Six on Saturday: Plants With a History

Yellow flag Iris psuedacorus is one of the earliest Iris species recorded in our history.  Native in parts of Europe and North Africa, it was grown in palace and  temple gardens in ancient Egypt .  Considered invasive in North America, it produces very high quantities of nectar when in bloom.

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Why does May hold such nostalgia?  All seems right with the world when early summer settles over the neighborhood; the air is sweetened by blooming hollies, roses, and honeysuckle, and something is blooming in nearly every yard.

May is a month for Mother’s Day, college graduations, weddings and family trips.  We allow ourselves a mental break from the news of the day as we reconnect with loved ones and simply enjoy the pleasures of May.

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Peonies remain some of the most popular garden plants and cut flowers. They bloom for only a few weeks each spring, but remain a favorite artistic motif in temperate climates around the world.

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Many of the shrubs and perennials that bloom each May carry with them an air of nostalgia, too.  They may remind us of our mother’s or our grandmother’s gardens.

My great grandmother had an old craftsman style house in an established Richmond neighborhood.  Her back garden was filled with luxurious climbing roses, blue spiderwort, peonies and a giant old mulberry tree.

I have vivid memories of wandering around her yard when I was a very young child, enjoying the flowers while the grown-ups talked inside.  The grass grew long and lush as she could no longer mow it herself.   I’d pick the mulberries in season and she would serve them over heaping bowls of ice cream.  She was elderly when I knew her, already an invalid.  But her garden told me all I needed to know about her loving spirit and her joie de vivre.

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Native mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, grows wild across much of Virginia on large shrubs, sometimes growing into small trees.  It grows best in the mountains, and follows the Appalachians from New England to the Gulf Coast.  Native Americans used this poisonous shrub for many purposes, including medicinally.  The wood is extremely hard and was carved into many useful household items.

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The beauty of antique, heritage flowers is their persistence.   Most are so easy to grow that once planted, they largely care for themselves.  A gardener’s skilled hand can certainly help bring out their full potential, but they generally outlive their gardeners and can fend for themselves decade after decade.

Heritage plants bring us comfort, through their beauty and fragrance, as they return us to people and places and times long passed.  They have a long and rich history themselves, even as they help us follow the threads of memory to recall our own personal history.  Yet they bloom fresh and beautiful each year, insinuating themselves into our hearts anew each time we encounter them.

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We always had Azaleas in our yard to admire each spring,  These Southern Indica hybrid Azaleas, dating back to the 1830’s, have especially large flowers and will grow to 10′ tall.  We enjoyed viewing them at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens and Richmond’s Bryan Park when I was a child.  Here, ‘Formosa’ and ‘Delaware White’ were planted by a previous gardener on our property. 

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Plants carry our history more surely than any diary or text.  They form a living archive of our lives:  the flowers we grow, the foods that recall childhood pleasures.  The trees we played under and in when young, and trees planted at our homes along the way.

All are a part of our story, and we a part of theirs.  And when better to remember the joy they brought us than when the world is renewed each May.

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Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus, ‘ the poet’s or pheasant’s eye daffodil, is native to the mountains of Europe.  One of the earliest cultivated species daffodils from the ancient Mediterranean world,  it is one of the latest daffodils to bloom each spring.  Here, it greets visitors at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“If you don’t know history,

then you don’t know anything.

You are a leaf that doesn’t know

it is part of a tree. ”
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Michael Crichton

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Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator.

 

 

 

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Where Horticulture Meets History

Narcissus ‘Telamonius Plenus’

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Every plant has a story.  And these stories are as laced with adventure, intrigue, (plant) lust and great friendships as any you might hear.

Take the little Daffodil, Narcissus ‘Telamonius Plenus.’   This is the oldest known ‘double’ daffodil, and records tell us that it’s first spring to flower was in 1620, in the London garden of immigrant Vincent Sion, who was Flemish.  His friends admired this little flower so much, that eventually he shared some of his bulbs with friends.  Several other names attach to this little flower, derived from these first gardeners to enjoy it.

You may hear it called ‘Van Scion’ for the original grower, or perhaps ‘Wilmer’s Great Double Daffodil’ after George Wilmer, one of Scion’s friends who received those original bulbs.

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Double Van Scion, or Guernsey Double Daffodil

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We found the very doubled Narcissus in the photo above growing in our garden during our first spring here in 2010.  I’d never noticed a Daffodil quite like this before.  But in reading about N. ‘Telemonius Plenus’, or N. ‘Van Scion,’ I’ve learned that these two forms of the original double Daffodil seem to be named interchangeably and share a long history together.  So this one also dates back to 17th Century England, and likely made it to Virginia in the baggage of early colonists.

This clump proves very hardy and prolific.    We have a few clumps of these growing in the front garden now, and I want to perhaps divide these in a few weeks to spread them around a bit more.

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This variety is known for the tinges of green on its petals.

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Once upon a time, one’s garden reflected one’s friendships.  Plant lust remains one of the passions good friends share, just as it was in the early days of exploration and hybridization.

We hear of transcontinental friendships where American colonists collected seeds and cuttings to ship back to their botanical buddies in England, Holland and France.  European gardeners had unlimited faith in the ‘new world’ to proffer new fruits and nuts, flowers, ferns and useful trees.

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And the most promising of these plants took root in the great gardens of Europe first, shared among friends, before finally entering the nursery trade.

Likewise, American colonists ordered seeds and favorite plants from their contacts back in Europe to plant in their newly cleared gardens.  Many of the plants we grow here now came to us from Asia, by way of Europe, sometime over the last 400 years.

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Another double Narcissus we grow, which probably came to us from Brent and Becky Heath’s bulb shop.

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Even today, friendships can be cemented through favorite plants shared with one another.  We give of our gardens, we give of ourselves.  Like so many other things we love, plants outlive us.  Their propagation proves part of our legacy.

How many of us nurture a shrub grown from a cutting given to us by a loved one?  How many of us divided perennials from our parents’ garden to start our own?  How many of us grow plants today that were given to us by loved ones?

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Plants given in love are nurtured, protected, propagated and eventually passed on to others.  This is how we keep the old varieties going strong, even as newly hybridized or collected plants are introduced for our consideration each and every year.

Woodland Gnome 2017

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This lovely Daffodil is blooming all over our garden this week. A gift from our neighbor, who dug and divided his Daffodils in the fall of 2015, it blooms this year for us.  He gave me a whole bucked of unknown Daffodil bulbs, and I happily planted them everywhere!

 

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