Grandfather, Sweet Peas and Me

I’ve watched for some years as members of my generation become grandparents. Friends actively embrace the role and their grandkids seem to value the relationship. Most of my grandparents were dead before I was aware, so  I missed out on what treasures they had to offer.

Take for example my maternal grandfather, Melbourne Armstrong. As a child I looked at his 1922 studio photo and tried to feel a connection, but all I saw was an old timey person from another era.

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I know that Melbourne was an enthusiastic gardener in Bridgetown in the Annapolis Valley, and that he was particularly fond of sweet peas. Relatively recently I noticed that in the photo he had a sweet pea in his button hole! This led me to look more closely at the few photos I have of my grandfather and discovered sweet peas were a recurring theme.

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Here, stuck in a scrapbook among Christmas cards, he tends his “hedge” of sweet peas. A low shot to make the plants look taller, but cut off his head.

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Also in the scrapbook is a photo from September 1911 of Melbourne’s sister Louisa and her new husband and my grandmother Mary. They have been posed in front of the sweet peas. The stepladder is probably there so flowers can be picked for Louisa’s wedding.

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Louisa married a Hatfield from Parrsboro, and the ceremony took place in Melbourne and Mary’s Bridgetown house. If you can manage to unsee Louisa’s extraordinary hat, notice she is holding a generous bouquet of flowers and that there are five vases of flowers in the scene. The one in front of the “happy” couple appears to be sweet peas!

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In 1922 Melbourne’s car was decorated with flowers for a parade. Again the sweet pea hedge is used as the background.

sweetpea parade

Also in 1922 Melbourne’s brothers and sister had a reunion (one brother was in Massachusetts and another in Manitoba). In this group shot, all the men have sweet peas on their lapels.

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Every few years I try to grow sweet peas without very much success. The planting and nurturing process does make me feel I have a real bond with my grandfather. At least we would have something to talk about. And from the photos I now sense that the sweet peas represent a playful goofiness that feels familiar.

Here are sweet peas I grew this year, in a vase that came from my grandparent’s house. Sorry you can’t smell the fragrance.


Post script

  • Great Aunt Louisa looks so dour at her wedding luncheon I had to add a little colour. Several of the things in the photo are familiar to me. We have the English ironstone plates on the mantle- the design is “God is Great” in Arabic. Sounds more like my Baptist grandmother than my Methodist grandfather.

The painting over the mantle was done by my grandmother when she took classes in Yarmouth as a young woman. To remind you of all the colourful flowers in the picture I include sweet peas.  And a copy of the wedding invitation for good measure!


  • If you know Bridgetown you might be interested in where Melbourne’s sweet peas were growing. Their house burned in the 1930s but was next to Mama Sofia’s Kwik-Way on Granville St. The car is in the driveway next to the Kwik-Way building and to the left behind the sweet peas is the back of the Anglican Church Hall.

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Here is a street view of the area.



About the author

Stephen Archibald

It’s Stephen Archibald doing the noticing. I’m a huge fan of Nova Scotia’s material culture and cultural landscapes. Twitter (@Cove17 ) made me realize I could share what attracted my attention (perfect for my very short attention) and I’m gratified when folks enjoy my content. Pleased to meet you on the internet.