Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Heirloom Flowers of our Forefathers

Hello again,

Below is some great information from our good friends at Botanical Interests--a family owned seed company whose seeds we feature here at Skillin's Greenhouses.

Presidents' Day this week celebrated the February birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. As we are gearing up for spring, we thought it would be a good time to remember that our forefathers found inspiration in their gardens.

George Washington had a farm at Mount Vernon, Virginia from 1754-1799, where he planted over sixty types of crops. In addition to growing cash crops like tobacco, wheat, and rye, he viewed his farm as a grand experiment where he grew orchards, vegetables, medicinal herbs, and flowers. Some of the vegetables he grew included cabbage, cauliflower, celery, crookneck squash, and Swiss chard. He also likely grew popular flowers of the day such as black-eyed susan, foxglove, hollyhock, blue flax, echinacea, lavender, marigold, nasturtium, and Oriental poppy.

Though Thomas Jefferson's birthday is in April, one cannot think of heirlooms without mentioning him. His 5,000-acre plantation, called Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia, was his own personal laboratory for botanical experimentation. His interest in horticulture was documented in his Garden Book that he began in 1766, listing meteorological records and notes about his sowing times and harvests. He was so fascinated by plants that he required Meriwether Lewis to study botany for nine months before starting his infamous expedition with William Clark across the Far West in 1804. Vegetables were the mainstay of Jefferson's diet. He grew over 250 varieties including artichokes, beans,cabbage, lettuce, peas, spinach and tomatoes. Some of the heirloom flowers grown at Monticello were columbine, Johnny Jump Up, sensitive plant, snapdragon, Sweet William, and violet.

Abraham Lincoln was born on his father's Sinking Spring Farm in Kentucky in 1809. Life in the early 19th century was intimately linked to the garden and farm, and one of Lincoln's recorded childhood memories includes sowing pumpkin seeds between rows of corn on his father's farm. Today, the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site in Illinois contains a working living history farm that teaches visitors about rural life in the mid-1800s.

Though many of the specific varieties grown by our forefathers are no longer available today, many heirlooms that have been around for fifty years or longer are still enjoyed.

Botanical Interests offers over 300 heirloom seed varieties. (And we offer by far most of the 300 varieties right here at Skillin's!) Some of these varieties were likely planted by our forefathers, and others were certainly planted by our fathers and grandfathers. This season, plant a little history in your garden and reap the beautiful and delicious rewards!

Thanks to Botanical Interests!
Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
March 1, 2011

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