Q&A with Chris McLaughlin, Author of “Growing Heirloom Flowers”

By Shelley Pierce | August 19, 2018
Image by The Quarto Group
by Shelley Pierce
August 19, 2018

Chris McLaughlin has been gardening for over 35 years and is the co-founder of northern California’s Laughing Crow & Company Flower & Fiber Farm. She has authored seven gardening books and has written for From Scratch magazine, About.com, and VegetableGardener.com. In print, her work can be found in such magazines as Heirloom Gardener, Urban Farm, Hobby Farm Home, Herb Companion, and Fine Gardening. In her latest book, “Growing Heirloom Flowers“, Chris takes you on a tour of these alluring blooms, covering the benefits, challenges, growing requirements, and everything else you need to know about more than forty heirloom flowers.  Read on to learn more and enter below to win one of two copies from Quarto Publishing Group!

1. Why are you drawn to heirlooms? What heirlooms do you grow in your garden?

I enjoy heirlooms for their timeless beauty, endurance, biological diversity, fragrance (in many cases), history, and because they are passalong plants!

While I don’t have strictly heirlooms in my garden, I grow different species (and varieties) every year. My *must-haves* are dahlias, strawflower, love-in-a-mist, lavender, marigolds, honesty, snapdragons, hollyhocks…oh who am I kidding? I try to get as many different heirlooms as possible out there! LOL

2. How will this book help us to grow the fullest, richest and most aromatic blooms possible?

This book isn’t necessarily a step-by-step guide to planting every heirloom species. But rather, highlighting those heirlooms that bring these attributes to the garden.

3. What are some easy to grow heirlooms that you’d recommend for beginners?

Black-eyed Susans, cosmos, flax, cornflower, marigolds, echinacea, daffodils, daylily, aster, lavender, calendula, pinks, bee balm, and snapdragons are all heirlooms that are easy — and eager– to grow!

However, I think you’ll find that the list is shorter for those that are actually hard/tricky to grow.

4. What I love about your book is that you have interspersed it with fun little projects. Tell us about some of your favorite projects featured in this book.

Summer Flower Crown

I truly don’t have a favorite project because I find that there are so many uses for the crafts and creations made from flowers and botanical in general.  However, I habitually use them as dye plants for the mohair (Angora goats) that we raise on our farm. I also never tire of making flower crowns!

FREE PROJECT!  Learn how to make a summer flower crown HERE.

5. When it comes to heirlooms are you still learning something new from these time-tested flowers? What is something new that you have learned recently?

I have to say as a gardener, I learn something new every single day. It might be about heirlooms specifically, or it might be about other plants, soil, micro-climates, etc.

We just bought a new farm and have to start our gardens completely over again. The one lesson that I get to learn every so often is that gardening keeps you humble. If you can’t manage to stay humble, no worries — the garden will do it for you!

6. I have to admit, flower arranging is not my forte so I much appreciated the section on “basic flower arranging principles” and “12 quickie flower arranging tips”. How long did it take for you to flower arrange in confidence? What are some common flowers and elements that make their way into your flower arrangements?

Oh I am STILL learning to have confidence with my arrangements! I have always done a lot more growing than arranging, so I fiddle around with flowers in a vase more than many, lol.

What I have found is that the flowers, fillers, and greens truly do most of the heavy-lifting, so I try not to judge myself too harshly.

I am crazy about interesting botanicals for the bouquets. I can’t get enough of cool-looking branches like corkscrew willow, seed head pods such as Love-in-a-Mist, or the drama of Love-Lies-Bleeding.

Win one of two copies of Growing Heirloom Flowers!

To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight on Sunday, August 26th, 2018 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

Do you have experience growing heirloom flowers?  Do you have any tips that you’d like to share?

Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See rules for more information.)

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  • Jerry Zimmer
    Comment added October 25, 2018Reply

    I think she should have include a growing-zone map or a key of some sort. I don't know if I am just ignorant in this area of knowledge, or simply unable to find it in my copy of the book.
    Please advise where I may obtain this information.
    Also, she does not include zone information for all the flowers in this book. Why?
    I love the book. It is beautiful and has resparked my interest in growing flowers my mother grew. However, living is Southern California presents many challenges when growing any plant - I NEED the zonal info.

  • Beth
    Comment added August 27, 2018Reply

    I've just bought a small house with a large lot and I'm preparing to grow lots of heirlooms--flowers and vegetables--next year.

