Heirloom Flowers Back In Style

heirloom flowers in english gardenMay and June are special months to celebrate all things bridal, as demonstrated by the recent royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in Great Britain. The bride’s simple yet romantic bouquet included heirloom flowers hand-picked by Prince Harry from the private garden at Kensington Palace.

Meghan’s bespoke bouquet

Ms. Markle’s flowers included some old-fashioned favorites including forget-me-knots (Myosotis sp.) and fragrant sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus). The inclusion of these flowers was a nod to the British tradition of cottage gardening, an unconstructed design technique introduced in the late nineteenth century.

Following on the heels of the popularity of growing heirloom vegetables, growing old-fashioned flowers is making a comeback. Heirloom flower seeds have made a reappearance in seed catalogs in both the U.S. and the U.K.

Whether to recreate a childhood memory or learn a new hobby, what could be more satisfying than stepping out the door to pick a handful of cheery flowers instead of driving to the florist?

Advantages of heirloom flowers

Many old-fashioned varieties are open-pollinated, unlike most modern ones, which are F1 hybrids. Open-pollinated plants require an external force, such as bees or the wind, to pollinate.

While hybrid plants can be more vigorous, they can also be more expensive and come in a more limited range of colors. A bigger disadvantage with hybrids is that seed cannot be saved from year to year. Some hybrids are sterile while others produce offspring plants that do not remain “true” to the parent, producing unpredictable results.

By contrast, open-pollinated varieties:

  • Remain true the parent plant
  • Can be easy to grow from seed
  • Can be grown from saved seed
  • Exhibit interesting variations in form

Most heirloom plants are open-pollinated, while some are “self-pollinated.” Some open-pollinated varieties can cross-pollinate, so care must be taken to isolate these varieties and also destroy any unusual looking offspring.

It should be noted that the term “heirloom” does not necessarily mean that seeds are organic or non-GMO, although some vendors do sell seeds which are all of these.

Many heirloom flower seeds have been grown, saved, and passed down for many generations. Get in on this trend and plant a period garden or honor the memory of your grandmother’s green thumb this summer. 

holly hock heirloom flower

Some heirloom flowers to grow:

  • China aster (Callistephus chinensis) - butterfly plant, good for cutting, blooms into fall
  • Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) - hummingbird plant, will naturalize
  • Four o’clocks (Mirabilis Jalapa) - tender perennial, flowers open late afternoon
  • French marigolds (Tagetes patula sp.)
  • Moonflower (Ipomoea alba) - fragrant vine, flowers open at dusk
  • Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)-  comes in vining and bush types; prefers cooler weather
  • Snapdragon (Antirrhinum ‘Black Prince’)

Sources for heirloom seeds:

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