Old Favorites: Heirloom Flowers add To A Garden’s Charm

A riot of colors peeking through a white-washed picket fence, a creaky screen door, a gravel path, and random scents both pungent and sweet… Images, sounds, touch, and smells evoke gardens of our childhood, or pictures in crumbling albums of smiling men and women in linen suits, voile dresses, and straw hats seated in a summer garden.

Why is it that our 21st century gardens so little resemble those gardens of our childhood and our predecessors? What happened to the flowers and shrubs of the last century? Could it be that plants, like clothing, go in and out of fashion? Whether we call them “vintage” or “heirloom” or “classic” blooms, there are flowers we associate with days gone by; sweet peas and phlox, tea roses and lilacs. Perhaps it’s time to dust off those vintage gardening hats, sharpen those old tools, and set ourselves the task of reintroducing some “old beauties” to our modern gardens and flowerbeds.

Old-fashioned flowers have a few things in common. First, they’re hardy, not easily done in by an early cold snap, drought, or rainy summer. Second, they’re easy to propagate. Some simply need to be left alone; they’ll drop their seeds into the soil, and the spring will deliver fresh flowering plants. Or, they die back, looking like sculptures under the blanket of snow. Then, in the spring, new growth surges up from the seemingly dead plant and before long, fresh, lush flowers emerge. Third, they invite picking. Perhaps for wedding bouquets, flowers for the sickroom, nosegays for the Saturday night dance, or the prom. Families relied on their own “cutting gardens” for the flowers that brightened tables and dresses for every important occasion.

Bridal veil spirea, a shrub with long, flowing branches laden with tiny, white flowers like pearls on a necklace, was named for its use. The supple branches could be woven into a crown to secure a bride’s veil. Sometimes daisies and Baby’s breath were added to the circlet. Gladiolas were mainstays for church altar flowers, tall and stately, with lots of colors from which to fashion a funeral or baptismal arrangement. And Tea Roses were perfect, in all their blousy splendor; bowls of fragrant beauties graced dining room tables all summer long.

When summer drew to a close, baskets and shears were taken out to the garden, where the last roses of summer, the Cockscomb and Hydrangea, Baby’s Breath and Silver Dollars, Lavender and Bee Balm, were gathered. Bunches of these last blooms of summer would be tied with ribbon or twine and hung upside down in the pantry or under the stairs. Before long, these dried flowers and herbs could be taken down and arranged in vases and baskets to decorate the house or give as gifts.

So, let’s consider how to introduce some old-fashioned beauties into our 21st century gardens easily.

Hollyhocks are a personal favorite. Among the most ancient flowers, remnants of Hollyhocks have been discovered in Neanderthal graves dating back 50,000 years. These stately flowers were prized by Colonists as well. The English settlers brought Hollyhock seeds to the New World and gave them as gifts to the Cherokee. Growing up to eight or nine feet tall, Hollyhock flowers begin halfway up the stalk, just above the green foliage; the profuse blooms cover the stalk with crape-like, fluted blooms in a variety of colors—wine, red, yellow, purple, peach, and white, to name a few. Hollyhocks are easy to plant from seeds, but the plants won’t flower until the second summer, unless you buy hybrid varieties. They like lots of sun, and plan to stake the stalks unless they can lean against a wall or fence for support. While each plant only lasts two to three years, they’ll self-seed and keep your garden well supplied with new generations of Hollyhocks.

Other tall, old favorites are Delphinium, also called Larkspur, and Foxglove. Both plants are three to four feet tall with masses of individual flowers erupting from the sturdy stalk. Both Delphinium and Foxglove bloom from late spring throughout the summer. If blooms are left on the plant, they will reseed the garden, and new plants will fill-in the flowerbed. Like Hollyhocks, these beauties will not flower until the second summer, but once your bed of plants begin to self-seed, you’ll enjoy beautiful blooms every summer. Another benefit: Deer and rabbits don’t care to munch on them.

Spider flowers and Sunflowers are, perhaps, more familiar to most of us. Unlike the multi-blossom Hollyhocks or Delphinium, Spider Flowers have large, single blooms made up of tiny flowerets and long stamen in shades of pink or white. The plant stalks wave in the breeze with the weight of the blooms at their tips. Spider flowers remind me of those gently swaying sculptures of David Smith or Alexander Calder, gracefully nodding and bobbing in the breezes. Sunflowers are rather more stiff-necked, but equally lovely. Since you can get sunflowers that grow to only two to three inches, or as tall as eight to 10 inches, they can serve as garden landmarks or charming members of a flowerbed. Their blooms, too, move, but not with the breezes. Rather the sunflower turns its face to the sun, following the great, golden disk across the sky.

