Ahhh!!! Spring and early summer! The time of year that stirs our mind, spirit and body into venturing outdoors and communing with nature. So you rise up, arm yourself with tools and head out to tackle the weeds, pruning and edging. After all of the ‘grunt’ work is done you head to the stores to buy your beloved summer plants. Buying plants that have been pampered in greenhouses to look their very best to entice you to buy them. At home, you follow all the rules for Southern gardening: Till the clay. Amend your soil with sand and peat moss. Mix in some all-purpose fertilizer. Plant your summer selections and water. Then the heat comes and quite possibly a drought. Or perhaps too much rain. In no time at all those lovely summer plants are not well or worse — not even alive! There is an alternative. All one has to do is look back into the history of southern gardening. The answer is southern heirloom plants. Heirloom plants are those plants that were most commonly cultivated in southern gardens many generations ago. They are still around today because they are fool proof. They have survived countless summers of heat, drought, poor soil and in many cases great neglect. Many heirloom plants provide great color and fragrance, too. With just a little research on your part you can make a better investment in your landscape and save yourself some work in the process. Heirlooms are generally low-maintenance and disease-resistant. They would have to be to survive throughout the ages!
Just keep in mind the following plant categories when planning your heirloom garden: Ephemerals are those plants that will literally disappear into the ground by fall or early winter, The placement of these plants or bulbs will need to be marked so you can remember where they are. Deciduous plants will remain visible in your garden throughout the year but will lose their foliage in the winter.
Roswell Garden Club has researched local historic plants. and here are some examples of heirloom plants that have lived and thrived in Roswell for more than 150 years. In the Ephemeral category there arc Lilies of the Valley, Star of Bethlehem, Spanish Blue Bells, Grape Hyacinth, Tiger Lilies, Iris, Blackberry Lilies. Jonquils and Violets. Deciduous specimens include Bridal Wreath, Mock Orange, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Dogwood, Flowering Quince, Wisteria, and Flowering Almond. Evergreen plants providing an all-season interest in the garden are Southern Magnolia, Spanish Bayonet (Yucca), Gardenia, Camellia, Mahonia and Boxwood.
These plants have all been identified as being on historic properties in Roswell. Many are available at local specialty nurseries or through area plant societies. Many of these clubs having plant sales in the spring and fall, along with garden tours this time of year which is an excellent source for purchasing these varieties. At these events you can ask the experts about the plant to confirm its exact growing conditions and eventual size. Best of all-they were most likely propagated from local heirloom plants so they come from very good, reliable stock!
If you would like to see many of these plants in action, treat yourself to tours of the various historic homes in Roswell that are open to the public. All have period gardens and plants for you to inspect and enjoy.
For those of you hungry for more knowledge-join a garden club. The Roswell Garden Club meets monthly from September to May and is involved in many community garden projects. As members participate and work on these projects, they learn many aspects of Southern gardening and can apply this knowledge to their own gardens. Plus it’s great fun to network with other garden enthusiasts. In the meantime, start incorporating heirloom plants in your garden. While you’re saving time, energy and money, you will be creating your own legends.