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Charlotte Glen and her daughter, Hannah, 9, collect seeds from columbine seed pods at their home in Burgaw, N.C. Glen’s columbines are grown from seeds given to her by her grandmother when Glen was about 10 years old.
AP photo by Jonathan Fredin
Charlotte Glen and her daughter, Hannah, 9, collect seeds from columbine seed pods at their home in Burgaw, N.C. Glen’s columbines are grown from seeds given to her by her grandmother when Glen was about 10 years old.

Heirloom plants filling gardens with memories

By Melissa Kossler Dutton
For The Associated Press

Every spring Mike Milton receives a joyful reminder of his grandmother.

The bright yellow blooms on the flowering bush transplanted from her yard in Southeast Louisiana reawaken memories of the lessons and values she instilled in him.

“I can’t look at it without thinking of family members and stories,” said Milton, a Presbyterian minister in Chattanooga.

Milton’s aunt gave him a cutting of the bush, which the family calls a March rose, 13 years ago when he lived in Kansas. He vividly remembers her snipping a sprig from the plant, wrapping it in a damp newspaper and placing it in a plastic bag.

It’s a process he repeated when he moved from Kansas to Georgia and from Georgia to Tennessee. Each time, the plant has thrived in its new location.

“It’s never failed me,” he said. “It’s a piece of home.”

Botanical legacies like Milton’s grow in gardens around the country, said Charlie Nardozzi, senior horticulturist with the National Gardening Association in South Burlington, Vt.

Gardening buffs have been gathering seeds, snipping cuttings and separating plants to pass on to friends and family for centuries. What began as a way to help others fill in their garden has become an enduring reminder of loved ones, he said.

“It’s a way of keeping us connected with our past,” he said, pointing out memories’ strong association with plants.

Charlotte Glen had didn’t succeed the first time she tried to plant a handful of columbine seeds she received from her grandmother.

Glen, who was about 10 years old at the time, scattered the columbine seeds in her yard but they didn’t take. So she started reading books about seeds and plants.

Lasting impression

Eventually, Glen was able to grow columbines and other transplants from her grandmother’s garden. The experience made a lasting impression on Glen, who went on to study horticulture in college and today works for North Carolina Cooperative Extension.

Glen continues to grow descendants of her grandmother’s columbines in her garden in Burgaw, N.C., about 25 miles north of Wilmington. And she credits her grandmother for her career choice. “She was a big influence,” Glen said. “I’m sure she was really proud and happy.”

Some families have colorful tales about relatives who brought seeds with them when they immigrated to America, said Dave Whitinger, who runs one of the nation’s largest garden Web sites, www.daves
garden.com.

“Often the seeds were sewn into a hem or something,” he said from his office in College Station, Texas. “When they arrived, they opened it up and planted the seeds.”

Seeds from descendants of some of those plants are still in use today. Whitinger’s Web site and others are forums where gardeners interested in old plant varieties swap growing tips and plants.

Continuation of heritage

Yvonne Pund has lily of the valley growing in her yard that her ancestors brought here from England. Her grandmother planted the delicate white flowers in the late 1880s, and Pund brought some of the plants to her Newburgh, Ind., garden about 10 years ago.

Pund’s daughter had a few of the flowers tucked into her wedding bouquet.

“It’s just like a continuation of your heritage,” said Pund, who will make sure her daughter takes some of the plants when she starts a garden.

In Janet P. Carlson’s family, passing on a cutting from their great-grandmother’s African violet has become a rite of passage, she said.

The family divided up the original plant in the early ’70s when her husband’s grandmother died. Carlson’s mother-in-law gave her a violet in 1979.

“I have no idea what the technical name is,” she said. “It’s just grandma’s.”

Dividing the plant is a nerve-racking undertaking.

“You don’t want to do something that will make it die,” said Carlson, who lives outside Minneapolis, Minn.

Still, Carlson said, she has done it for various family members.

She has started a plant for her daughter, Marisa, but she hasn’t passed it on to her — yet.

“When you’re solid enough and we think you have a nice window, you get one,” Carlson joked.

Heirloom plants guide

If you’re thinking of trying to propagate a family plant — or any plant, for that matter — here is some advice.

How to collect seeds

  • Choose plants that seem especially healthy and not stressed from drought, disease or other factors.

  • Let seeds dry on the plant as long as possible. Observe plants to discover at what point the plant would naturally drop its seeds and collect them then.

  • Seeds typically are embedded in pulp, pods or capsules. Harvest seeds on a sunny day after the dew evaporates. Remove all pulp and fiber from their surfaces.

  • Dry seeds in a well-ventilated place on newspaper, paper towels or screens for about a week.

  • Store seeds in glass jars in a cool, dry location.

    How to propagate plants and shrubs with flexible branches:

  • Cut a 6-inch piece of stem off the plant. Usually the tip of a branch or stem will do, but if the plant is blooming, cut in a bit deeper.

  • Take cuttings from different parts of the plant to avoid creating holes in the foliage.

  • Remove flowers and cut the stems into 4- to 6-inch pieces.

  • Make a clean cut at the bottom of the stem and remove all but a few leaves at the tip end of the cutting.

  • Dip the cut end into a rooting hormone.

  • Place the cutting into a 2- to 4-inch plastic nursery container filled with fresh potting soil.

  • Place the container inside a clear plastic bag, keeping the plastic away from the cutting and securing the opening of the bag with a twist tie or rubber band.

  • Place the bag in filtered light, not direct sun.

  • Water when soil feels dry to the touch.

  • When roots form, remove the plastic bag and set plants in a protected location with filtered sun.

  • Begin a mild fertilizer program applied at half strength every two weeks.

  • Transplant the young plants into a larger pot when roots start coming out of the drainage holes.

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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