Other familiar, old friends are Lily of the Valley, blossoming in early spring, and lovely additions to your shady, woodland areas. Forget-me-nots (Myosotis) are another pretty addition to the early spring garden. The small, open-faced blooms are usually blue, but you can find pink and white varieties, too. References to these sweet flowers can be found as early as the 14th century. Violets, too, deserve a second glance. We’ve banned them from our gardens because of their pesky proliferation, but if you don’t mind keeping an eye on the wandering ones, violets are perfect greenery and flowers for low borders and as fillers where nothing seems to want to grow.

Summer vining flowers need not be feared. Old favorites like Sweet peas and Morning glories are lovely, delicate vines laden with pink or blue flowers all summer long. Sweet peas also have a lovely fragrance, and snipping lengths of the vine, you can create a pretty arrangement of curling tendrils dotted with small, pink flowers. The delicate scent adds to the charm of the arrangement on your table.

If you’re looking for some late summer pop in your garden, again, there are old friends ready to volunteer. Zinnias are almost foolproof flowers you can plant from seed. They come in bright colors, and produce lots of flowers that are just tall enough to cut for bouquets. Marigolds will bloom most of the summer and into the autumn if you remember to pinch off the dead flowers. They have the added advantage of repelling mosquitoes, and other pests, or at least they’re purported to do so. Chrysanthemum are lifesavers in the fall garden. They fill the garden with medium-size flowers, gold being the most popular color. A single bloom can become a vaseful of color.

Finally, I dare not end without mentioning some vintage shrubs. I’ve discussed Bridal Veil Spirea, but didn’t mention Hydrangea. There are more than 70 varieties, and they’ve remained popular in our gardens over the centuries. Their large flowers vary in colors from pale pink to deep blue and violet, depending on the acidity of the soil in which the bush is planted. The lovely flowers, composed of tiny blossoms, are easy to dry, and make stunning winter arrangements. Forsythia is an almost indestructible beauty in the early spring garden, with branches lined with bright yellow flowers shooting like fireworks out into the late winter desolation. Forsythia are easy to control with some carefree pruning, and easy to propagate by simply sticking a few pruned branches in water for a week or so—voila! The branches will root, and you’ll stick the bunch into the ground. No fuss, no muss. Witch hazel, with its very early, yellow blossoms also offers your garden an easy, reliable old favorite; and who knows, you might even try making your own lotion or medicinal tea from your shrub.

I’m going to mention our familiar friends the Lilacs and Wisteria, even though they’ve never fallen out of favor in our gardens. They always deserve recognition for the multi-sensual joy they bring to our eyes, noses, and hearts each spring. Dripping with grape-like flowers, the Wisteria vines and trees leave us in awe. And our old faithful Lilacs encourage us to pluck those lilacs and pile them in vases and baskets to fill our homes with that delightful, familiar fragrance.

I’m sure you could add some sweet, old friends to this list, and, of course, I didn’t even touch upon the bulbs we plant each fall, and which delight us as harbingers of spring. But we’ll save them for another time. Whether you choose to go retro in your garden, or just enjoy harkening back to those dear gardens of bygone days, we who have access to flowers and gardens are among the luckiest of people.

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Some friends have expressed an interest in what I write about for Lancaster Farming. Here’s a recent example:

  August 3, 2019

Forum Highlights New Biotechnology Regulations

Janice F. Booth Maryland Correspondent

President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order Modernizing the Regulatory Framework for Agricultural Biotechnology Products on June 11. The affected agencies — USDA, Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency — are halfway to the first 90-day review and evaluation deadline to comply with that order.

In part, the order reads, “Every 90 days after the date of this order, for a period of two years, each of the agencies shall provide an update regarding its progress in implementing section six of this order” Section six is the review of current authorities, regulations and guidance of “genome-edited-specialty- crop-plant products designed to have significant health, agricultural or environmental benefits, in particular those that are likely to benefit rural communities significantly.”

That review specifically focuses on streamlining, speeding up and eliminating the regulatory process for biotech products.

The Farm Foundation held a forum on this order in Washington, D.C., on July 23.

Representatives from the government were asked to speak about the short- and long-term impacts of a streamlined regulatory regime on: 1. The research process, 2. Crop and livestock producers, 3. The international trade environment.