  • Julia Malakoff
    Comment added August 27, 2018Reply

    I have no experience growing heirloom flowers. I grew up in Tennessee next door to my grandmother who grew everything! She dug up and replanted her iris and tulip bulbs every year. I have lived in South Florida for many years and have tried to grow many things, with more success with some than others. I’d love to grow some heirloom flowers.

  • Christine Meleg
    Comment added August 26, 2018Reply

    Many "modern" flowers are pretty to look at but don't do much more than that. Since pretty is as pretty does, heirloom flowers add not only add fragrance but mini habitats for such wonderful fellows like hummingbirds ( nectar and tiny insects to eat), butterflies, moths, bees (nectar). In my high altitude garden I have wooly yarrow, scabiosa, lavender,lilacs and salvia. By providing those plants with what they need individually (some are permanent, in ground,some are seasonal, in large pots) not only do I have an active garden but frequent,welcome visitors. Because of the lilacs there is also excellent nesting sites for birds that are native to my area, Southern California. Due to the altitude of 6,800 feet I make sure to carefully water only when needed by using a water meter to asses appropriate need, fertilize according to the plant's requirements, deadhead spent flowers,and due to tall trees daily sun exposure. I use mulch when appropriate to keep roots cool and decrease water consumption and loss of beneficial soil microorganisms. Because the sunlight is so strong up here it can literally bake the soil lifeless. My garden isn't oppulent by low altitude standards but my plants gleam like jewels in a jewelry case.

  • Lisa Lloyd
    Comment added August 26, 2018Reply

    Love the part about projects witwith the flowers. I’m a big advocate of using nature’s beauty for others to enjoy!

  • Lana Kellen
    Comment added August 26, 2018Reply

    I've raised heirloom flowers nearly 20 years now. I love them as they are resilient and oh so different from what my neighbors have so our house stands out. I have poppies, irises, marvel of peru, black eyed susans, purple coneflower, love in a puff and a mist, kaiserskroon tulips, love lies bleeding, frau druski rose and apothecary roses, naked ladies, sweet autumn clematis, daylilies and so much more!

    The best I can recommend is stand back and let them go. Every few years I dig some out and share with friends and family. This helps keep the plants healthy by reducing overcrowding.

  • Connie LaBarr
    Comment added August 26, 2018Reply

    Flowers have been my passion for my entire lifetime. As a child, I grew what is nxow called’heirloom flowers’ in a dry and dusty area near our farmhouse. Weeds wouldn’t even grow there, but many of my flowers did!
    My favorite heirloom flower is the Seven Sisters rose bush. We had one in our front yard in the 1940’s. I have been unable to locate any of them in the past years. I did go to a garden tour in an Iowa Amish community, where they advertised that they had a Seven Sisters rose bush, but when I arrived at the home, they didn’t actually have one.

  • Peta
    Comment added August 23, 2018Reply

    I have recently discovered these beautiful hellebores and planted spectacular dark purple flowers for my winter shady garden. So far they’re growing great. I actually don’t know if they’re heritage, but they kind of are to me ???

  • heather padilla
    Comment added August 23, 2018Reply

    I have never grown any type of heirloom flowers, but would love to add them to my garden in the future.

  • Brenda Linsell
    Comment added August 23, 2018Reply

    One plant I think of as heirloom in my garden that seems to do quite well despite my neglect is Daphne - the fragrance in the dead months of winter is such a wonderful boost. Mine are both planted under Maple trees - maybe this has something to do with their abundance?

  • Ridge Hill Farm
    Comment added August 22, 2018Reply

    Like most other gardeners, I have experience growing heirloom tomatoes and the flowers that are available at regular plant nurseries, and no experience growing heirloom flowers. It sounds very intriguing and I would greatly appreicate the opportunity to learn more about it. Thank you!

  • Dee Geary
    Comment added August 22, 2018Reply

    I have grown heirloom tomatoes. I am looking forward to growing heirloom flowers!

  • Karen
    Comment added August 22, 2018Reply

    I think the heirloom flowers look, smell and are just the most beautiful of all the types of flowers and veggies, however trying to find them is hard as I'm not a big internet shopper and I haven't found any in Florida yet.

  • ireene marx
    Comment added August 21, 2018Reply

    Think the oldies are more robust and longer lasting. And they make me think that I'm such a great gardener.

  • Janet
    Comment added August 20, 2018Reply

    I have not grown heirloom flowers. I'm interested in preservation. I believe it's important. I am happy others are educating us about heirloom flowers too. Thank you.

  • Oldspice
    Comment added August 20, 2018Reply

    I have not grown heirloom flowers, but have wanted to for ages! I love to garden and my favorites are the flowers because of the beauty they hold.

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