Heirloom Garden: What's Blooming in Summer?

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 summer months.

Moonshine yarrow

Moonshine yarrowAchillea x ‘Moonshine’

What’s a new heirloom plant? Alan Bloom introduced this bright lemon yellow bloomer which is a cross between H. x ‘Taygeta’ and A. clypeolata in the 1950’s. This plant is very popular in American gardens today, and I expect that it might also be passed down from generations to come.

Butterfly weed

Butterfly weedAsclepias tuberosa (1690)

Full sun, Zone 3-9, 1’-2.5’ tall

Native Americans introduced the "weed" to early colonists as a medicinal plant. Asclepias tuberosa is also called pleurisy root in reference to a prior use of plant roots to treat lung inflammations.  Robert Buist, author of The American Flower Garden Directory (1839), referred to butterfly weed as “one of our finest wildflowers”, particularly for dry places. Butterfly weed, like all milkweeds, is a host plant for Monarch butterflies. The caterpillars eat the leaves and ingest a toxic chemical that makes them unpalatable.

Alaska Shasta daisy

Alaska Shasta daisyChrysanthemum (Leucanthemum) x superbum ‘Alaska’

Full sun, Zone 4-9, 24”-36” tall

Horticulturist Luther Burbank owned a nursery and seed catalog business to support his obsession with plant experimentation. Mr. Burbank  introduced over 800 new plants to horticulture, including the Shasta daisy he named after the California mountain. C. ‘Alaska’ was offered in Burbank’s 1904 catalog at a very steep $0.75 a piece.


DelphiniumDelphinium x belladonna ‘Cliveden Beauty’ (1931)

Sun/part shade, Zone 3-7, 36”-48” tall

Considered in the early 1900s to be the best blue flowers for border use and were often fashionably planted next to yellow flowers. This sky-blue beauty blooms in the spring in the Heirloom Garden. All parts are poisonous, so plant this out of reach of children and pets.


FoxgloveDigitalis purpurea (Pre-1600)

Full sun/part shade, Zone 4-8, 2’-5’ tall

Do the flowers look like fingers in a glove? Was the word “fox” once pronounced “folk” as in little folk or fairies? Reportedly, the dainty bells could empower one to recover children taken by naughty fairies, and the flowers could also rid one’s life of witches. Although highly poisonous, Digitalis is used as a medicines to improve the strength and efficiency of the heart, or to control the rate and rhythm of the heartbeat.

Eastern purple coneflower

Eastern purple coneflowerEchinacea purpurea (1699)

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

Echinacea is native to eastern North America and present to some extent in the wild in much of the eastern, southeastern and midwest United States. This coneflower is believed to have strong antibiotic and immune stimulating properties. The genus name is from the Greek echino, meaning hedgehog, an allusion to the spiny, brownish central disk.

Rose campion

Rose campionLychnis coronaria

Full sun, Zone 4-8, 2’-3’ tall

A member of the Carnation family (Caryophyllaceae). This species is an old favorite of gardeners; even Thomas Jefferson grew them in his gardens, and gave the earliest American citation of the plant in 1767.The thick woolly leaves of this species were once used as lamp wicks, which contributed to its Genus name—Lychnis—from the Greek word, lychnos, meaning lamp.


Love-in-a-mistNigella damascena (Pre-1700)

Full sun, Zone 2-11, 1.5’-2’ tall

A charming annual, each flower appears to sit on a bed of lacy ,misty foliage. Cultivated in English gardens in late 1500s. The flowers are popular in dried floral arrangements. The seeds of a close relative Nigella sativa, known as black onion seeds, are used in Indian and Middle Eastern breads and vegetable dishes.

Virginia spiderwort

Virginia spiderwortTradescantia virginiana (1629)

Part/full shade, Zone 4-9, 1.5’-3’ tall

A native plant long admired and medicinally used by some Native American tribes. Once believed to be an antidote for spider bites (wort means plant.) This wild garden plant gained favor in the eyes of horticultural authorities in the mid 1900s and became used as a border flower.