Tag Archives: heirlooms

10 Easy-to-Grow Heirloom Flowers

When most people think about planting heirlooms, they think of colorful, quirky tomatoes and other vegetables. Of course, we love heirloom veggies, but there’s a lot to love about heirloom flowers too! Growing them helps support pollinators, wildlife, and beneficial insects. It also preserves biological diversity. Here are ten easy-to-grow heirloom flowers that are perfect for beginners.

Poppies

Poppies are one of our favorite flowers to fall sow. These cool weather loving beauties can also be sown in early spring. They germinate best when soil temperatures are around 60°F and are quick to bring beauty to the garden.

Poppies are an excellent choice for gardeners trying to maximize their garden space. They provide incredible, early-season beauty and seed pods later in the season. The seed pods make lovely additions to dried arrangements and wreaths, and the seeds inside the pods are edible and perfect for baked goods and salad dressings.

Cosmos

Cosmos are some of the least finicky annual flowers. They’ll tolerate poor soils, partial shade, and drought once established. Direct sow cosmos when the soil is about 70°F after all danger of frost has passed or start them indoors about 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost for earlier blooms.

Some of our favorite heirloom cosmos include Mexican Cosmos, Sensation Mix Cosmos, and Mona’s Orange Cosmos (pictured above). They have a long bloom period, and deadheading encourages them to continue. They’ll also help to attract pollinators and birds, which eat the seeds, to your garden. The petals of Cosmos sulphureus are edible.

Zinnias

Zinnias are the queens of the cut flower garden. The great thing about zinnias is that the more you cut, the more they’ll keep blooming. If you’re not using them for cut flowers and just want to enjoy them in the garden, keep up with deadheading to prolong their bloom period.

We carry two heirloom zinnias Peruvian Red and Peruvian Yellow. They’re both easy to direct sown after your last frost. They can also be started indoors and transplanted out after your last frost date for earlier blooms.

Sunflowers

Don’t think of sunflowers as ordinary. There is so much variation in sunflower varieties. From the frosted looking Silverleaf Sunflower to the towering 7 to 9 foot stalks of the Seneca Sunflower to the brilliant blooms of Red Torch Tithonia there’s something for everyone.

Sunflowers are easy to grow, and a great choice for gardening with young children; their large seeds are easy to sow. Larger varieties also make excellent trellises for pole beans and other vining plants.

Hollyhocks

These tall spikes of flowers are biennial, meaning they bloom the second year. They can be started indoors or direct sown. Plant hollyhocks in areas that receive full sun. Check out our post Cottage Garden: Growing Hollyhocks for more instructions. 

Especially in windy areas, hollyhocks may need staking to prevent lodging. You can also grow them along a fence and use twine or fabric to secure them as they mature. Hollyhocks will self-seed and if allowed to naturalize in a bed, can provide blooms every year. 

Heirloom Flowers (Grandpa Ott's Morning Glories)

Morning Glories

An old favorite, morning glories produce vigorous vines climbing up to 15 feet! Their trumpet-shaped flowers are excellent for attracting pollinators, and they look fantastic climbing fences and porch railings. They can be grown in the garden or in large containers. 

Morning glories should be planted with a trellis where they’ll receive full sun. Soak seeds two days before planting, changing the water every 12 hours for best results. Then direct sow or transplant them after frost.

One of our favorite morning glories is Grandpa Ott’s Morning Glory (pictured above), a family heirloom from Diane Ott Whealy. This variety is one of the original varieties that started Seed Saver’s Exchange and the whole heirlooms movement. 

Asters

While there are some perennial asters, the heirloom aster we carry, Crego Giant Mixed Colors, is a large annual. They grow up to 3 feet tall and make excellent cut flowers.

Asters can be easily direct sown or transplanted. They germinate best when the soil temperature reaches 70°F and should be planted after your last frost in a spot that receives full sun.

Love-Lies-Bleeding (Amaranth)

Crimson tassels up to 24 in. long “drip” from these showy plants. Love-Lies-Bleeding looks excellent in floral displays, whether fresh or dried. 

This striking heirloom requires little care. Direct sow Love-Lies-Bleeding after the danger of frost has passed. It should be planted in full sun and is rather drought-resistant. Larger plants may benefit from staking for the best display.

Coreopsis

A native perennial, coreopsis is excellent for attracting pollinators and birds to your garden. It’s also a great natural dye and yields a broad range of colors. 

Coreopsis is an annual plant, but it self-sows readily and will naturalize in meadow plantings. Direct sow or transplant out coreopsis after danger of frost has passed in full sun or partial shade. 

Jewels of Opar (Fame Flower)

This purslane relative is easy to grow and has a multitude of uses! The mild, succulent leaves are great in salads and sandwiches or as a spinach substitute. Native to parts of the South and the Caribbean, it also has a history of medicinal use. The seed stalks are great additions to dried arrangements with seed pods that dry to shades of orange, red, brown, gold, and grey.

