Monday, June 16, 2008

The "Grandma" Flowers

Petunias. Marigolds. Ditch Lilies. Red Salvia. Ageratum. Portulaca. Geraniums. What do these flowers have in common?

Your grandmother probably grew them. Maybe your mother, too. When you walk into a garden center, do you stop and ooh and ahh over them? Or do you do like I do and give them a cursory glance and walk right past them?

Somewhere along the way, petunias and marigolds became boring. Ditch lilies got taken for granted. Red Salvia and purple Ageratum became
cliché. Portulaca, or Moss Rose, perhaps bears too much resemblance to its cousin, that persistent weed, Purslane. Geraniums, which aren't really geraniums at all, but Pelargoniums, have just graced one too many window boxes.

But really now, how DID these plants become so overused and landscape abused? Just why did Grandma plant them every year? For as despised as some of them are, they are also:

  • Easy to grow
  • Colorful
  • Dependable
  • Heat and drought tolerant
  • Inexpensive
  • Readily available
  • Generally pest-free

When we look at what we want to grow in our gardens, aren't these characteristics the ones we want in a plant? But familiarity breeds contempt and while we may grow these in our own gardens, they aren't high on our list of favorites and they aren't the ones that we drag garden visitors over to see.

"Oh, come look at these ditch lilies! Don't they just have the most perfect blooms you've ever seen? [and they do] And look at that orange - so pure and bright! [and it is]"

There are new cultivars being introduced all the time. There must be a gazillion different petunias out there, and with the introduction of 'The Wave' petunias, they're gaining new respect.
But I say, respect your elders and the flowers they grew.

It's time we quit trash-talking flowers.
Grow the latest and greatest things in your garden - I do. But don't forget these tried and true oldies! They're part of our history and they've earned and deserve a spot in everyone's garden.

Grow some Ageratum and get down on your hands and knees and marvel at their intense blue-purple color and their fuzzy flowery finery. I'll bet when you visited Grandma's house as a child, you thought they were cool. That's because they were. And they still are.

Make new friends,

but keep the old.

One is silver,

the other is gold.

Photo Credits: Salvia from Texas A&M; Portulaca from Sunrise Seeds; Ditch Lilies from Gardeners Network; Ageratum from Alan's Flower Farm.


growingagardenindavis said...

A wonderful post about some very nice flowers...portulaca is one of my favorites...wonder why I don't have any right now??

mr_subjunctive said...

Got to agree about Portulaca -- they're awesome. Ageratum? Well, let's agree to disagree.

Karen said...

I love this post as it is so true these flowers are generally not favorites of most gardeners, but I do have all of these in my garden because they are dependable and if you take another close look at them they are still lovely.

Roses and Lilacs said...

I will always remember my Grandmother's garden. We played in it, ate fruit right off the trees/vines. She love petunias, sweet peas, and red geraniums. Good times.

About the purslane. Eat it. It's crunchy, tastes pretty good and is very, very good for you.

Unknown said...

So true! Actually, I grow most of them in my garden. I haven't gone a year without these staples. Anything that gorgeous can never go out of style, can they?

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I like the old-fashioned tall Ageratum, it's the modern dwarf types that lack character that I don't like. I used to grow Portulaca in containers. I don't know why I don't anymore. It's funny, my mom has been planting Red Salvia with Dusty Miller for as long as I can remember. This year I talked her into changing the Dusty Miller to 'Icicles' instead. We'll see if she likes it.

Anonymous said...

An affirming post. I wouldn't be without my "grandma's" flowers because they require the least work from me and deliver the biggest bang for the buck. The next time I feel apologetic for my black-eyed Susans, I'll remember your post.

Anonymous said...

I have tons of petunias in my containers because cheap, colorful, low maintenance, and almost impossible to kill are all key attributes of any plant that's going to survive in my garden. I also have Ageratum planted this year for the first time and I'm really enjoying it.

Unknown said...

Ditch Lilies. Now that is a new term on me. Never heard hemerocallis called "Ditch Lily." I can see why it got that name though.
One of my favorite summer past times is to drive the back country roads and come upon places that have hemerocallis growing, as sure sign that a farmhouse once stood somewhere close. Then I try and imagine where it sat, and how the farm looked when the hemerocallis was planted.
I learned a new term today!

Unknown said...

Portulaca is one of my favorites! And I'm with mr_subjunctive on the subject of ageratum... they just don't seem to do much in my garden for some reason.

