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Cameo: Researching ‘Old Man’s Garden’

She didn’t have Google to help her research. Nor was there a public library in her home town. Yet Annora Brown was able to bring together an Old Man’s Garden manuscript that was incredible.
With an artist’s vision and a conservationist’s attention for detail, she recorded the magnificent flora and fauna from across the foothills of southern Alberta.
It is a classic collection of legend, history, botanical details and scratch-art drawings of 259 native plants, including both their common and their scientific names.
She documented for posterity a landscape that was undergoing rapid change.
Annora was touched by the great sacrifices early botanists made to collect specimens and gather whatever details they could as they travelled with the expeditions led by Palliser, Lewis and Clark, Sanford Fleming and others.
“Sir John Franklin in Polar Seas describes how the Indians combined the roots of the northern bedstraw (plant) with the juices of strawberries and cranberries to obtain a beautiful scarlet (dye). The plains Indians used this for colouring their porcupine quills.”
Native sources tell “How the Prairie Anemone (Crocus) Got Its Fur Coat” and how the root of the evening primrose was dried for a winter food supply.
A dimension of intimacy is shared as she listened to the plants gossip among themselves — gossip bits she passed on to us.
In the Medicine Bag section, she draws our attention to the silken white hair of the clematis hanging among the bushes in the late summer. “Think of hair-tonic,” she wrote. “The best in the foothills.”
“Horse tails (equisetum) appeals to animals.” She had watched moose knee-deep in a swampy lake with mouths full of dripping greens. Something to remember when you need food for your horse.
Encyclopedic, classic, absolutely unique. Unfortunately it took another decade before she could find a publisher. Old Man’s Garden went to press in 1954.
Contributions toward photographing, digitizing, and accessing prints from Glenbow’s Annora Brown paintings can be made to Joyce Sasse (Annora Brown Project), P.O. Box 92, Pincher Creek, T0K 1W0.
(For Annora Brown’s life and work stories visit “Annora Brown.”)

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