Thursday, May 24, 2012

Preserve Memories & Heritage

Preserve Memories & Heritage
in an Old-Fashioned Garden With Pass along Plants
by Cindy Shapton
from State by State Gardening eNewsletter

Every garden tells a story if you take the time to look and listen.

There is plant history, and sometimes even a mystery, just waiting to be discovered. When we bought an old property in Franklin, TN, we were pleased to learn some of the history hidden in the garden.

I knew the rose over the well house was old, but I found out just how old when a grandson of one of the previous owners stopped by and told me that, while tracing his family ancestry, he found a note in a family Bible about this particular rose that had traveled to this country from England. From there, it had been passed along each time the family came farther west.

Another grandson (70-something-years-young) came by and told me that, as a child, Helen Keller stayed with his grandparents while researching her family connection to the battle of Franklin. Lilacs lined the path to the garden, and Ms. Keller knew the name of each lilac variety by their individual scent.

I discovered some of those lilacs as I started cultivating the old garden once again. Covered under tangles of wisteria, two old lilacs came back to life when sunlight was able to once again reach them. They eventually bloomed beautiful shades of bluish purple.

When we moved, I brought cuttings and pieces of many heirlooms from my old garden to plant in my new “old-fashioned” garden, including peonies, daylilies, lilac, ox-eye daisy, black-eyed Susan, forget-me-not and roses, just to name a few.

An old, pink, cabbage-like shrub rose was discovered growing at the old ancestral homestead of my husband’s great grandparents in Northern Michigan, and I now have that rose growing in my garden. We never identified the rose, which doesn’t seem to matter. We feel certain that it came with the family from Canada, and probably from England before that. We call it the “Shapton Heritage” rose and pass it along to family members.

Lily-of-the-valley brings back wonderful childhood memories for me. They grew by the back steps to our farmhouse. A few years ago, I made a trip back and dug up a few of those plants to add to my garden. I planted and transplanted them when we moved to our current garden. I found just the right spot for them in my new garden (it was late June), and I couldn’t wait for spring to see them. Spring came, and to my surprise, lily-of-the-valley was a favorite of the previous owner, as well. They are in every garden bed of our new property! There will be plenty to pass along.

What was so great about gardens of old? They were comprised of what we now call heirlooms, which are plants that have been around for 50 years or more and are usually open-pollinated varieties (flowers that are pollinated by insects or wind). The seeds produced by these flowers, herbs, vines (and even vegetables) result in plants that are just like their parents.

These heirloom, or heritage, plants were passed down and around from family members, neighbors and gardeners. Rose cuttings were transported in potatoes, and seeds were stored wherever room was found, then passed along or moved with the family. After all, there weren’t always local nurseries to buy plants and seeds from.

Old-fashioned gardens were interactive — when dried, large poppy seed heads became musical shakers, hollyhocks were fashioned into “Victorian Belle” flower ladies on Sunday afternoons, daisy chains were given to mom, and gourds became spinning tops on the school playground.

Best of all, old plants were useful, hardy, and stood the test of time — plus, they came with a memory or story. It is a wonderful feeling to work in a garden and know that you are tending some of the same plants as your grandmother, friend or someone from generations ago.

No comments: