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!

 

The Potato Ditch Iris

A couple of years ago, Todd and I had the chance to dig up potatoes at the farm next door to where I board my horse. The farm decided not to dig the potatoes on that parcel because there was too much debris in the field.  As it turns out, that particular part of the field used to have a house on it.

It was a blast. Not only did we dig up several buckets of red potatoes, we found all sorts of bits of the life that had been lived there before.  There was a lot of glass, pieces of dishes, door knobs, and I even found a little glass bottle intact.

I also found a big clump of iris growing in the ditch next to the field right next to where we parked our car. They had been mowed down and driven over during the growing and harvest season, but I dug up a bunch anyway. I labeled them “Potato Ditch Iris.”

It was already well into October, but I stuck them in the ground anyway. I guess the house had been torn down many years ago. I wondered how long it had been there. I started searching for any available plat maps online, and sure enough, I did find proof that there had been a house their for many years. I have overlaid a 1949 county plat with today’s satellite image. The red circle indicates the structure that used to stand there. It matches the area where we dug our potatoes!

1949 Overlay Potato Field

I’m not sure whether these iris ever grew around that house or if they were just wanderers that ended up next to that particular field. But they gave me a spark of interest to see what the field had been before it was a potato field (not that it takes much for me to start investigating for old maps).

I did get a bloom or two last year, they are nothing special in the department of exciting iris, but they are definitely historic. What I love most is the experience of discovering the flowers, and collecting the stories that go along with the place.

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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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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).