Pomaria Nursery, one of the most influential and prestigious American nurseries in the 19th century, focused on breeding fruits that would prosper in a Southern environment. Located in what was then called the Newberry District, the nursery was founded by William Summer (1815-1879). By 1870, Summer’s sophisticated approach had introduced to the American orchard at least 34 new apples, five new pears, 41 new peaches, and two new plums.
Summer named some of these new fruits for local places like Mollohon, Alston, Strother, Saluda, Lexington, and Ravenscroft, but more often after the South Carolina family names associated with their origins. Some of these families were Epting, Rawls, Leaphart, Boland, Chapman, Corley, Anderson, Bickley, Dreher, Darby, Sease, and many more. Still others bore the names of his friends.
However, Summer’s most celebrated pear was the Hebe, first offered for sale in the Pomaria Nursery Catalogue of 1869-1870. The Hebe is unique in Pomaria’s long list of new fruits in being named after a character from Greek mythology. Hebe was a rather obscure lesser Olympian, the daughter of Hera and Zeus, and the wife of Hercules. She was the goddess of youth and the gods’ cupbearer who brought the drink of immortality. Summer may have felt that this special pear would do the same for him; perhaps he would be remembered for it. It was his most famous fruit in his last years. The pear was also appropriately named since Hebe, like her mother Hera, is an earth-mother figure. The pear’s large size and shape may have suggested the name.
Summer, who was not given to hyperbole, described the Hebe Pear as “undoubtedly the greatest acquisition of this class of fruits.” He said the rapidly growing, very large fruit ripened in November and kept well throughout winter and into spring. He described the color as “lemon-yellow, inclining to greenish, dotted all over with russet specks and deep, irregular russet blotches” and the flesh as “sprightly, melting, buttery, with a slight vinous flavor.” He maintained that the tree was naturally pyramidal in shape, vigorous, with finely matured wood.
Summer noted that Pomaria’s catalogue’s rear cover for 1872 has “an engraving of the first specimen of the fruit produced.” The drawing was made by his cousin, Dutch Fork author, Dr. O. B. Mayer I. This catalogue also suggests that the nursery was propagating the Hebe in great quantity despite the miserable post-war conditions for nursery sales in South Carolina. Pomaria’s 1878 catalogue noted that they could be bought by the hundred and that the Hebe received the premium award of the State Agricultural Society in 1871.
Like all of Pomaria’s pears listed for sale in the various Pomaria catalogues, the Hebe was “grafted or budded on two subjects,” either on “free seedling stocks as standards” or “on the Angers quince stock as dwarfs.” Summer wrote that it was produced from seeds of Easter Beurré and Duchesse d’Angoulême, a cross likely made in the early 1860s.
Duchesse d’Angoulême was listed as very large, melting and delicious, and an abundant bearer. William’s younger brother, Adam, described Duchesse as a buttery, queenly pear that had found in South Carolina a climate and soil as congenial as its home in France. The famous horticulturist A.J. Downing also sang the praises of Duchesse d’Angoulême, calling it “a magnificent large dessert pear, sometimes weighing a pound and a quarter.”
Downing reported the Easter Beurré to be large, buttery, melting, juicy, sweet, and rich. In the climate of Pomaria, William Summer found Easter Beurré “worthy of a place in every collection.” Wisely chosen as one of the Hebe’s parents, it was used successfully to yield a later ripening, longer-keeping pear, while retaining the quality, immense size, and celebrated taste of Duchesse d’Angoulême — and with the important bonus that the new pear is perfectly adapted to the climate of Upcountry South Carolina. One sees here proof of the great sophistication of Summer’s pomological experiments and the realization of the stated chief aim of the Pomaria Nursery to supply Southern gardeners with plants acclimated to the South.
Creighton Lee Calhoun, Jr., of Pittsboro, North Carolina, author of Old Southern Apples, and I corresponded from 1995 to 1998 on the importance of Pomaria Nursery. We were intent on finding some of Summer’s lost heirloom fruit trees. Lee and I discussed pears, and I declared my desire to find Summer’s celebrated Hebe. In a letter of Aug. 24, 1998, he exclaimed, “I have good news. The Hebe pear is extant!!!!” He had found it in Corvallis, Oregon.
Current president of the Pomaria Society, Dr. Alan Harrelson of Long View Farm in Greenwood County, has three young Hebe Pears growing from the Oregon stock. One of the society’s missions is to locate and grow Pomaria’s lost plants, and growing the Hebe is the society’s latest exciting success. Dr. Harrelson and the society have thus brought the Hebe home. With luck, South Carolinians will soon be able to taste this classic Southern heirloom once again.
William Summer also bred and sold two other noteworthy pears: the Upper Crust (1845) and the Dr. Bachman. The Dr. Bachman Pear was offered in the catalogue of 1860-61 and named for Summer’s esteemed friend, the naturalist John Bachman. It was awarded a first premium from the South Carolina State Agricultural Society in 1858.
We are very fortunate in our attempt to locate this pear that the Columbia artist Eugene Dovilliers (1819-1885) painted an oil portrait of the pear in around 1856-1858. The painting was found by the author in the attic of Pomaria Plantation in June 2007. The stretcher of the canvas has “Dr. Bachman” written in pencil and thus identifies it. The painting should make identification easy. Dovilliers, born in France, taught painting and French to the young ladies at Columbia’s Barhamville Academy. He is most famous for his local landscapes and the painting of the campus of South Carolina College in 1850.
In December 1859, Summer noted in his Farmer and Planter article that both Upper Crust and Dr. Bachman are “propagated extensively at Pomaria.” Their local widespread dissemination makes it a reasonable assumption that they may survive. These significant heirloom pears, acclimated to the South, may thus await discovery. Join the search. Happy hunting!
A new exhibit on Pomaria Nursery, planned by Dr. Kibler and others, has just opened at the Newberry County Museum.