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Heirloom Annuals


Heirloom Annuals

An heirloom plant is an open-pollinated cultivated variety (cultivar) that has been grown for many years and is often handed down through families. (Open-pollinated plants are pollinated by birds, insects, wind, and other natural mechanisms.) The commonly accepted cut off date for heirloom plants is 1951, just after World War II, when seed companies and growers began widespread use of hybrid seed. The offspring of open-pollinated cultivars retain the parent plant’s traits even when the flower is pollinated naturally. There are many motivations to grow heirloom plants including maintaining genetic diversity, reintroducing formerly well-known varieties, growing rare plants, expanding beyond hybrid varieties, and historic interest.

As we rearrange the peony garden we're filling some of its empty spaces with heirloom annuals to increase visual interest and add summer color after the peonies have finished blooming. All of the heirloom varieties have been grown in flower gardens since the 1800s. Modern cultivars of these plants have been bred for characteristics in flower color, form, and height. While modern cultivars are more common in flower gardens today, the historic cultivars were chosen because they reflect the era of the peony cultivars in the peony garden. Indeed, similar heirloom annuals and peonies may have grown together in flower gardens in centuries past. 

The annuals in the Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden were chosen specifically for their resistance to drought, deer, and groundhogs, which find most of these plants to be unpalatable or irritating to the mouth.

Heirloom Annuals in the Garden

Centaurea cyanus – Bachelor’s Button
Cleome hassleriana – Spider Flower
Portulaca grandiflora – Moss Rose
Salvia coccinea – Scarlett Salvia