Heirloom Garden at the National Museum of American History, Behring Center

Highlights plants passed down from generation to generation

Burpee CoverThe Smithsonian Heirloom Garden highlights many types of plants that have been passed down from generation to generation. The plants chosen for this garden have been cultivated in American gardens prior to 1950. Filled with annuals, perennials, bulbs, shrubs and trees, the Heirloom Garden brings wonderful color and aroma to the terrace which wraps around the National Museum of American History.

Although many of these plants are considered "old-fashioned" and not frequently seen in modern gardens, it is hoped that you will be inspired to grow one or more of these heirlooms in your own garden.

Season to Season

Visitors will notice different flowers in bloom each month they frequent the Heirloom Garden. Which flowers can you expect to see as the seasons change?

Johnny-jump-up

What's Blooming in Spring?

Johnny-jump-up: These tri-colored flowers were hybridized about 150 years ago to create the pansies we know today. More

What's Blooming in Summer?

Moonshine yarrow: What’s a new heirloom plant? Introduced in the 1950's, this plant is very popular in American gardens today. More

Rose queen spider-flower

What's Blooming in Autumn?

Rose Queen spider-flower: The cultivated variety ‘Rose Queen’ is listed in an 1836 seed catalog and is still offered in many seed catalogs today. More

Audio Tour

Parterre, Haupt Gardens

Love, Herbs, and Folklore

Listen to this audio tour of the Heirloom Garden to learn how its plants were used in early American medicine and folk traditions.

Books Related to Heirloom Plants

  • American Horticultural Society A – Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants. American Horticultural Society. D. K. Publishing, Inc., 2004.
  • Passalong Plants. Steve Bender and Felder Rushing. University of North Carolina Press, 1993.
  • The Edible Rainbow Garden. Rosalind Creasy. Periplus Editions, 2000.
  • Heirloom Flowers: Vintage Flowers for Modern Gardens. Tovah Martin. Fireside, 1999.
  • Gardening with Heirloom Plants. David Stuart. Putnam Group, 1998.
  • Seed Sowing and Saving: Step-by-Step Techniques for Collecting and Growing More than 100 Vegetables, Flower, and Herbs. Carole B. Turner. Storey Communications, Inc., 1998.
  • Taylor's Guide to Heirloom Vegetables. Benjamin Watson. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996.
  • Heirloom Vegetable Gardening. William Woys Weaver. Henry Holt and Co., 1997.
  • Garden Seed Inventory. Kent Whealy. Seed Savers Exchange, 1999.
  • Heirloom Flower Gardens: Rediscovering and Designing With Classic Ornamentals. Jo Ann Gardner. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2001.
  • Restoring American Gardens: An Encyclopedia of Heirloom Ornamental Plants 1640-1940. Denise Wiles Adams. Timber Press, 2004.
  • The Garden’s Guide to Life: Timeless Lessons Based on the Principles of Gardening. Criswell Freeman, Editor. Walnut Group, 1997.

This is not meant to be a complete list of reference material related to heirloom gardens. Plant images by Smithsonian's Smithsonian Gardens staff and interns.