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Heirloom flowers will get you up close


My grandmother had these silly looking old, carved monkeys that always remained in a drawer in her bedroom. I figure they were passed down from a travel abroad that some friend or relative brought back as a gift since they looked worn. They were known as the wise monkeys. They were separate which was odd since often they are joined together. Every time I would visit my grandmother, as a small child I would pull those funny looking monkeys out of her desk drawer and play with them on the floor. I would line them up sometimes in a row and just stare at them, for the carving was detailed and made them come to life.

Impatiens Balsamina was on a seed  List in 1820. Mine reseeds throughout my yard now. The bees prefer this impatient to the new ones that are short and offer them nothing to explore. I have found bumble bees sleeping upside down under  the leaves in the  morning.

Impatiens Balsamina was on a seed List in 1820. Mine reseeds throughout my yard now. The bees prefer this impatient to the new ones that are short and offer them nothing to explore. I have found bumble bees sleeping upside down under the leaves in the morning.


I read lilliput zinnias were developed in the 1870’s

When I outgrew playing with those wise monkeys. I still would open the drawer and pull them out, line them up and admire them for a bit and put them back in the drawer for another day. They were an old friend. The memories were what made me return.

Naughty Marietta? Tagetes patula nana

Naughty Marietta/ Tagetes patula nana

The bees love the single blooms  on heirloom flowers

bees love the single blooms on heirloom flowers

Every year I try to grow an heirloom flower + save the seed from years past for many of these heirloom flowers are going to be lost and replaced with modern-day larger bloomed flowers.Eventually over the years my grandmother took the three wise monkeys out of the drawer and placed them on a shelf up high. When I would come to town, I would stop by and visit but I no longer had to pull them out of a drawer. They were up high on a shelf for others to admire.I do not know why those three monkeys were special to me, but they were. They were worn and loved. Wisdom was carved into the details of their faces.


Black-eyed Susan/Rudbeckia hita (1700)

I feel sometimes we need to look at our flowers as I did those wise monkeys. We need to get up close + appreciate the intricate patterns in the faces of our flower. Look at them for the first time again. Just like visiting with an old friend you have not seen in a very long time.


Sunset Hibiscus /Abelmoschus manihot (1793) This one reseeds now in my garden

I have several books on heirloom flowers in my library. I was reading this week Heirloom Flowers/Vintage Flowers for Modern Gardens  and every year I try to grow a new heirloom flower to trial in Palm Rae Potager. I love historical fiction so it is obvious I would love antique flowers!


Cleome hasslerana/ Spider Flower ( 1776) I have  pink, purple + white in my garden. It also reseeds every year and  if I don’t like where it is, I just move it!

” Flowers of Yesterday….The definition of how the perfect flower should appear has changed with time. Most dramatically, the height has decreased. From Tall blowsy plants that tower over their modern counterpart, ideal bloomers gradually became waist-high or shorter..In America the lawnmower’s arrival in the middle of the 19th century  might of had something to do with it….trend towards dwarfing ( flowers) really took off during the Victorian era with its ribbon borders and bedding schemes…Modern varieties tend to be bred with more blossoms per stalk, and to be self-branching whereas their older counterparts were apt to shoot obstinately straight up..Colors are more intense than they were a few hundred years ago….compared to modern gardens, the heirloom bed was relatively drab. Another trait that has proliferated over the centuries is doubleness. Most heirloom flowers are, like the single holly hock, rather than featuring a nest of many petals….” Heirloom Flowers/Vintage Flowers for Modern Gardens 

Grandma Palm made this vase in 1914 before she married Grandpa has her maiden name...I met her when I started dating my husband and she was 90 then and lived till 94!

Grandma Palm made this vase in 1914 before she married Grandpa Palm….it has her maiden name etched in the design…I met her when I started dating my husband, and she was 88 then and still worked in the garden into her  mid 90’s. There were always fresh cut flowers on her table.


I used her vase to collect some of the heirloom flowers


This year I grew heirloom flowers Black-eyed Susan/Rudbeckia hirta 1827 Spider flower/Cleome hasslerana (1776), Persian Carpet/Zinnia haageana,  Will Rogers /Zinnia elegans 1940,Torch Sunflower/Tithonia rotundifolia, Paprika/ Tagetes tenuifolia 1867, Lilliput Zinnia/1870,Naughty Marietta /Tagetes patula nana 1947

I love growing heirloom flowers with their intricate details which only come to life when you get up close.I enjoy change, but I also respect familiarity. I do enjoy some of the larger bloomed modern flowers, but there is something about these vintage flowers, maybe it is their stories that draws me to them every season. I just can’t stay away!

China Aster/ Callistephus chinensis I got this seed from The Monticello Shop back in 2010. I've been growing it since it is the only one that represents the single blue that they grew back in the late 1700's before the 1800's they started growing the other colors. on two to three-foot plants. Check out their store if you are interested in heirloom seeds that are hard to find.They are from their gardens + you support their effort to keep  these rare heirloom flowers around.... If you like them grow them out and pass the seeds on.....

