Heirlooms Tell a Story

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Do you have a plant that reminds you of someone whenever you see it? You may not even have to see it; the fragrance will instantly transport you to another place, even if your eyes are closed.

It could be the perfume of roses that long ago covered a trellis you knew. Or the smell of lavender and thyme as you walked a stone pathway. Peonies are like that for me. They remind me of my grandmother. I have the very plants she grew on her Ohio farm decades ago.

Well, not the exact plants but the divisions of those plants. My parents dug those tubers from her farm when she sold it and I divided the tubers from their home and moved some to mine. I savor the same double pale pink fragrant Sarah Bernhardt blooms my grandparents and parents enjoyed.

Saving seeds and dividing favorite plants are ways we remember friends and family. It also preserves rare and valuable varieties that otherwise would be lost. The plants themselves give a starting place for telling stories. I’ll keep tending my heirlooms until my kids want a garden of their own, and the heritage will continue.

A few years ago my sisters and I traveled with my father to Kentucky to visit the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. On that trip, we came upon an old kitchen garden. Most of it had gone to seed. We found some seeds that looked like chaff. I planted them the following spring, just to see what would appear. All of the seedlings came up.

Bright, Sunny (and Edible) Calendula

It turned out the plants were calendula. Yellow calendula officinalis dates to Mediaeval times. It was grown in ancient monastery medicinal gardens. It’s also known as pot marigold.

Herbalists still value calendula as a medicinal plant. I like it because it self-seeds every year in my kitchen garden and blooms all season. The flowers are bright, cheery, and edible.

The calendula story is still ongoing in my family. My brother admired the plants I placed at my Dad’s house, so he took a few. My nephew admired the yellow flowers growing in my brother’s garden, so he dug some up on the spot and took them to his new house. Calendula will fill in a space nicely and is not fussy.

This year a good friend gave me some heirloom tomato plants she grew from seed. She was very specific about the varieties she chose. The Black Cherry we admired in a Portland garden last year. The Weeping Charlie was chosen in memory of her father, Charlie. It’s a rare heirloom. If mine does well, I’ll save the seed, and maybe grow some for her next year.

Meet Jennifer Bartley

Jennifer Bartley grew up on a ravine near an ancient Indian mound. She remembers spending glorious childhood days picking wildflowers and playing in an old,…

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