Nevada City’s Horticultural Heritage

Photo and text by Pamela Biery

Nevada City was home to Felix Gillet, one of the renowned horticulturists of the early years of California agriculture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Here he established a nursery and became known in the trade for his development of nursery stock of fruit and nut trees.

Frenchman Felix Gillet was born in 1835 to a family of nurserymen. After learning the barber trade in Boston, he moved to California and arrived in Nevada City in 1859, when he was 24. Gillet opened a barbershop and began importing plants.  He established his “Barren Hill” Nursery in 1871. Gillet was interested primarily in deciduous fruit and nut trees. For 40 years, Gillet cultivated and distributed new varieties of plants, with a strong emphasis on food production.

After the death of Gillet in 1908, C.E. Parsons bought the nursery and renamed it Felix Gillet Nursery. Gillet’s successors offered many ornamentals, but continued work with chestnuts, introducing seedlings and grafted trees from the original ‘Colossal’ tree.

In 1968, the nursery was thought to be the oldest continuously operating nursery in California. Find the marker near the top of Nevada Street by traveling up the hill, turning right on Nursery Street, going one short block and turning left.

In recognition of Felix Gillet’s contribution to California horticulture, Nevada City Council in the year 2008 proclaimed January 27 as Felix Gillet Day, 100 years after the nurseryman died.

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