Botanical heirlooms

This has been a week full of big emotions and nostalgia - my daughter started school. A bittersweet time, handing over the care of my constant companion for the past 5 years (longer when you think of the incomparable connection of being pregnant, travelling the world together, just the two of us…). Anyhoo, suffice to say that an awful lot of time this week has been spent in sentimental contemplation. 


In one of those funny twists of fate, this week also happened to coincide with the inaugural flowering of some bulbs my mum had divided from her garden two years ago. As we put them in to our garden much too late in the season, they didn’t flower that first year. But the bulbs survived the fire and surprised us just this past week with their first blooms. These are Amaryllis belladonna, or belladonna lilies (commonly referred to as “naked ladies”). While they are certainly a pretty plant, the real joy is in their history  - these bulbs have a long story of familial division. My bulbs are from mum’s garden, via her mum’s garden, originally grown in the garden of their family home in Kirribilli when my mum was a little girl. True heirlooms, spanning many decades and places.

A friend of mine recently shared a beautiful note about the hydrangeas in her Canberra garden. They were grown by her mum from cuttings taken from her grandmother’s garden, which were originally from her mum’s childhood home. The thought of the history of my friend’s hydrangeas, and how much more meaningful they are than something newly acquired from a nursery… well, it makes this overly-emotional, nostalgic heart of mine super happy!

Botanical heirlooms are probably the only ones I take pleasure in - I’m not one for “stuff” or antiques or fancy, too-precious-to-sit-on furniture. I like to see old objects and think about their past owners, but I have no desire to own them. But plants which have lived in the gardens of the people I love, for decades before ending up in mine? Pure joy!

One of my goals over the next few years is to learn to propagate plants from cuttings, and to get better at collecting and growing plants from seed (or acorn or… nut?). Obviously there is a thriftiness element to this plan, but moreover I’m motivated by the idea of being able to grow plants from the places and people I treasure. Perhaps one day my kids can take part of Widgetopia when they move to their own homes, even if it is just a bulb they force each spring in a pot in a tiny apartment. I’m also motivated by the idea of being able to pinch cuttings on neighbourhood walks and propagate them on a windowsill (just like I’ve watched my mum do for the last thirty-odd years!), not that I’m advocating botanical thievery ;)

I’m currently waiting patiently to see signs of root growth on some hydrangea cuttings from our family home in Wingello - a place so entwined with major life events for me it just seems fitting to try to have a piece of it here at Widgetopia. But in the meantime, we already have a few botanical heirlooms in our garden, which I treasure deeply and thought I’d share with you all.

These dutch iris bulbs (Iris hollandica) were given to me by a dear friend of mine, divided from her garden and her parents' before that. I truly didn't think they would survive the fire, but they did indeed and bloomed again in October.


Last winter, my hubby's folks moved house, leaving behind my mother-in-law's extraordinary, beautiful, made-from-scratch garden. Thankfully, the garden was able to be thinned out a bit without damaging it's overall appeal, so we were able to take bags and bags of hellebores, violets and bulbs to put into our fire-ravaged one. I am so grateful not just for the actual plants, but for that piece of history from my in-laws' gorgeous garden.


We've had bearded irises (Iris germanica) from my godmum's garden in ours for many years now, after my mum brought down several garbage bags full... they had travelled all the way from Toowoomba, 1200km north of us! They were the very first thing to pop up post-fire, and they are surviving with virtually no care this year as we deal with other parts of the garden. Very thankful to have this part of my godmum's garden bringing us cheer, year after year.


We also have some little camellias and a few bigger shrubs from my mum-in-law and from my husband's grandmother's garden. So so special! 

I’d love to know if you have heirlooms in your garden too - who are they from, where did they live before they came to grow with you?