Old fashioned garden plants might conjure different images to different folks, depending upon one’s age. Old is a relative term. What comes to my mind is something that survives, thrives and spreads. Those passalongs that can be easily divided or seeds saved to be shared, plants that will still be standing when the homestead has crumbled back to compost are the true heirlooms. Anything short lived need not apply. Herbaceous peonies, Paeonia lactiflora, whether pronouned pennies, pay-OH-nies, pee-oh-knees, can be found growing in cow pastures out in the countryside, the only remnants of human activity. Roots dug and shared in the fall, planted with the eye more than an inch but less than three inches deep will flower faithfully for decades, given enough sunlight, often outliving the planter.
Plants with no cultivar names will usually spread by themselves, some by seed scattering mechanisms built in their grand design, some by running roots, some use both methods to ensure their longevity. The oriental poppy, Papaver orientale is a fine example of the last method. Once this plant has established itself, even if you try to dig it up, (why?) you will never get that last bit of root and in time it will reappear. Some people might find the color objectionable, those with sensitivity to orange hues. Do not count me among those. I believe in mixing all the colors together for a splendid miasma, the more, the brighter, the better.
Passalong Iris germanica sometimes come with a warning that these roots have world domination in mind. Let the planter beware, and keep a watchful eye on such things. If only I had listened when my dear departed neighbor Mae, from whence the peonies and poppies came, added some Vinca Major roots in with the iris in the bag. She told me that I would hate the groundcover quickly. She was so right, for now it is completely out of control under the tall pine trees at the eastern property line. But I had a lot of blank earth to cover and thought it could be dug out when no longer needed. Foolish gardener! But the iris remain beloved.
The Fairegarden property is in an older neighborhood in a small southern town. Most of the houses were built around the middle of the twentieth century and are modest in size. Many, including mine, were or still are rentals, with no garden plants to speak of. When we bought our home and began the garden, weeds and brush were cleared by heavy machinery, a backhoe brought in to dig the foundation for the addition. But before that was done, we scouted around the overgrowth for potential jewels. Tiger lilies, Lilium tigrinum, species daylilies Hemerocallis fulva and the surprising red hot poker, Kniphofia caulescens were among the buried treasures. They are common as dirt, but welcome garden denizens now.
Some bulbs showed themselves the following spring as the garden was being planned out. Muscari , possibly neglectum or armeniacum was in abundance, to our delight as well as the delight of other creatures.
This very early daffodil was discovered, among others, growing happily on the property. Diligent research led us to believe that it is Narcissus pseudonarcissus. This particular bulb emerges from the ground with the flower bud showing, blooming a full two weeks earlier than the other daffodils. Underground, the bulb reproduces at an astounding rate without choking itself out, there are plenty of blooms even from well established clumps. We have spread it all over the garden and given many away to friends and family. Recently an article about the early and prolific blooming of N. psuedonarcissus in the tribal lands of Oklahoma has ignited a spark that these daffs might be the same. (Click here to read it.) It was written that the belief is that these daffodils were carried with the Cherokees when they were forced from their land near the Appalachian mountains in Tennessee and elsewhere to designated Indian land in Oklahoma. This march was a horrendous injustice called the Trail Of Tears. We are near to that beautiful mountainous area, and these daffodils are everywhere, including on wooded land where there are no homes. Imagining that these could possibly be the same type of daffodil is thrilling. I was born and raised in Northeast Oklahoma.
In what used to be the front lawn, wild violets proved to be stronger than the gardener bent on defeating them. Seeding everywhere, with roots that break off at the slightest touch, we gave in to their prolific ways. They can stay, in some places anyway. People might wonder why violets, the most lovely of flowers could be described in such a derogatory manner. It is the seeding smack dab in the middle of other plants, choking them out that we find disagreeable. The violets are not good at sharing the space. But they are old fashioned and long lived and make a nice background for the yellow daffodils of spring.
This discussion could go on and on ad nauseum, so we will end with some passalongs that were brought from my previous garden, Nigella damascena and Lamb’s ear, Stachys byzantina. The Nigella is a prolific seeder, a biennial here with the little ferny babies showing up in late summer and overwintering to bloom the next spring. We make sure this cycle repeats itself by allowing the dried seed pods to remain until they open to reveal the black shiny seeds. They are cut down as time allows and tossed here, there and yonder, for that blue color reminds us of sea and sky and eyes. The Lamb’s ear was brought as a transplant, but also seeds from still standing flower stalks. Who doesn’t love the velvety silver leaves of this plant?
I love this topic and wish to thank my friend Joseph of Greensparrow Garden for inviting me to join in. Links to the other participants will be added as they become available below. We barely scratched the surface here, but there is a point that needs to be made. All of the heirlooms, those plants that are easy peasy, can be divided or seed true to the parent can be had for pennies, or even for free if you know a gardener who grows them. Anyone can have a beautiful garden full of gorgeous plants for little to no cost. All it takes is a vision, some land, and hard work. To a gardener, it is not considered work, but an enjoyable pastime for any age.
Fabulous But Forgotten by Joseph
Everything Old Is New Again by Ryan