For many gardeners, heirloom flowers awaken childhood memories of a bygone era and loved ones long departed. Snapdragons and trumpet vines take me back to summer evenings on my grandparent’s porch. It was a simpler time. The lack of air conditioning and summertime TV reruns pushed us outdoors where we caught small glimpses of nature interspersed among the surrounding city life.
Like many 20th century grandmothers, mine had a vintage flower garden where she grew her prized roses. Other old-fashioned flowers filled the small spaces of her city lot. It was an era of economy. Perennials had to be easy to grow and annuals readily self-seeded. Many gardeners are returning to this ideology of heirloom flower gardening. Let’s take a glimpse back at some of these old-fashioned flowers which graced the gardens of our childhood.
Heirloom Flower Gardening Favorites
Roses are the quintessential gardening flower. These delicate buds and blossoms have been cultivated for over 5,000 years. While it’s easy to consider varieties such as the Peace rose to be an old-fashioned flower, this 1945 introduced rose is a modern hybrid. True old-fashioned garden roses existed before 1867 when the first modern hybrid rose, La France, was introduced. For a vintage flower garden containing heirloom roses, consider Gallica, Damask or a Bourbon rose.
Hollyhocks are a mainstay of old-fashioned cottage gardens. These giant wonders may be short-lived but their ability to self-seed keeps them coming back. Heirloom hollyhocks are available in a multitude of colors and blossom types from the Chaters Double White variety to the Black Watchman hollyhock flowers grown by Thomas Jefferson.
Rudbeckia heirloom varieties extends beyond the traditional yellow flowering black-eyed Susan. Try Cherry Brandy for a brilliant red blossom or Chocolate Orange for a truly spectacular color combination. Rudbeckia is great for naturalizing in fields or rustic-looking areas of the garden.
Cleome is one my personal favorites. Also called spider flower, these proficient blooming heirloom flowers are easy to grow and readily self-seed. Their white, pink and lavender blossoms are long-lasting and fill the garden space with color from mid-summer until frost.
Sweet peas are classic heirloom flowers with a fragrance as reminiscent of grandma as were her chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven. Often grown as cutting flowers, their multicolored blossoms can fill the house with a sweet flowery aroma. Try Erewhon, Blue Shift or America for fragrant and beautiful blossoming Sweet Pea varieties.
Giant sunflowers are truly the sentinels of heirloom flower gardening. A vintage garden hardly seems complete without these mammoths of the flowering world following the sun’s path with their seed-bearing heads. Although there are more than 70 varieties of sunflowers available, the 12- to 14-foot (3.6 to 4.3 m.) tall single-headed Giant Sunflower variety is a popular pick for evoking those special memories of granny’s garden!