody could feel deprived for long in a garden as lovely as this.

The Robbs are now playing “Greensleeves.”

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