If you haven’t been able to get your hands on any ancestral-heirloom flowers, or just want to add some historic charm to your garden, a surprising variety of historic flowers are still available commercially.
What I love about tracking down historic cultivars is finding some really lovely family growers, the variety, and being able to choose eras and breeders that fit what you love. Like with our house, I am drawn to cultivars of the late 1940s-1950s. I also have a huge soft spot for late 19th century cultivars.
Check out these 10 varieties (some of my favorites) that will add instant historic charm and why I love them:
- Blanc Double De Courbet Rose, 1892: Roses have to be hardy to survive in central Wisconsin, especially in my yard (I’m not one to baby a plant). This old variety is zone 3 hardy, has a pleasant scent, and soft double blooms. It’s been a standard for years for a reason.
- Harison’s Yellow Rose, 1824: Sometimes called the “Yellow Rose of Texas,” Harison’s Yellow has a rich history tied to the Gold Rush and Oregon Trail, which is why it’s also known as the “Pioneer Rose.” For me, that’s enough to want it my yard. Yellow roses over a white picket fence is classic. This rose is rugged and hardy for sure. For some, the drawbacks include a tendency to sucker and spread, plus it definitely sports some serious, prickly thorns.
- Beverly Sills Tall Bearded Iris, 1979: When I first started falling in love with Iris, I knew I wanted a pink one. I lived with my Mom at the time and we found Beverly Sills at a local nursery. It was love at first sight. It has grown in her garden since, and now has several splits throughout my yard. Bright, beautiful, and prolific.
- Alcazar Tall Bearded Iris, 1910: I struggled to find commercial growers selling the old-style, historic Iris that everyone pictures in their grandma’s yard. I think this is because so many people have them growing in their yard already? Most of my old standards have been given to me by friends. That’s where I would look first. That being said, if you want a really traditional iris, Alcazar fits the bill.
- Evelyn Claar Day Lily, 1949: I have a few daylilies in my yard and hope to add more. Aside from the classic orange ditch-lily, some historics have a softer look to them. Evelyn Claar would look spectacular blooming in front of a traditional 1950’s ranch.
- Duchesse De Nemours Peony, 1851: I love Monet. What gardener doesn’t? This peony is said to be a variety he grew and painted. Done. I want it. Plus, it’s gorgeous.
- Thomas Edison Dahlia, 1929: Someday, I am going to post about a photo I have of my grandmother standing in front of giant Dahlia. It’s intrigued me for years. I want to find a Dahlia that could stand in for that one. Until then, Thomas Edison stands out in the historic dahlia department. Saturated colors, huge blooms, easy to find.
- Black Parrot Tulip, 1937: I didn’t know Black Parrots were as old of a cultivar as they are until recently. I fell in love with their drama and ease. Of the many tulips I’ve planted, these guys have fared the best. They bloom very late, and occasionally, like last year, overlap with my Iris blooms for a beautiful show.
- Gas Plant, Native to Southwest Europe and Asia, grown often in early and Victorian American gardens. Definitely, not on the top of the list for popular perennials, I discovered this plant when I worked at the garden center. I had the chance to take a less than desirable plant home. I plopped in the ground and was pleasantly surprised. They can be hard to find now, but at one time they were quite popular. The blooms are beautiful and attract pollinators. I’ve been slowly adding more, whenever possible.
- Dutch Master Daffodil, 1938: Daffies are the flower that brings joy in spring. You cannot be unhappy when you see a mass of them. There are several really beautiful historic varieties, but Dutch Master is the classic for a reason. They are easy to find and naturalize. They are a perfect addition to any heritage garden.
A couple of tips about buying online:
- Look for reviews. check out the Facebook pages of a company, and join garden groups. Garden groups geared toward Iris, daylilies, and just gardening in general have helped me weed out what online garden stores to avoid.
- If you can, buy from nurseries in the same growing zone as you. The plants will have an easier time adapting to your garden’s conditions. If you buy out of zone, just be sure to give your plants a bit more attention until they establish (this is 100% a tip I need to work on myself).