Mother Earth Gardener

Family Heirlooms: Hops, Gold Dust, Peonies, and More

Traveling Family Hops

My family has hops running through our family tree, going back several generations.

We’ve never made beer (that I know of), but we’ve used them in all of our homes across the country to shade the hottest side of our homes in the summer. Hops grow quickly and are very hardy — two things that are required for anything to grow successfully in Montana.

When he was young, my great-grandfather traveled to Montana from Illinois on a grand adventure. He wanted to live in the Wild West and become a rancher. In 1910, his dream came true when he and a partner gathered enough money to buy Belmont Park Ranch, a modest ranch house covered in hops.

These hops came from a man named William Hillhouse Raymond, who started the Belmont Park Ranch in 1870. During the Gold Rush, he made his fortune by driving his team of oxen back and forth between Virginia City and Salt Lake City, selling various goods in each of the two cities. Our family guessed that one of the goods frequently shipped might have been hops, since beer was very popular in primitive mining camps like Virginia City.

My great-grandparents married shortly after purchasing Belmont Park Ranch, and lived protected from the summer heat of southwest Montana behind curtains of hops. Before too long, they built a much larger house, and they draped it in the same hops.

In 1973, my great-grandmother sold the Belmont Park Ranch. However, before it left our family’s hands, my mother dug up some of the hops and brought them to my childhood ranch house. Once again, we had hops growing on the hottest side of our home.

By the time we sold that ranch in 1994, my mother had become the keeper of the family hops. When we left the ranch, the hops went with her. She has planted them at every house she has lived in, whether to create shade for the house or as a privacy wall.

When I moved to Indiana in 2003, I immediately asked my mother to ship some of the hops to use for my new home. Though they have traveled far from Montana, the hops seem to handle the Indiana heat and humidity just fine, and, as always, make a great privacy wall on our back patio.

In my eyes, these hops are a roaming and growing piece of home and family history. Every spring when I string up the new hops sprouts, I think of the 148-plus years this plant has grown and prospered, and it makes me very humble and proud to be its steward.

Nancy Cope
Lafayette, Indiana

Passing Down Peonies

An old-fashioned white peony was already on the property my parents bought in 1964 in St. Albert, a small town outside of Edmonton, Alberta. It was languishing out by the back fence before my mom transplanted it to a sunny spot by the back door, where it bloomed profusely every June. I remember stepping out into its fragrance every summer, hearing the buzz of bees surround it, and watching the ants taste its nectar. Mom would always bring a blossom or two inside, and it would perfume the whole house. Even after its blooms were finished, it was a handsome plant with its glossy dark green foliage and vase-like shape.

It had to be moved eventually, and divided. By then, my sister and I were grown up with homes of our own, so my mother gave each of us a piece of the peony. For some reason, the piece she saved for herself never came back. My sister’s plant is still surviving and will bloom every so often, but it’s my peony that has truly thrived. It found a sunny spot under my deck, and over the course of 15 years, it has grown to something close to the original beauty of the plant I remember from my childhood. Sometimes I wander out to the garden after dinner and just breathe: scent is a powerful thing.

I have a son of my own now, and we spend our days together working in our little garden, tasting vegetables and herbs, watching the bees visit the flowers, and learning to recognize the familiar fragrances. I hope these will be some of his favorite family memories, just as these things connect me to my childhood.

Frances Vettergreen

Lifelong Friends and Foliage

I was 23 years old and recovering from surgery when my best friend brought me a gold dust plant (Aucuba japonica) to cheer me up. She had bought it at a plant display in our local grocery store. It was only a few inches tall and rather scrawny, but it was my first houseplant, and I appreciated the gesture.

Over the years, the plant moved from house to house with me, growing slowly. It has never been a particularly attractive houseplant, in my opinion, but it holds sentimental value, so I continue to keep it with me.

I eventually became a proud indoor gardener, starting from one lonely and sad houseplant to a flourishing indoor labyrinth of plants that continues to expand every year. My plants bring me great pleasure, and I can easily spend hours carefully tending to them.

Every summer, I bring many plants onto our outside patio and gazebo so we can soak in the sun and warm weather together all season long. I once tried putting this plant outside, and it burnt in the sun, causing most of the leaves to shrivel and fall off. What remained was a thin stalk about 10 inches high, with a few weak leaves hanging on for dear life.

I immediately brought it back to the safety of my home, trying desperately to salvage what was left. Away from sunny windows, it miraculously began to grow again. It is now 60 inches tall with an abundance of bright green, yellow-spotted leaves, and it continues to grow stronger every year. I can’t explain this sudden growth spurt after growing so slowly all its life, or after such a close call with death. I never added any fertilizer, and have probably only repotted it twice in 38 years!

Although I have other plants that have been with me for almost as long, this one still holds the greatest value to me; the friend who gifted me the plant and I are celebrating 50 years of friendship this year!

Gail Edwards

Enriching Homes and Hearts

My beloved spider plant and I have been together for twothirds of my life. My mother’s cousin bestowed this plant upon me just over 40 years ago; he gave me a smaller baby plant that grew from his much older and larger plant.

This plant has journeyed with me to live in the mountains of Pennsylvania, the Connecticut countryside, and now down in the small summits of South

Carolina. It wasn’t thrilled when we first came south, but with plenty of attention, it keeps holding on through periods of growth and hibernation.

In the summer, it lives on our screened porch, blooming and birthing babies. During colder months, it resides on the second floor in a sunny southwestern-facing window, along with a few of my other favorites: a 40-year-old ivy and a 15-year-old palm. Together, these plants brighten up my home and have endlessly brightened my life as well.

My spider plant has been with me through my childhood, my brief yet disastrous first marriage, my return to single life, and my wonderful second marriage to a man who doesn’t mind having a jungle of houseplants in every room.

This plant has been with me through the happiest and hardest times of my life. When I look at it, I see my mother and her family. I see the triumphs and hardships of my life, and all the support I had along the way. I deeply cherish that plant; it’s a part of me, and I would feel a terrible loss without it.

Kathy Sawyer
South Carolina

  • Published on Aug 24, 2018
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