Blooming Heirlooms: The Long Wait

It was June, 2017 when Todd and I went to Omaha to collect my grandmother’s flowers. This will be the first year any of them bloom. Collecting family heirlooms of the blooming variety can be frustrating. Of the many plants we collected, I would say maybe 1/3 survived to this point. Granted, I am still novice at this but we lost the lilacs, roses, and most of the peonies. The iris survived despite two winters of sitting under water and ice for several weeks at a time. There is also one chunk of peony that has refused to give up, batch of daylilies, and, one or two bits of hosta survive too!

 

This year, the iris have budded up! I have been watching as the neighbor kids hit balls into our yard. One definitely hit a bloom-stalk, but fortunately it didn’t break. Heavy storms were called for last night, so I clipped one boom stalk and brought it in. This morning, as I sit here typing this, I am looking at a big, white bloom on my Grandma Pete’s iris. It’s the first time since I was too little to care that I’ve seen them bloom.

That can be the daunting reality of collecting heritage plants. Sometimes, there is only once chance to collect and from that moment on, you are the keeper of that family heirloom. Unlike stashing photos away in climate-controlled closet, plants have a lot more environmental stress. The transplant can be stressful alone, aside from whatever weather mother nature wants to throw at you. Waiting for years for blooms can be tiring too. It is not an endeavor for anyone with little patience, that’s for sure!

As I sit here, overjoyed to see this one bloom, I think about how happy I will be to finally share some of my blooming heirlooms with family. All the time waiting and stressing about the plant, I’ve thought about how I want to share a pieces of it with all my family! I have some pretty cute ideas…but we will see how it turns out. That’s a plan for later this summer.

Thanks for the iris, Grandma!

Grandma Pete in 3322 Garden

Great Grandma’s Lilies of the Valley

If I remember correctly, the first time I thought or learned about heirloom flowers in my family, was when my mom told me her lilies-of-the-valley were originally from her grandmother’s house.  I have yet to figure out if they came from my Great Grandma Hanson or Great Grandma Petersen, but they grew at my Grandma Pete’s for years and I think several family members have splits from them. These will forever hold a special place with me as the first “blooming heirloom” passed along to me.

Many see these tiny white bells as an invasive, little weed. It creeps through fence lines and continues to pop up each spring despite all efforts to eradicate it.  Personally, I love them (they smell so good and are so pretty). Our house is no exception to the invaders. When we moved in, the entire back fence line had them growing, and there is a large patch along the back of the house too. I just mow them down after blooming.

When my mom gave me a clump of my great-grandmother’s Lilies-of-the-Valley from her yard, I had to figure out how I would keep them separate from the current patches. At the time, I worked for a garden center and had the chance to take home a large ceramic pot that had broken into a few pieces. I glued it back together and buried it about half way into one of my existing flower beds. So far, the pot has never heaved from the ground and the lilies haven’t spread from it. I will probably need to split them out more often to keep them healthy.

Each Spring they are sweet reminder of the generations of gardeners before me. I’m also a huge fan of partially buried pot! It gives a little bit of extra interest!

 

My First Heritage Flower Extraction

One year ago, this week, Todd and I took a 39 hour trip to Omaha and back. The reason: Heritage Flower Extraction.

In 2012, my Grandma and Grandpa Petersen’s house was sold. My grandfather built the classic 1950’s ranch house. My mother, uncle, and aunt were raised there; and all seven grand-kids spent countless hours there.

In 2015, I first started thinking about “heritage gardens” and collecting flowers from family homes. Grandma Pete’s garden was first on my list, because I had the most clear memories of it. I sent out a letter with photos and stories to the new owners, and a request. With their permission, I would love some splits from her garden. They answered, YES!

In 2017, the house was up for sale again.

Between winters, buying a home, and life…collecting sat on the back burner, until I found out the house was for sale again. The Omaha market can be fast, so I panicked. Maybe the new owners wouldn’t be as generous. So, a hasty 2nd request was made and permission given, again. The house was empty, so it didn’t matter when we went. I wanted to get it done fast.

So, on the longest day of 2017 (literally), I worked 9-6 and closed the store, came home, and Todd suggested we leave ASAP. I cleaned the cat litter, packed a small bag, and off we went. I had already packed the car with a tarp, buckets, soil, shovels, and pots.

We made it past Des Moines, and decided to stop. For a few hours, very uncomfortably, we slept in the car at a rest stop. We arrived in Omaha as the sun was coming up and just in time to meet Dad, my sister, and the kids at Hy-Vee for breakfast. It wasn’t even 9 am and the temps were rising close to 90 degrees. If we were going to get flowers, the time was now. So, off we went. Me still in my work clothes, which was at the time, a garden center. It kind of made me look official, like I was a landscaper (or at least that’s how I want to justify wearing that shirt for so many hours).

