The Return to Old Fashioned Plants
Believe it or not when it comes to
garden plants, what's new is hot and what's old is hot too! At
the same time many gardeners are craving new and unusual plants
for their landscapes others are returning to those that Grandmother
grew. What has made these old fashioned plants so popular? Is
it nostalgia, genetic vigor, or the fact that these long forgotten
plants now seem new and novel as well?
And what does old fashioned mean,
anyway? Do old fashioned, heirloom, and antique all mean the same
thing? The answers to these questions can be summed up in three
words...yes, no, and maybe!
Nostalgia certainly plays some part
in this garden revival. It has been fairly common this past decade
for people, gardeners and non-gardeners alike, to long for the
"good old days" when plants were tough and gardens were pretty.
Back before MTV, videos, and talking computers, when people had
a good time just sitting by the cape jasmine or shelling peas
in the yard. It's one of the reasons the look of the old fashioned
cottage garden is back in style. A carefree, floriferous garden
seems to impart a relaxed feeling to the viewer. These old fashioned
gardens or "period gardens" are also popular surrounding restored
homes, serving as living antiques to create a overall feeling
of times past.
And with out a doubt, the genetic
vigor of species plants and early hybrids can't be ignored. Many
of our most enduring garden plants are selections from the wild
or relatively simple crosses allowing hybrid vigor to express
itself. This is shown very dramatically in both bulbs and roses
for the South. In the on going "green age", gardeners want low
maintenance plants that don't require special sprays and fertilizers.
In addition, most working families don't have time to pamper finicky
plants. That's why time tested, old fashioned plants that have
managed to survived to this day are in demand for modern gardens.
If they can survive in abandoned lots, cemeteries, and long-ignored
gardens, surely they stand a chance in an occasionally attended
But it's also hard to ignore the
fact that gardeners always want what they don't have, whether
it will grow or not. In this particular case, people are craving
such items as old fashioned petunias, blue Roman hyacinths, and
St. Joseph's lily because they can't get them. So, in a sense,
these old plants are like brand new plants, popular because of
limited availability and being "novel." Historically when plants
are easy to grow and widely grown, they're no longer wanted. It's
the reason many of these living antiques are now hard to come
OK, what's the difference between
old, heirloom, and antique? Actually there's no accepted standard
definition for these terms when it comes to plants. They are essentially
used interchangeably in the horticultural world. Technically,
heirloom mean something that has been passed down through the
generations. And there are certainly a number of "pass a long"
plants that fit into this category. As far as old and antique
go the differences are even more subtle. Webster's Dictionary
even gives "old fashioned" as a definition of antique. Forest
Gump and Tom Bodett both agree, however, that a plant is old if
your mamma used to grow it and antique if your grandmothers did.
Still yet, the American Rose Society
adds another twist. According to their "rules", a rose is considered
an Old Garden Rose if it was introduced before 1867, the introduction
date of the first hybrid tea rose. However, in his book Perennial
Garden Color, Bill Welch says "most collectors consider any rose
75 or more years old, and having typical "old rose" characteristics,
to be eligible. Others place the cut off at 50 years.
The bottom line is that there are
no set definitions. If it seems old it is, and if it doesn't it
isn't... but may be to someone else.
Some of the old fashioned-antique-heirloom
plants that are currently experiencing a wave of popularity include:
old fashioned petunias (Petunia x hybrida), coxcomb (Celosia cristata),
blue Roman hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis albulus), St. Joseph's
lily (Hippeastrum x johnsonii), campernelle jonquil (Narcissus
x odorus), purple Jew (Setcresea pallida 'Purple Heart'), milk
and wine lilies (Crinum hybrids), perennial verbenas (Verbena
x hybrida), hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla), Byzantine gladiolus
(Gladiolus byzantinus), lantana (Lantana species and hybrids),
and Chinese trumpet creeper (Campsis grandiflora) to name a few.
Regardless of the definitions, plants
that have survived for hundreds, sometimes even thousands of years,
certainly deserve a place in Texas gardens. After all, they've
earned it don't you think?