Transplant or direct sow Jewels of Opar after all danger of frost has passed. Self-sowing readily, Jewels of Opar may naturalize. It’s perennial in zones 8 and up.

Find out more about growing Jewels of Opar here.

Growing heirlooms helps preserve biodiversity and makes your garden unique! Plant a few of these ten easy-to-grow heirloom flowers this season. 

10 Unique Heirloom Varieties to Add to Your Wishlist

If you’re a lover of heirloom varieties like we are, chances are you’ve got an eye for the unique. We love adding uncommon plants to the garden that bring with them a touch of whimsy. Here are ten distinctive heirloom varieties to add to your wishlist to make next season’s garden stand out. 

Grandma Nellie’s Mushroom Pole Snap Beans

These pole beans are a true treasure! Just as their name suggests, they taste a bit like mushrooms when cooked. Grandma Nellie’s are a heavy yielder and are ready to harvest in just 56 days. They’re tender when picked at around 5 inches. 

The original seed for this variety came from Marge Mozelisky and was given to her by her grandmother.

Costoluto Florentino Tomato

This uniquely shaped tomato is sure to be a standout! It’s an Italian heirloom from the Tuscan region that bares 8 to 12 oz, deeply lobed, red fruits. It’s great for slicing, sauces, and making stuffed tomatoes.

It’s also a great choice if you live somewhere hot; Costoluto Florentino was one of the most heat tolerant and productive varieties in the 2011 University of Georgia trials. It also did well in the cool wet, summer we had here in Virginia in 2013.

Mrihani Basil

This ruffled basil comes from Zanzibar off the eastern coast of Africa, where it’s used in food and perfumes. Mrihani is excellent tasting, relatively mild, with notes of anise. This basil is relatively easy to grow, slow to bolt and has excellent resistance to Downey Mildew. 

Lion’s Ear (Klip Dagga)

If you like the unusual and unruly, this orange monster is for you! This plant grows large and sprawling, reaching heights of 4 to 10 feet. Lion’s Ear or Klip Dagga starts blooming in late summer, producing nectar-rich, fuzzy flower tubules that leap from sharp, spiky green bracts. These orange flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds and butterflies.

The nectar of Lion’s Ear has a sweet grapefruit taste. The leaves and flowers of this plant have been used in traditional herbal medicine in Africa and India. 

Lion’s ear is moderately drought tolerant and prefers well-drained soils. It’s a tender perennial and may regrow if winter lows are above 20°F.

Balik Hot Pepper

This productive pepper is named for its unique shape. Balik, pronounced BA-luck, means “fish” in Turkish. These peppers have two lobes generally resembling a fish in shape. They are sleek, crunchy, 1 to 3 inches long, and have milder heat than most Jalapeños. The plants grow about 18 inches tall.

White Wonder Watermelon

While it may not look like most watermelons you see, it’s just as good. The creamy white flesh is crisp with a fresh, sweet taste. White Wonder produces high yields of 3-10 lb icebox-size melons. 

They’re rare today, but white-fleshed watermelons were popular in the 1800s. This unique white-fleshed melon is sure to be a hit at farmers’ markets or on the picnic table!

Lemon Cucumber

This unique cucumber produces seven ft. vines covered with crunchy round yellow fruits. Lemon Cucumbers are ready to harvest in about 67 days. Pick them at 1½ in. for pickling or two in. for salads. You’ll love this excellent, never-bitter, old-fashioned cucumber flavor with a hint of nuttiness. 

Wonderberry (Sunberry)

These Garden Huckleberries are an interesting relative of the tomato. They grow like tomatoes, but Wonderberry is more finicky to germinate. The tiny seeds need to keep moist for a much longer period. However, they self sow readily. 

Plant genius Luther Burbank developed this variety. It produces three ft. plants that yield dozens of clusters of dark, ¼ in. berries; each cluster holds 8-12 fruits. Wonderberry’s unique, huckleberry-like flavor makes for intriguing dessert fillings, jellies, and syrups!

Don’t consume the green fruits as they are likely toxic.

Erlene’s Green Cotton

This beautiful, green-colored cotton is a family heirloom from Erlene Melancon in east Texas. Erlene said that she has been spinning green cotton for years and that her grandmother loved using colored cotton in her quilts.

Erlene’s Green produces five ft. tall plants. The fibers are light olive green and can be spun off the seed. Harvest the bolls shortly after they open so that the fiber does not fade in the sunlight. Once it is spun and washed, it turns yellowish-green. 

