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!

 

10 Historic Flowers to Add to Your Garden

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:

  1. 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.

    21552

    photo via White Flower Farm

  2. 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.

    img_1359

    via The Garden Diary  which has a great post about the rose!

  3. 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.

    18951359_10102913061787894_167747050585208747_n

    Growing in my own yard. One of the very first Iris I ever chose for myself!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

    IMG_20180514_075151_272.jpg

    In my own garden

  9. 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.

    20180606_075314

    A close up of the white gas plant in my garden. 

  10. 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).

 

2019 Seed Starting

Every year, towards the end of the holidays, I start looking forward to seed catalogs. This year, I think I had the majority of my seeds already bought before the new year, or at least in January. I evaluate what I liked about the previous year’s choices, keep my favorites, and archive or share the varieties that didn’t make the cut.

The number one factor in what I continue to grow is taste. If it doesn’t taste good, what’s the point? After that, I look for care-free, interesting, and short-day. Central Wisconsin was a bit of challenge after the longer, hotter summers of central Indiana. Most of the seeds I buy are heirloom, for the ability to save seeds (even though I never get to it) and the huge variety. Every year, I pick out one novelty to grow just for fun.

I am sucker for the occasional $.25 seed packet at the hardware store but for the most part I buy my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Seed Savers Exchange. I also have quite a collection from Jung’s because I used to work there!

I also buy a few plants in the spring mostly herbs, Jet Star tomatoes (grown in honor of my Grandma Pete), and a few peppers.

Here’s what I’m growing this year (with a link to where I purchased it, if still available, I keep seeds for years!):

These are seeds I started March 18:

These seeds I started April 18 in peat pots:

Seeds that are going to be direct sewn:

The direct sewn seeds are always a crap-shoot for me, a lot of times, I forget about them and some just get thrown into the garden. We will see how organized I am this year.

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.