A secret garden blooms in Masset

Secret Garden Society volunteers Sandy Pinkerd, left, and Dory Spencer sell copies of Masset Moments 1: Jessie Bradley and the Secret Garden at a recent Friday farmer’s market in Masset. (Submitted)

Secret Garden Society volunteers Sandy Pinkerd, left, and Dory Spencer sell copies of Masset Moments 1: Jessie Bradley and the Secret Garden at a recent Friday farmer’s market in Masset. (Submitted)

She grew up on wind-whipped Rose Spit, but her legacy is a quiet community garden blooming in downtown Masset.

A Bing Crosby and dancing fan who used to compete with Naanii Leila Abrahams for Best Clam Digger on North Beach, the late Jessie Bradley lived in a small house at 1548 Orr Street.

It had no running water, but plenty of maple trees, flowering shrubs and raspberries in the yard.

Last year, her friend Jenny Nelson gathered a small group of volunteers to turn Bradley’s yard into the Secret Garden — a quiet spot with bluebells and honeysuckle, a rhubarb patch and five community garden plots, plus plans for a fixed-up porch and a small performing stage.

“She’s always wanted to do something with it for the community — Jenny’s like that,” says Dory Spencer, another volunteer who helped illustrate a booklet called Masset Moments 1: Jessie Bradley and the Secret Garden.

A fundraiser for the Secret Garden Society, its cover features a drawing of Jessie Bradley’s house by local artist Thomas Arnatt.

Inside, Jenny Nelson recounts some of what she learned from years of chatting with Bradley on the porch over cigarettes and tea.

In 1911, Bradley’s settler parents arrived on Haida Gwaii having been promised land “just waiting for the plough” at Rose Spit.

“My parents never admitted it was a darn fool place to drag children,” she later told Nelson, adding that as a girl she had to hoe the thin soil, gather seaweed and also the cows and bulls that would graze along the beach.

“I don’t know what they used for money — rhubarb leaves I guess,” she said of her parents.

“I got out of there as soon as I could earn a quarter.”

Nelson said it was a huge surprise that Bradley left her the Orr Street house to her and Chris Williamson.

Two years ago, when Jayne Mason of Community Futures put out a call for a community garden space in Masset, Nelson thought it was the perfect thing for Jessie’s.

“The vision is just to have this quiet spot where you can stop by,” said Nelson, who was joined by a half-dozen volunteer gardeners who have already laid out walking paths, driftwood beds, and a yard-waste compost at series of weekend work bees.

“You learn so much from each other,” said Nelson. “And you get so much done when there’s a few of you.”

Soon, the Secret Garden Society would like to host an end-of-summer tea (some might argue it hardly started this year, a point not lost on north-end gardeners).

Down the road, Nelson said the group hopes to fix up the porch and put up a small stage for local theatre and music events. The house itself needs major work, though the front part is in good shape, with hardwood floors

For years, Nelson has hosted Singing Girls Club theatre events in her own backyard, and she said it would be nice to have a second venue.

“We could travel!” she joked.

To volunteer with the Secret Garden Society, call Jenny at 250-626-5140. The society also has two garden boxes available for anyone who wants to grow their own plants there.

Copies of Masset Moments 1: Jessie Bradley and the Secret Garden are available for $10 at Green Gaia, the Dixon Entrance Maritime Museum and the Masset farmers’ market. A Masset Moments 2 is in the works.

All proceeds go to the society, and the booklet includes Jessie Bradley’s take on working at living at the Hiellen cannery in the 1920s.

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A view of the Secret Garden behind the late Jessie Bradley house at 1548 Orr Street, Masset. The clamshell-shaped garden bench was made by Gordon Kricheldorf in memory of the late Marcia Jordan, who was a big help in getting the garden society started. (Submitted)

A view of the Secret Garden behind the late Jessie Bradley house at 1548 Orr Street, Masset. The clamshell-shaped garden bench was made by Gordon Kricheldorf in memory of the late Marcia Jordan, who was a big help in getting the garden society started. (Submitted)