Calgary woman finds heirloom seeds in attic, hopes to grow vintage flowers

Ramsay resident Julia Moore found packages of heirloom seeds and a seed tray from the 1930s in her garage attics, and after tracking down the rightful owner, she plans to return the vintage tray, and try to grow some seeds.

Seeds and vintage tray tracked down to Calgary seedsman and florist T.S. Purver

Julia Moore found this vintage seed tray in her garage attic. After a quick search online revealed that it might be valuable, she tracked down the rightful owner. (Submitted by Julia Moore)

Ramsay resident Julia Moore found a bonus in the attic of her home's garage — packages of heirloom seeds and a custom seed tray from the 1930s, courtesy of the original owner.

It got her thinking about two things: whether she could grow the seeds, and who might have left them there.

As Moore told the Calgary Eyeopener, it all started with some exploring around her Ramsay property.

"I live in an old house in one of the original communities in Calgary, and we have this amazing little garage in the back. It's the cutest little thing, and one day I was kind of just puttering in it and I realized that there was a hole in the ceiling," Moore said.

"I went up there and nobody had been up there in a really long time. It was full of old terracotta pots and canvas tarps, and this really cool seed tray."

The seed tray is a wooden box, filled with little glass jars and seed packages.

"I noticed on the glass jars there were handwritten labels that had dates on them, years, like 1935, 1939, which I thought was really cool," Moore said, adding that most of the seeds appear to be flowers.

She said the dates range from the 1930s to the '40s — she spotted petunias, calendula and sweet william.

A quick Google search revealed that vintage items may be not just valuable on Etsy, but also a collector's item.

'I noticed on the glass jars, there were handwritten labels that had dates on them, years, like 1935, 1939, which I thought was really cool," says Julia Moore of the seeds and jars she found in her garage attic. (Submitted by Julia Moore)

"It did make me wonder who they belong to, which made me think of my neighbour Dot, who has been living next door to this house since this house was built. So I connected with her, and she is still in contact with the original owner of the house, his daughter."

Moore picked up the phone and was soon chatting with Judy Arena, who grew up in the Ramsay house.

The seeds belonged to Arena's great-grandfather Thomas S. Purver, who came to Canada from England in 1904.

And he was not your garden-variety gardener.

"His house had about three lots, so he grew flowers and vegetables, which he sold at his store ... T.S. Purver, Seedsman & Florist," Arena said.

"He sold ice cream, tobacco, plants and seeds. I still have the scale that he weighed the seeds on to sell. At the back of his house he had a shed, and all the walls were covered with first- and second-place certificates and his red and blue ribbons."

The shop was called T.S. Purver, Seedsman & Florist. The items for sale included ice cream, tobacco, plants and seeds, as well as flowers grown in the owner's home garden in Crescent Heights. (Submitted by Judy Arena)

Arena's family has carried on the gardening tradition with pride, she said, always growing plants from seeds.

"My grandfather taught my father Clayton how to garden, how to grow plants from seeds," she said, adding that his house was in Crescent Heights, known at the time as the Village of Crescent Heights.

Judy Arena says her great grandfather Thomas S. Purver won many accolades, blue ribbons and trophies for his plants and seeds. (Submitted by Judy Arena)

When my great grandfather died in 1951, he would have put those seeds in his cellar, where it would be cool," she said. "And they probably stayed there until my great grandmother passed away in 1967. And my dad has taken care of my great grandfather's house, and his gardens, for my grandmother.

"So, when she passed away, he would have taken that little wooden box and put it in, I guess, in his garage."

Moore has owned the house in Ramsay — one of Calgary's oldest neighbourhoods — for six years.

"I'm so happy to hear about the history of the house," she said. "When we did have a chance to talk, she told me about how her parents built this house, and told me the history and, and it was so fun to hear. Kind of the origins of my house and her story, and now it's our family's story."

Thomas S. Purver, his wife Dorcas, daughter Kate (Kitty) and grandson Clayton Hutt. (Submitted by Judy Arena)

Moore is going to return the seed tray to its rightful owner, but said she plans to try growing a few of the seeds in the garden.

'Since I'm now homeschooling, like everybody else, we thought it would be a really fun project to do with my daughter to take some of the seeds and to see if we can grow any of them, see if any of them are viable," she said.

"So we're going to do a little science project with that."

The seeds and the packaging itself are vintage, and Moore decided to find out who they belonged to. She returned them to T.S. Purver's great-granddaughter Judy Arena. (Submitted by Julia Moore)

Arena approves of the plan.

"It's just so wonderful, and I have two great two granddaughters, Emma and Natalie, who are enjoying growing seeds right now themselves. So this is, it's just so nice," she said.

"My great grandfather, this was his passion, to see these flowers and vegetables grow. So he, I think, would be so happy to hear this, If he was alive."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.