China Aster/ Callistephus chinensis 1730’s I have been saving these seeds for years….the single purple is rare…

We need to save seeds from these old, rare flowers to pass on to the next generation so they can get up close and appreciate the details in simple things…..




I read lilliput zinnias were developed in the 1870’s

Lilliput Zinnias ( I read that they were developed in the 1870’s)

35 replies »

  1. I’m so glad you are there Robbie! I have been hunting and hunting trying to source heirloom seedlings. They seem to be limited in my part of the world and when they do appear they are snapped up quickly. I missed out on tomatoes and so bought two modern hybrids as I so want to try growing them here – and yesterday stumbled with good luck into a supply of heirlooms – so now I will grow three tomatoes and be able to compare!

    Your beautiful posts keep me on track and determined to achieve something in my tiny space! I keep telling myself ‘baby steps’ are okay! I think your relationship with the three wise moneys has spilled over into your potager and your wisdom shines through for me in this post. Thank you for being there!!

    • Also, thank you for keeping my creative side tweaked:-) I will have more time this winter to explore that, but you are so right they are hard to find. I am trying to save what I can in the city, butI am limitd by space and cross pollination.
       if we do not save them, they will be gone. I have been documenting and keeping track of what I can:-) I also don’t count on the seed sources anymore since they are dwindling down with heirloom flowers in particular. There  is a renewed  interest in heirloom veggies( so that is good), but not as much as there should be +  heirloom flowers are harder and harder to find….Many of them came over to this country from Europe, so possibly they are there, but still modern flowers are the mainstay today in most garden centers..all us  “heirloom-loving” souls are inspired to keep them + if the bees and butterflies love single blooms- then I am there ,too! 
      I look forward to seeing your garden this fall as the snow flies here + lands!

    • :-)and it feels good to know someone out there over the cyber fence appreciates you,too-Big Garden Blessings are sent on the wings of a garden fairy, your way-Pauline!

  2. What a great idea Robbie! I think I will join you and grow an heirloom flower each year and save the seed … I was eying that Hibiscus. The Park, where I work as gardener, dates back to the Victorian era – much of the architecture is Victorian. I don’t know much about Victorian gardening but was dismayed to learn from your post that dwarf plants were popular at that time. I would like to respect the history of the Park but it’s not really my style. I love those tall, big, single blooms! I will try to achieve some sort of balance between Victorian, wildlife and native, and modern – quite a challenge. I probably will attempt a ribbon garden at some point. If you know of any books – good ones – about gardening in the Victorian era, I would welcome your suggestions!

    • Hi Kathy- actually they started dwarfing and changing them over time. To the point now that people expect short things, double blooms + color. To my dismay, I have people like tall ones and those are tall:-( I love the tall ones blowing in the wind:-)
      I have some Hibiscus to share if you want?I just gathered some today. That one is an edible source for protein-I have tried ( pretty good!) it but need to get use to eating some of these plants, I am growing for food source-lol Just not use to them in our life yet:-)
      If you want some seed-send your address to my e-mail🙂 That would look lovely in your gardens! I am sending some seed out next week to Eliza, so I can mail yours, the same day. Is there anything else you want to try? I’ll send it along.
      I just ordered another book on heirloom flowers , so I’ll let you know what I think of it. The one I have on here is a good place to start:-) You can get it on amazon used for a cheap price:-)

    • lol…well, I believe my mother has them…but I was thinking I might like to get those monkeys and put them in a drawer to remind me!

    • 🙂 and your photos make me smile and remind me of times past:-) Yes, I do get some seed from them but sure do appreciate the advice:-) Never can have too many seed places on your list + that one is well worth the effort to support!

  3. Another lovely post, imbued with wisdom and gorgeous images and full of secrets that we have to get out there planting to learn. SO much good comes from heirloom, old fashioned flowers. They might not be as blowsy and over the top as their hybrid sisters but they have staying power. They are able to live longer, survive better and reproduce where their carnival hybrid competitors last a season then need replacing. I remember my grandmothers garden was always evolving. Most of the change was delivered by the wind. Each year things would pop up elsewhere in the garden and the subtle changes rang in the seasons.