It had been many years since I had been to the house. It wasn’t in great shape (Grandpa was probably rolling in his grave). But, we pulled into the back drive and I went to work. I was respectful. I took only splits and pieces. I retreived daylilies, hostas, clippings of the climbing rose, and lilacs, chunks of peony, and iris. I also collected some of the large rocks that had been collected by the family over the years.

I worked fast, because I definitely felt weird being there and digging up stuff. It was a very surreal feeling being there. Finally, with the back of the car full, I insisted Todd lift the cement urn/planter into the last remaining spot. I’m a lucky gal. He did it without too much questioning. It had been there forever, and came from their house before. I couldn’t pass up the chance.

My final act was to open the back storm door and listen to it close one last time. It’s a strange thing to miss, but the sound is the sound of my childhood, and something strangely comforting.  That’s when I lost it. I held my emotions back through the plant collection, but the damn door got to me. I knew it was the last time I’d hear it, and the last time I’d be in that yard, where I spent so much of my childhood.

The deed was done, now we had to figure out what to do with the plants for a few hours while we did the quick Omaha tour. At Dad’s apartment, I sat in the parking space quickly potting up and watering my prizes. Then, we took a shopping cart and an elevator ride to the third floor and some AC. There we took a short nap and looked at photos. Then, we ate lunch with Dad at The Barleycorn, toured Memorial Park’s rose garden, and drove through Dad’s childhood neighborhood to scope out my other grandparents’ house.

Next up, watching my niece’s swim lesson, Thai food for dinner with the family, loading up the car, and heading out again. We arrived in Omaha as the sun was coming up, and left as it was setting. We also made a stop on the way out to pick up a bunch of Runzas (so I could share their glory with Wisconsin).

We stopped once more, just on the other side of Des Moines for a rest stop nap, then drove through Minnesota as the sun was coming up. It was still early when we finally pulled into our drive, our car loaded with some very special plants. After a much needed shower and nap, I began cleaning and adding the flowers to my garden.

Of the plants I brought home, only a handful survived the stress of the drive, and our really crappy winter. The losses: all the lilacs, all the roses, and almost all of the peonies. The iris came through like champs after spending a month in an inch of ice. I don’t know if you can kill daylilies or hostas? The remaining piece of peony has been moved to a better spot and is growing in a fortress of caging for protection.

The collection, today:

I will be excited when they all finally bloom and spread. My plan is to share pieces with all the Petersens that want a piece of Grandma Pete’s garden.

This concludes my first “heritage flower extraction.” I expect many more. And soon, I will share with you more about Grandma and Grandpa Pete’s house and their lives.

My First Perennial Salvage

 The “Elvira Ditch Lilies” is how this salvage is affectionately known. Early last spring, Todd and I were driving down Highway 51, through Plover. The street was in the process of being widened. The construction meant the last of the original Plover buildings were no longer standing, as well as a number of private properties. As we drove along, I noticed a patch of what I thought were Iris popping out of a disturbed bed along the construction zone. They were, of course, not Iris but the shoots of Day Lilies springing to life. I knew they were in the path of destruction and without  any idea of what color or variety they were decided to save them. The next day, Todd and I pulled into a parking lot near the construction zone. Armed with a bucket of dirt and a spade, I went to work digging out a few clumps. They were insanely stubborn, refusing to be pried from their gravely bed. Triumphantly, I got in the truck with my bucket of rescues and went about my day.

Before I decided to dig up these plants, I knew I needed to a little research into the land they were growing on. I didn’t want to dig up somebody’s bed of flowers without permission. As I suspected, they land was a tract owned by the DOT for the widening road. I don’t think the DOT really cares about them  or the fact that I dug a few up. Sure enough, within a week or so the entire bed of flowers had been bulldozed over and lost to history. The bucket of starts sat in that bucket all spring waiting for a new permanent home.

The permanent home the lilies were looking for, is my in my large garden bed. At the time when they were collected, we were in the process of closing on our first home. I planted the lilies in the garden bed, and to my surprise, they bloomed! A few tall, orange trumpets sprang up out of the rescued clump. The lilies are nothing exciting. They are just the standard, old-fashioned orange lily. In fact, our house came with a whole bed of those big old orange lilies.

Despite their seemingly unexciting variety, the lilies are special. They are my first ‘salvage’ and their original home is now partially street, sidewalk, and an extended parking lot. It also gave me an excuse to look up who may have planted them. What was this tract of land before it was DOT? What is it’s history? It turns out, it has kind of a nice little history, and one that makes me happy to have the lilies from that land.

Follow this link to the my post about the land, and just why they are called the “Elvira Ditch Lilies…