Every garden old is new again: Nostalgia plants for now

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The small, dainty flowers of the foxglove plant, the wispy peony blooms and the lovely drops of the bleeding hearts all bring back the sights and scents of the gardens from years past. Recreating a garden of yore is the newest trend in home landscaping.

 

Before the overly accessorized 1950s yards and the victory gardens of the 1940s, gardens in the 1920 and 1930s served to build a welcoming “public” space in the front of the home to welcome and entertain guests. In those days, the back of the home, called the “service space,” was for doing chores and hanging laundry. Over time, the ubiquity of technology, e.g. clothes washers and dryers, slowly changed the purpose of both the front and back yards of American homes. Today, we optimize the curb appeal of the rarely-used front yards and expand our living space by building a custom outdoor room or backyard patio.

A recent trend is to bring back the nostalgic gardens of our grandmothers. Colorful, cottage gardens with statement flowers such as snapdragons, hollyhocks and foxgloves. In her 1920 book Come into the Garden, pioneering landscape designer Grace Tabor lamented the overuse of evergreens. In the 1920s, greenery was the go-to planting of the day. Ms. Tabor, through her many books and articles, encouraged gardeners to not only deliberately design their spaces but to also add something other than shrubs and evergreens. Daffodils and phlox flowers were some of Ms. Tabor’s recommendations. Small blooms with the occasional big bloom (like a peony) kept a garden understated and welcoming.

Another sign of the everything-old-is-new-again trend in gardening is the interest in heirloom seeds. Stephen Scott, of Terroir Seeds, explains what makes a seed an “heirloom” on his blog:

“An heirloom is generally considered something worth passing down. An heirloom seed, therefore, is seed from a plant that has been passed from one generation to another, carefully grown and saved because it is considered valuable.”


  

An heirloom seed is usually from a plant that is pollinated by bees or the wind. An open-pollinated plant has seeds that can be harvested easily by the gardener. When a family found a flower or vegetable they enjoyed, they would collect the seeds and store them for future use. The seeds would be planted in new homes, or handed down to the next generation. Planting heirloom seeds is not required for a nostalgia garden, but keeping your choices to open-pollinated plants will help recreate the old garden scene.

Many outlets will claim they sell heirloom seeds, but look for true heritage seed sellers who take good care of their work. Heritage Flower Farm in Wisconsin has a website filled with good information and heritage seeds for sale, listed according to hardiness zones. Find the seeds that will fill your garden with authentic flowers from the past and you’ll spend your future spring and summer days in timeless beauty.