    • :-)”carnival hybrid competitors” Love that!!!! It is evening here in USA + I was busy organizing my seed saving. I just found your lovely comment-so refreshing to hear:-) I am a seed thrower and saver so it helps that I love that ” evolving” garden vibe as your grandmother did…so much better than those organized, perfectly mulched, stiff gardens that people seem to create today..hmmm..sure hope we get back to the natural, carefree , cottage garden of yesteryear:-) Can’t wait to see the sanctuary this year:-)

      • I can’t wait to see what Sanctuary does this year either. I think I should be a lot more organised this year. I just found red currants under some nasturtiums that I forgot I had. I am going to plant them out in between the citrus trees we planted out recently. At least we have berry and citrus futures on the go, everything else is gravy 😉

      • Now that is exciting!!!!…I was answering Eliza’s comment and sent her some info on the Sunset Hibiscus and noticed it is from Australia..have you ever seen this?…the entire palnt is edible…
        I have been growing it for a few years got the seed from a gal in Florida and thought of your sanctuary. The leaves are an edible form of protein. I tasted them and they are good. It does reseed in my garden and I like the mystery of where it will show up-lol.

      • I have never seen that plant or heard of it before so it must be from “up the top” of Australia, where the wild things are ;). Thank you for the excellent share. I am going to head off and do a bit of research about it now 🙂

      • 🙂 I find interesting plants that are edible, I have to start feeling more comfortable cooking them:-) not like I can look them up in a cook book-lol

      • I just shared that plant with a blogging friend. I am most interested that it is a Queensland plant and that I may be able to access the seed. It sounds like it is just my sort of plant with that kind of protein levels in it’s leaves. I love it when someone shares something with me that I can actually use/do in my own garden 🙂 Thank you for the wonderful share 🙂

      • also…”currents under nasturtiums” sounds rather poetic-lol—-that is so exciting…I am putting my garden to sleep,parts of this week…. but some cole crops will be around till it gets to zero!

      • We very rarely get to zero here and when we do, we tend to be OK because we are on a steep hill, facing north and right next to the river with lots of rocks so the ground never really chills and plants tend to survive where just 20km away they turn into so much crunchy frosty mush.

      • now that is nice-we get below zero and not for just one day sometimes weeks. Like last year it killed some of my favorite perennials…but it does kill a lot of pests, so good and bad:-)

      • Our pests just slow down but our duck makes short work of most of them. She spends her days dibbling in the foliage looking for slugs and snails and if I find any I just call “here ducky, ducky ducky…” and she appears out of no-where quacking with excitement :). The chooks are fussier about the insects that they eat but they love the big wood boring grubs that we sometimes find in the logs that Steve chops for Brunhilda. There is serious fighting when we toss a few of them into the flock 😉

      • well you know if you did not have all those rules, I would send you some seed..if you can’t get it there let me know we can figure something out-tee hee! I have to ask a quick question, so you found out it had a lot of “green protein”, too?…I tasted it and it is good:-) It will reseed once you establish it!

      • I am all for getting my protein the green and tasty way and this really piqued my interest. I read that link that you sent me and was highly excited by the possibilities. I have blogging friends on the mainland that I might be able to get to trial it and then I might be able to get some seed so I just have to “sow the idea” in their heads that they might just want to try it and who knows 😉

      • well, if you do, I look forward to some ideas as to how we could all cook with it, so far I have eaten it raw (salad)+ mighty taste, I might add!!! I am eager to see what you all “cook” up!

      • I have to get hold of some first 😉 When I do, I might ferment a batch to see how it stacks up in a probiotic sense. I love adding new foods into the mix especially when they have protein possibilities and I can grow them myself. Home grown green narfy “cow” plants 😉

      • Earl would love to get hold of ducky. He has already caught a few chooks and plucked their nether regions but he has never killed one. He once caught the rooster who was standing with his back to Earl on the front gate crowing for his girls to come and see how magnificent he was. He wasn’t quite so magnificent after Earl hauled him down and plucked out all of his gorgeous tail feathers and he has always made sure to stay away from “Earl the terrible” from that day forwards. He knows that Bezial won’t touch him though. Funny how animals just know isn’t it? 🙂

      • You are so right-they know how far they can go or not go!!!:-) Our cats and dogs have an understanding-lol. Schatze before she passed, would corner the cats if she was frustrated( poor cats if she was in a bad mood that day) but she only went so far-not eating them!

  4. Another enjoyable post, Robbie, and an important theme as well. Folks are beginning to realize just how important the old genetics are, now that breeders are messing around with genes. Lovely photos and I must say that Sunset Hibiscus has caught my eye…do you happen to have a few seeds to spare? It is a stunner! Hope you are enjoying the cooler weather, it really feels like fall around here. The colors on the trees this year are great!

    • I am starting to save my favorites since I have noticed the next year I want to grow something it is gone! I can’t get the seed:-( I will send some of those seeds when I send your cucumber seeds:-) It is related to okra. I got the seed from a lady in Florida and have grown it out for a few years. Mine reseeds where it wishes and that is perfectly fine with me:-) I’ll package some for you to start next year. Here, is a bit more info:

      Our fall is taking a bit longer to get started. We had some rain today but the coldest we have seen lately is upper 50 or low 60’s at night. BUTTTTT…that is changing this weekend! Happy Fall to you + lets hope we don’t have a repeat of last winter-YIKES! + I am glad you enjoyed this post:-)

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