Family Plants

These are peonies that Dad always had and I dug and divided them 5 years ago and now I have them to enjoy and remember. I remember that he always cut them for us to take to our teachers. And some years if they bloomed at the right time, we would go with Dad to see Grandma and Grandpa and take some of these to help them decorate graves over Memorial Day weekend.

While mowing the lawn earlier today, I was thinking about passalong plants, family heirloom plants, and family tradional plants.

Passalong plants are plants that you get from friends or 'same generation' family, like your sister or brother. These are those plants that are easy to divide and share. Generally, the giver either bought the original plant or got it from another friend. I've got several plants like this including zebra grass, blood grass, catnip, and bleeding heart.

Family heirloom plants are those plants that are handed down from one generation to the next and become like members of the family. They are special because they are from the same stock that was grown by your parents, possibly their parents, and may even go further back than that. I've got peonies and Michaelmas daisies that are in this category. I can't pass by those plants without being reminded of where they came from and who grew them. My aunt has a rose that came from one my great-grandmother had. I had a start of it that I left at another house, so I am hoping to get with her soon to get another start.

Then there are family traditional plants. I don't know if this is the right terminology, but this is what I decided to call plants that you grow because you remember that your parents or grandparents or some other relative grew the same thing. I have a 'snowball bush' (Viburnum) because my grandmothers had them, but mine isn't from the same plant stock. I also plant geraniums every year because my Dad always had geraniums. And, I also think the reason I plant a vegetable garden every year, even though I've been accused of not eating half of what it produces, is because my Dad had a vegetable garden, and so, of course, I would have a vegetable garden, too.

I also have plenty of plants that are 'new to the family', that I grow that my ancestors wouldn't have known about, or wouldn't have been able to get, or have only been bred in the last few years. This includes plants like the new Endless Summer hydrangeas, birds' nest spruce, and variegated brunnera.

And there are 'family traditional plants' that I wouldn't have, regardless of any memories associated with them. This includes yews and junipers, which were the predominate shrubs around the house I grew up in, and the 'stink tree', also called tree of heaven, very common in city yards. My grandmother had one in her backyard.

A garden can be a lot more than pretty flowers, trimmed lawns and interesting plants, it can be a real link to your family and friends. So pass along some plants, visit your relatives and get starts from their plants and ask them about what they remember growing in other family gardens, and plant those plants that remind you of your own family.


  1. Do you or any of your family have some of the Mother-in-law's tongue that came from your greatgrandmother, Nina Turnham Johnson? Earl and Gemmma gave it away about 10 years ago to all who seemed interested. I do not know the correct name. It grows indoors.

  2. Can I have a start of Aunt Marjories rose too? I need one of Dad's peony too this fall, please. What is the stink tree? I don't remember anything like that. You didn't mention house plants. I have tried those violets that Grandma used to have in her dining room, but I never had much success with them.

  3. Yellow Lady's Slipper makes me think of my grandmother's garden. But I've only seen them growing on the roadside, and I will not dig one up. They have a special place in my heart, though, and I always stop and take a look at them when they're blooming, and remember my Gran :)

  4. Carol, you have so many great stories! It's taking me awhile to read these earlier ones, and I liked finding out about your heirlooms. My Illinois garden had so many plants from family and friends, gathered over several decades. When we came here, I brought a few plants to represent different people, but not peonies & lilacs - can't make it in our TX climate.


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