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Milberger's Nursery and Landscaping
3920 North Loop 1604 E.
San Antonio, TX 78247

Open 9 to 6 Mon. through Sat.
and 10 to 5 on Sun.

Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604
Next to the Diamond Shamrock station
Please click map for more detailed map and driving directions.

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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 urban garden.

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 by.

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?