Megan Provost, Farm Foundation vice president of policy and programs, moderated the forum. The speakers were:

  • Stanley Abramson, Esq., cochair of the Life Sciences Group for the Arent Fox Law Firm in Washington, D.C.
  • Fan-Li Chou, Ph.D., biology coordinator in the Office of Pest Management Policy at USDA.
  • Laura R. Epstein, J.D., senior policy advisor, Office of the Center Director at FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.
  • Michael Mendelsohn, chief of the EPA’s Emerging Technologies Branch in the Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division of the Office of Pesticide Programs.

The representatives were to focus on examining current policies at their agencies, exploring and analyzing alternative policy options, and voicing new proposals.

Abramson, who was involved in the 1986 institution of the original biotechnology regulatory framework, spoke about the development of biotech resources worldwide and the impact of the international biotech markets on his clients. He pointed out that in 2017, 469 million acres of biotechnologically modified crops were planted worldwide. Sixty-seven countries, according to Abramson, regulate biotech products and have approved over 4,000 products. Between 1996 and 2017, 6 billion acres of biotech crops have been planted and $186 billion in economic gains can be identified. Those gains were shared by 17 million farms, and 95% of those farms were in underdeveloped countries.

Abramson emphasized that all these modified products were “without any evidence that any of these products have had adverse effects to health, safety or the environment.”

Abramson sees two challenges facing the USDA, the FDA and the EPA. First, selecting the right level of product oversight, if at all, and second, “avoiding duplicative and overlapping agency jurisdictions.”

EPA’s Mendelsohn has worked with the regulation of biopesticides for 30 years. He noted that the EPA is evaluating ways to streamline the approval process for low-risk products to get them to market more quickly and efficiently.

“An area (the EPA) may evaluate is a limited subset of plant incorporated protectants,” he said. Mendelsohn also suggested that EPA may continue to develop streamlined regulatory requirements for plant incorporated protectants.

Epstein, with the FDA, pointed out that FDA deals with biotechnology that involves plants and animals. Her work is specifically with animals. The FDA monitors products for safety for both the animal and the consumer as well as the product’s effectiveness. Epstein reviewed adjustments that have already been implemented in FDA’s reviews of biotech products.

Changes in the regulation of intentional genomic alteration “will clarify risk-based approach, eliminate confusing jargon, (and) respond to commenters’ concerns,” she said.

Epstein emphasized the FDA’s guidance for industry approach to regulation. She said that the FDA will help sponsors of biotech products to prepare the material for submission. The evaluation process can even be paused.

“We can ‘stop the clock’ and help developers through the process, then restart the process again,” she said.

Epstein was keen to clarify for farmers some of the misconceptions circulating about farms involved with IGAs. She noted that farms that are simply raising animals containing IGAs are not drug manufacturing facilities, do not have to register with FDA, are not required to report adverse events to FDA and do not need FDA approval to breed animals with IGAs with other animals.

As part of the FDA’s efforts to streamline procedures, there is a new Veterinary Innovation Program. The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine has developed a kit to guide sponsors seeking approval.

USDA’s Chou emphasized Agriculture Secretary Perdue’s mantra, “Do right; see everyone.” With that mission, the USDA’s approach to regulating biotech products endeavors to: 1. Insure there is a market for the product.

  1. Insure agriculture biotech tools are safe and effective.

3 . Develop biotech tools for agriculture.

  1. Maintain and gain market access for biotech products.

The oversight and regulation of biotech products, according to USDA, “should be based on the best available scientific knowledge, and both encourage innovation and advance oversight and protection goals.”

Chou pointed to a USDA regulatory proposal memo of June 15, in which two mandates regarding regulatory and market access were acknowledged; first, how to promote international engagement, and second, the need for an international trade strategy to remove barriers to America’s marketing of its biotech products.

Among the questions from the audience were concerns about deadlines and completion dates for the publication of regulations. Chou emphasized that the executive order covers a two year period and that each 90-day review would include reports on progress and plans for ongoing adjustments.

The USDA anticipates completing their biotech regulatory review sometime in 2020.

Epstein pointed out that FDA is coupling outreach with regulatory changes. She acknowledged that the industry needs certainty, and the FDA will do its best to provide that certainty expeditiously.

Mendelsohn pointed to the example of EPA’s handling of genomeedited PIPs and the streamlined review process implemented in that case.

Janice F. Booth is a freelance writer in Maryland.

Copyright (c)2019 Lancaster Farming, Edition 8/3/2019



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A Crazy Quilt of Handy Hints for Gardeners


What's Up? Media

Jul. 12, 2019

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My June gardens column for What’s Up? Magazine

Watching Your Garden’s Diet: Choosing the right nourishment for plants

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May’s garden column for What’s Up? Magazine

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