Family Heirloom stories: ‘Pretoria’ canna lilies, English poppies, blackboy peach tree, and more
My mother was gifted an array of lovely ‘Pretoria’ canna lilies (Canna indica) by her granddaughter-in-law. Having catered to her garden in Anderson, South Carolina, for many years, my mother was delighted to give these canna lilies all the attention she could.
I can still picture the joy on her face when they bloomed each spring. My mother’s secret to a flourishing flower garden was natural potash. She would collect the stick and leaf debris in her yard and burn it, taking the cooled ashes to the garden to sprinkle in the flowerbeds.
When my mother passed in 2011, I brought a small flowerpot of about five bulbs of ‘Pretoria’ to my house in Tennessee. These blooms love to multiply. I look forward to seeing them bloom each summer!
I can see my cannas from the windows in my kitchen, living room, and dining room, and from my front deck. It’s the start of a memory garden to honor my mother. They mean the world to me. I feel her presence while working in my flower gardens. She would be delighted to know her flowers are getting attention.
New Market, Tennessee
English Poppies Find New Life in United States
I discovered, after moving to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, that very few plants from my native United Kingdom were able to make the transatlantic trip, nor would they grow in my current desert environment. However, I do have one plant that’s made the leap across the pond quite successfully. Every year when it grows and blooms, I think of my mum and the wonderful English cottage garden from which it originally came.
This plant is an ornamental annual double poppy, and it’s absolutely glorious. My mum originally gave me the seeds about 8 years ago, and I dutifully sowed them in my community garden plot in fall. Come April, they produced the most amazing show. Every year since, they’ve seeded themselves around my garden and continue to provide me with a wonderful spring display, as well as very fond memories of my mum and English gardens.
They have the added benefit of pulling in bees to help my crops and, as they are quite tall, they provide some shade (very necessary in Arizona) to smaller crops. I now share the seeds with fellow gardeners, who enjoy them just as much as I do.
Fountain Hills, Arizona
My maternal grandmother was both a gardener and an artist, and her two hobbies complemented each other well. Her favorite subjects for oil painting were rural landscapes and still lifes from her flower garden: vibrant zinnias, elegant irises, and decadent peonies. So when I bought my first home in 1975 in Virginia, the first plants I put in its barren beds were a pair of peonies, one white and one rose-colored, from my grandmother’s Indiana farm.
My grandmother passed away a decade later, never having seen her gifts in their new location, except in photos. The rose peony, which had never been as robust as the white one, perished during that time as well. However, every time I moved (twice more in Virginia and ultimately to South Carolina, where peonies struggle to survive), I always transplanted the white peony bush whose fragrance and exuberance reminded me of my grandmother.
When my mother passed away in 2008, I inherited several of her mother’s paintings, including a still life of a bouquet of white peonies with a single rose one added for color. Now I can enjoy my grandmother’s artistic talents indoors and her gardening heirloom just outside, where it’s one of the few reliably blooming peony bushes in our South Carolina Sandhills neighborhood.
Aiken, South Carolina
Four Generations of Keepsake Roses
In my great-grandmother’s attic, I discovered a book of poems with pressed pink roses between the pages. My great-grandmother had written the book of poems after she moved into the house. Each poem had a pink rose associated with it. After reading some of the poems, I discovered that my great-grandmother’s mother had grown pink roses before her.
My great-grandmother had planted two pink rose bushes years ago, and the roses bloomed every spring and summer under her care. After she died, she left me the book of poems. My grandma Bennie started to care for the roses, and I helped her with the watering and planting.
I was in my 20s when my grandma Bennie died. Every member of the family wore a pink rose in her memory. My mom passed on the responsibility of caring for the pink roses to me. The bushes were wilted and dying of neglect, so I cleaned up the garden. When the pink roses began blooming again, I decided to add a yellow rose bush and a dark red rose bush. I wanted to create a garden of roses I could call my own. The pink roses have remained in the family for four generations.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
The Long Life of a Blackboy Peach Tree
My grandfather had a blackboy peach tree in the 1970s from which he managed to grow a few seedlings from the stones. He gave one to my mum, who managed to grow out the tree successfully. When my parents moved to a new house, they took another seedling from their tree. That seedling has since grown and is now huge, producing masses of beautiful fruit.
My mum has a knack for growing seedlings (they actually self-sow under the big tree) and she has given seedlings to us for our organic farm. They’re only a couple of years old, so they’re not producing yet, but hopefully they will by next summer! My mum has also started a number of seedlings that we now sell through our organic nursery as a true family heirloom tree. Patrons love these trees. They particularly enjoy the story of them growing from my grandfather’s first tree. He would be quite proud to know his legacy lives on in the shape of a peach. There are now trees all over New Zealand from his original.
There are several varieties of blackboy peach trees, which typically produce big, juicy, dark red fruit. They’re delicious raw, but can be made into jam, chutney, and more!
Rangitikei, New Zealand
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