Heirloom Flowers: Floral Poetry
By J.Lynne Moore
Over the past few years the hobby of preserving and growing heirloom flowers has become more mainstream. The beauty and intricacies of these ancient strains of flora are certainly well worth the effort it takes to maintain them.
A lane of Yellow led the eye
Unto a Purple Wood
Whose soft inhabitants to be
If Bird the silence contradict
Or flower presume to show
In that low summer of the West
Impossible to know –
by Emily Dickinson
What are heirloom flowers or seeds? Well the exact definition is a bit hard to pin down. There seems to be a great deal of debate on exactly how to categorize them. However, the most basic definition of heirloom seeds/plants/flowers are ones that are “open pollinated” and documented to have been nurtured and cared for from one generation to the next within a family or small community. To be considered “open pollinated” they must be pollinated by insects, birds, wind or other natural means. The plants must retain the original traits of the parent plant or stay “breed true”. Most heirloom enthusiasts agree on the definition up to this point, however the “date point” is what causes the most debate. The general rule of thumb is that seeds that date back to the end of WWII, around 1945 to 1950 can be considered heirloom; others believe they should be at least 100 years old.
My Pretty Rose Tree
A flower was offered to me;
Such a flower as May never bore.
But I said I’ve a Pretty Rose-tree.
And I passed the sweet flower o’er.
Then I went to my Pretty Rose-tree:
To tend her by day and by night.
But my Rose turnd away with jealousy:
And her thorns were my only delight.
by William Blake
There is another category of heirloom flowers and that is “commercial heirlooms”. These seeds have been documented as heirlooms, many of them having been acquired from the families that cultivated them or from seed companies that went out of business.
One place you can observe all the splendor and beauty of heirloom flowers is at The Smithsonian Heirloom Garden, located at the National Museum of American History, Behring Center. Here are just a few of the magnificent flowers you can encounter:
In the Spring:
Jupiter’s Beard: This delicate flower blooms all summer long and is a Mediterranean native.
Johnny-jump-ups or Violas: This brightly colored flower was known to have been put in potions to ease the heart.
In the Summer:
Moonshine Yarrow: This golden flower is very popular today although it is fairly new in terms of heirloom as it only dates back to the 1950.
Rose campion: These colorful and bushy plants date back to the 1700’s, Thomas Jefferson grew them in his garden and their thick leaves were used as lamp wicks.
In the Fall:
Japanese anemone or “Queen Charlotte”: The first appearance of this lovely flower in America was in 1907, however, it dates back to 1898 in Germany.
True forget-me-not: The forget-me-not is prevalent in mythology and ancient lore. It is said that it got its name from a knight who was picking the flowers by a stream, he fell in the water and drown due to his armor but before he perished he tossed the bouquet of flowers to his love and said, “forget me not”.
Ring along the lane
Catch the rain
Filled with nectar
Rose hip gems
Morning glory sundial
Signals the marrow
by J.Lynne Moore
Investing in the cultivation of heirloom seeds is just one way to preserve our heritage and our history, not just American history, but the history of the world.
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