But you did forget one, Kylee: Snapdragons! Forget teaching the kids how to work the dragons' "mouths" open and shut, I like to play with them in my yard, too. :)

Robin's Nesting Place said...

I love the tried and true old faithfuls. Zinnias and cosmos are others that are so easy to grow and common as dirt, I don't ever want to have a garden without them.

Kylee Baumle said...

Leslie ~ Hey, it's still early! Go get some portulaca! (I love saying that word, too.)

Mr Subjunctive ~ Portulacas aren't my favorites, but I winter sowed some just because my grandma loves them. As far as Ageratums go, I don't think I've ever had any in my gardens. I might have, when I was a kid and had a flower garden for 4H.

Karen ~ I'm glad to hear you have these in your garden! I'm with you - they ARE lovely. But I've not met too many plants that I could say I do NOT like. ;-)

Marnie ~ I knew you could eat purslane, but I'd never tried it. I was weeding earlier today so I thought I would take your suggestion and try it. Nice crunch! And it just tasted 'salady' so I could see how you could put it in a salad.

Mr McGregor's Daughter ~ I'll have to check out the Ageratum you are talking about. I only know the dwarf one.

Red Salvia and Dusty Miller! I actually forgot about that combo! Oh yes...I've seen that grown over and over. I saved my 'Icicles' from last year and they wintered over very well! I wasn't sure they would. Right now, they have been almost totally stripped by two caterpillars of the American Lady butterfly. I hope they haven't killed them altogether!

Pam ~ Oh, black-eyed Susans, too! We have a fair amount of those because my husband loves them. But this spring they are threatening to consume one of the flower beds, so I'll be dividing them and sharing.

Heather ~ And petunias self-seed prolifically! There are quite a few gorgeous varieties, especially the doubles. They're very fragrant, too.

Rick ~ I've only heard the term 'ditch lily' in the last couple of years, as I've read gardening blogs and forums. But like you, I can understand why they're called that. And I do the same thing whenever I see drifts of any of the old-fashioned flowers.

Kim ~ Snapdragons...or as my husband calls them - Dragonsnaps. LOL. I did plant some by seed this year.

Robin ~ I've always grown Cosmos and Zinnias, too. I just love them. This year, I planted white Cosmos with Green Envy Zinnias. We'll see how that works out!

Yolanda Elizabet Heuzen said...

The red salvias I loath, all the others are fine and quite a few grow in my garden, cliche or not. ;-)

Norm Deplume said...

I've always been a big fan of old fashioned gardens. I have a super soft spot for lilacs and peonies and hollyhocks, as those are what my grandmothers grew.

Aiyana said...

Plant popularity comes and goes in cycles--like fads. I was thinking the other day how plants that were familiar in every garden and landscape in the late 50s and 60s are seldom seen nowadays. I've often wondered why, but have come to the conclusion that plants are like fashion--here today and gone tomorrow, only to be back if you live long enough!
Interesting post.

Rose said...

Excellent post, Kylee! I've been behind in reading posts, and I'm so glad I didn't miss this one. I still like these flowers, particularly the geraniums. Old-fashioned or not, there are some places where nothing else will do. Your poem at the end says it all.

Muum said...

I've heard the old daylilies called ditch lilies before. One of my personal 'old fashioned' faves is nasturtiums. For some reason, they 'have ' to be in my veggie garden. Just 'cause my mom grew them, and I love them.

Unknown said...

I read this post earlier and neglected to comment on it, Kylee. I really, really like that you give accolades to the oldies-but-goodies...I have more than a few of them in my garden and wouldn't be without them, no matter how besotted with hot new interesting plants I might be. And I love the quote about friends, too. Nicely done!

Jane O' said...

I love your post. I grow evreything but the ageratum. I like it's color but not the way it grows, close to the ground, barely visible. I'm a big hybrid daylily grower but I still have "ditch lilie" growing around the foundation of the house. My house is 107 years old and they were here before I was. I figured it wasn't up to me to remove them. They serve a purpose, hiding an ugly foundation. I guess the previous "grandmas" knew best. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

Kerri said...

I love them all, and grow them all, except the red Salvia, but not because I don't like it.
Geraniums and petunias especially are high on my list of favorites.
I didn't really know either of my grandmothers, but my mom grew most of these flowers. She's the gardener who inspired me :)

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