Truly sustainable plants are less lucrative to the nursery industries.

My rhubarb really has been around a while! My father’s father’s father and mother grew it quite some time ago, and shared some shoots of it with my father. He then shared it with my maternal grandmother, who shared it with her mother, another of my great grandmothers, who thought it was something really exotic. Along the way, it was undoubtedly shared with friends and neighbors all over the place.

My great grandparents with the original rhubarb also grew old varieties of grapes, oranges, lemons, walnuts and all sorts of vegetables. Their two (‘Carpathian’ English from Persia) walnut trees were remnants from an orchard that was already old before their home was new in 1940. The few ‘ornamental’ features of their garden included such old fashioned but resilient plants as junipers, callas, pelargoniums (geraniums), dahlias and roses. Yes, the stereotypical Italian American garden. My great grandfather even gave me my first nasturtium seeds.

My maternal grandfather likewise grew all sorts of traditional vegetables, as well as cherries, peaches, avocados, blackberries and raspberries. My grandmother competed for limited garden space to tend to her many roses, as well as lilacs and bearded iris that she got from her mother. My mother still grows a large herd of the original iris, several lilacs and a copy of the peach tree.

My very first experiences with gardening were in the old fashioned but remarkably sustainable gardens of my parents, grandparents and great grandparents. Such gardening with so many old fashioned plants would seem primitive by modern standards, but really demonstrates how sustainable proper horticulture is.

Of course, as a horticulturist, I work with all sorts of exotic plants and modern varieties. Although some are fun to work with, the best and most sustainable plants are the old classics and simpler ‘unimproved’ plants, especially those that can be propagated from seed, division or cuttings from established plants.

Many modern varieties of plants are more beneficial to the retail nursery industry than to home gardens, since they do not last too long. They are generally either not well suited to local climates, or are genetically weak from extensive breeding or mutation. (Many of the mutant characteristics that some varieties are selected for, such as variegated foliage or compact growth, compromise vigor.) As they come and go, more new plants are needed from nurseries to replace them. This is actually contrary to the sustainability fad that so many nurseries claim to promote.

Perhaps our parents know more about gardening and sustainability than we give them credit for.

9 thoughts on “Daddy’s Garden

  1. I actually lecture about this in a lecture I give called Trade Secrets. There are definitely plant breeders that don’t care if a plant lives more than a year or so–and I am talking about perennials! So I make recommendations about how to ensure, particularly when it comes to trees and shrubs, that gardeners choose the ones that are more likely to survive.

    And you’re right–it’s never the flashiest plant. I call them “tried and true” varieties.

    Karla

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Some of them can be flashy, although I find that some if the modern cultivars of many plants look ridiculous and very unnatural. It is so annoying to see them described with so many adjectives that are inaccurate for them, besides ‘sustainable’. Few modern cultivars bring ‘nature’ into the garden. Many of those that attract birds and insects only confuse them, such as the many flowers that attract pollinators, but produce no pollen or nectar or anything that the insects who are duped into stopping by are there for.

      Like

    2. Gardening was a common aspect of local culture at the time. My ancestors were no more involved with it than anyone else, and were actually less involved with horticulture than others of the Santa Clara Valley at the time. Many other families grew vast orchards. My ancestors were involved with other industries. My paternal ancestors operated a foundry. My maternal grandfather finished concrete.

      Like

    1. Gardening was a common aspect of local culture at the time. My ancestors were no more involved with it than anyone else, and were actually less involved with horticulture than others of the Santa Clara Valley at the time. Many other families grew vast orchards. My ancestors were involved with other industries. My paternal ancestors operated a foundry. My maternal grandfather finished concrete.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s