Heirloom Garden: What's Blooming in Autumn?

The Heirloom Garden, surrounding the National Museum of American History, Behring Center, has a variety of plants that highlight the types that have been passed down from generation to generation.

Here are a few that are in bloom during the autumn months.

Japanese anemone

Japanese anemoneAnemone x hybrida ‘Queen Charlotte’ (1907)

Full sun/part shade, Zone 5-8, 2’-3’ tall

Appearing in an American garden in Biltmore, NC in 1907, ‘Queen Charlotte’ anemone was called ‘Konigin Charlotte’ when it was first introduced in Germany in 1898 (Pfitzer). One hundred years later, Charlotte is still queen of the American fall garden when her cottony bud clusters open into semi-double, silvery pink petals.

Butterfly weed

Butterfly weedAsclepias tuberosa, 1690

In addition to a long season of warm orange blooms, the seed pods add beauty to the late summer and fall garden. Leaves and pods are also food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars and milkweed bugs. See What’s Blooming in Summer for additional information on butterfly weed

Rose Queen spider-flower

Rose Queen spider-flowerCleome hassleriana ‘Rose Queen’ (1800’s)

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew this exotic South American annual. The cultivated variety ‘Rose Queen’ is listed in an 1836 seed catalog and is still offered in many seed catalogs today. Seed pods and stamens appear like wispy whiskers that add a delicate effect to a reliable bloomer of rose buds which open into fluffy light-pink petals which present a two-tone effect.

True forget-me-not

True forget-me-notMyosotis palustris (1800’s)

Medieval lore tells of a knight picking myosotis flowers along a river bank fell into the water and drowned due to his heavy suit of armor. But before he went under, the quick thinking knight threw the bouquet of baby blue flowers to his lover and proclaimed “Forget-me-not”. The language of flowers in 15th century Germany encouraged folks to wear myosotis so that they would not be forgotten by their loved ones and to signify faithfulness. The flower itself is unforgettable both for its color and its charming ability to spread itself around in the sweetest little places.

Lime green tobacco

Lime green tobaccoNicotiana alata ‘Lime Green’ (pre-1950)

Native to Brazil, Nicotiana alata was introduced into English garden cultivation in 1829 and into America gardens in 1889. Visitors to the Heirloom Garden this summer were often surprised at the flower’s unusual apple-green color, and that Nicotiana alata is an ornamental tobacco.

Lettuce leaf basil

Lettuce leaf basilOcimum basilicum ‘Lettuce Leaf’ (pre-1880’s)

This basil was included in Vilmorin’s 1885 The Vegetable Garden Manual which is sold in modern reprint today. Today, ‘Lettuce Leaf’ basil is also still popular for its large leaves that are ideal for making pesto. In the Heirloom Garden, plants have worked non-stop all summer to produce vivid green, fragrant leaves that add course textural contrast to many other garden plants. And, the bees LOVE the tiny white flowers.

Scent or Scented geranium

Scent or Scented geraniumPelargonium

“Scenteds” were introduced to Europe from South Africa in about 1632 by John Tradescan (gardener to Charles I), but the plants became most popular during the Victorian era (1837-1901) for the heavenly scents they come in and easy cultivation under conservatory conditions. Reportedly, there were up to 150 cultivars listed in some of the nursery catalogs back then. Oil from the geranium now called ‘Attar of Roses’ was used as a cheap substitute for the fashionable perfume “attar of rose”, so numerous British plantations popped up in South Africa to cash in on Victorian demand.

Meanwhile in America (by the 1830’s), scented geraniums became a trendy house or porch plant. But because of the plants’ connection to the overly ornate Victorians, this group of plants eventually lost popularity. American trends began looking for simpler and more relaxed gardens. One hundred years later, scented geraniums were scarcely noted in herbal literature. However today, the plants are regaining popularity mainly for use of foliage to add texture, color, and scent to the garden and landscape bedding. Scenteds can also be used in the kitchen to flavor baked goods, jellies, perfumes, and potpourris. Cultivated variety names like ‘Lemon Rose’, ‘Nutmeg’, and ‘Peppermint’ describe the many aroma similarities that geraniums have to other plants. Some enthusiasts collect scenteds solely for this reason.

This year, the Heirloom Garden features Pelargonium quercifolium ‘Fair Ellen’; an oak leaf form with purple-brown venation, Pelargonium tomentosum; a peppermint-scent geranium, and Pelargonium graveolens ‘Lady Plymouth’; rose-scent foliage splotched with cream variegation..

Violet flower

Violet flowerPetunia integrifolia (1831 in England)

Petunia hybrids today are descended frothis extraordinarily beautiful violet petunia and from co-parent Petunia axillaris which is also an old-fashion garden favorite. Petunia integrifolia is native of Argentina. Some of the visitors to the Garden this summer found it hard to imagine why breaders tried to improve this pretty petunia.

Coleus hybrids

Coleus hybridsSolenostemon (Coleus) scutellarioides

In Victorian United States and Europe, circular designs were often cut into the lawn and featured simple to intricate interior shapes filled with flowers or foliage. Garden writers cautioned that maintaining such beds could be expensive and that home owners with smaller properties should limit the size and complexity of such bedding schemes. Coleus were a very important plant to include in these plantings, particularly in the subtropical garden.

This year, the garden featured one of the earliest Coleus hybrids called ‘Sparkler’ (1880, England). Sparkler is still available through specialty mail-order nurseries.