Watercress

Rich in vitamins and used in salads for mustard-like flavor, this green stands out for the way it grows. As the name suggests, Watercress should be transplanted into a stream of cool, clean water. Alternatively, you can grow it in pots adding fresh water daily or in trays with just enough water to float the crowns. Watercress needs partial shade in hot weather.

Adding these or some of the other unusual heirlooms we carry is a great way to make your garden uniquely yours. What unique heirlooms are your favorites? Share your garden with us on Facebook or on Instagram using the hashtag #southernexposureseed and tagging us @southernexposureseed.

10 Weird, Fun Historical Flower Facts

Flowers bring so much life and joy to our gardens. Many flower varieties have interesting and somewhat surprising histories. From revered medicinals to religious symbols, flowers have played a role in different cultures throughout the centuries. Here are a few of the unique ways people used flowers historically.

  1. Delphiniums are named after dolphins.

    Larkspurs or Delphiniums are a colorful favorite for cottage-style gardens. The name Delphinium originated with the ancient Greeks. It’s derived from the Greek word “Delphis,” which means dolphin. The Greeks thought that the flower bud resembled the shape of a dolphin’s nose. Do you see it?
  1. German Chamomile has been revered by many cultures.

    One of the few medicinal herbs still in everyday use, German Chamomile has been used and revered for centuries. We love it for its soothing, anti-inflammatory effects. The Egyptians dedicated it to their sun god, Ra. In Slovakia, you were supposed to bow to the plant when you came across it, and the Saxons believed it was one of the nine sacred herbs. 

  2. Morning Glories were once used in divination rituals.

     First cultivated by the Aztecs, Morning Glories were used for divination rituals. They made a preparation from the seeds, which contain d-lysergic acid amide, or LSA, which has similar effects to LSD. The seeds were ground and then filtered with water which was drunk to produce visions. They are still part of some shamans’ practices today.

    They also used it medicinally, and healers would take the brew to determine the cause of an illness. The seeds were ground into a paste with tobacco leaves and rubbed on affected body parts to treat pain.

  3. Hollyhocks signified outhouses.

    Now characteristic of quaint, cottage gardens these tall, long-blooming flowers once symbolized something different, outhouses. People planted hollyhocks to screen the view of outhouses while also signifying to guests where they were. The phrase “visit the hollyhocks” was a polite way of letting others know you needed to use the outhouse. 

  4. Petunias used to be lanky with small flowers that were either white and purple.

    Most of our modern Petunia varieties come from two species, Petunia axillaris and Petunia violacea that are native to South America. Breeders worldwide worked through the late 1800s and 1900s to breed larger, double, and more colorful flowers that bloomed for longer periods. In 1953 PanAmerican Seed introduced the first truly red petunia, a multiflora called ‘Comanche.’ The first yellow petunia was bred by Claude Hope and introduced in 1977 by Goldsmith Seeds. These and many other introductions have created all the petunias we know today.

  5. Job’s Tears were used to make beer in 3000 BC.

    Today we mainly grow Job’s Tears as an ornamental. They’re gorgeous in the flower garden, and their seeds make lovely, natural beads. Archeologists found their residue along with barley and other plants on pottery found at a Neolithic site in north-central China, indicating they were used to brew beer. 

  6. Marigolds were used to treat hiccups.

    The Aztecs cultivated marigolds for medicinal purposes and bred them for larger blooms. The De La Crus-Badiano Aztec Herbal of 1552 recorded that the Aztecs used marigolds for hiccups, being struck by lightning, or “for one who wishes to cross a river or water safely.”
  1. Bachelor’s Buttons were found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb.

    Archeologists found intact wreaths of Bachelor’s Buttons in the boy king King Tutankhamen’s tomb, including a wreath of Bachelor’s Buttons, olive leaves, and water lily petals around his head.

  2. Sunflowers became popular in Russia because their oil wasn’t banned for lent.

    While the Native Americans had been cultivating sunflowers for food, medicine, dye, and oil as far back as 3000 BCE, they weren’t brought to Russia until the turn of the 19th century.

    A diktat issued by the Russian Orthodox Church in the 18th century banned the consumption of foods made from various oils and fats during Lent. The list of banned foods omitted sunflower oil resulting in a boom of sunflower cultivation and the eventual breeding of the popular variety, ‘Mammoth Russian.’

  3. Zinnias used to be considered hard on the eyes.

    The Aztecs referred to zinnias as an eyesore. The Spanish agreed, calling them “mal de ojos” or evil eyes. At the time, zinnias were small with scraggly foliage and muddy orange or yellow flowers. Despite attempts by companies to sell seeds in the U.S. and Europe, they didn’t become a popular garden flower until the 1880s, when French horticulturists began experimenting with breeding zinnias.

Flowers have played important roles throughout history. These are just 10 of the unique ways they’ve been used. Have you heard any of these unusual flower facts?