Garden Designers Round Table: Memory & Plants (From the Archives) – Sentimental Favorites

November 27, 2012

This is a repost from 2009 but when the GDRT decided on the idea of Memory and Plants I knew immediately that I wanted to revive this post….it is one of my favorites and as I re-read it today (3 years after I originally wrote it!) it still rings so true….that is the thing about memories (and plants)….they don’t change so much.

I started my annual Christmas cookie baking extravaganza yesterday — it will continue through the weekend.  Why do I do this?….purely for sentimental reasons.   I bake because my grandmas baked, because I love it and because giving away cookies is joyful.  Thinking about grandmas, of which I am blessed to still have one of, my mind immediately wanders to thinking of plants.  My mother’s mother was a huge gardener too.  Her ranch in Montana is where I learned to love nature and gardens and she continues to be  huge influence.  Thoughts of her, as I rolled snickerdoodles in cinnamon sugar yesterday, left me making a mental list of plants that I just love, purely for sentimental reasons.
I make no claims to recommend these plants to my clients per se, it’s just that a homey garden, for me, will have each of them.  Kind of like a house isn’t a home unless it is filled with family pictures, furniture hand me downs and favorite things, my garden doesn’t feel homey without these.A garden should be filled with sentimental plants - here are mine

1. Red Peony, 2. Mexican Marigolds, 3. Nettles and Hazel Leaf, Lithprint, 4. Down among the Horsetails, 5. Hollyhock shed, 6. Margaritas, 7. Orange Oriental Poppy, 8. Weeping Willow

Burgundy red peonies….because I was always at my grandmas house in the summer when these were blooming…she had a huge hedge of them, when she died I took some for my own garden at the time and swore that I would never have a garden with out some of them.  But my current garden is without…and I have resolved to change that…I just need to make my way back to central Montana to dig some up. Easier said than done.

The smell of marigold greens is the best scent in the garden, don’t you think?  Marigolds aren’t a favorite flower, but when I was about 8, my sister and I de-headed and spread millions of marigold seeds through my mother’s purple irises.  She cursed us and made us weed them all out in the spring. (or at least attempt to) — I can’t say I fully understood the amazing-ness of seeds until that day….and I still find seedlings exciting…even if it does mean lots of weeding.

Nettle and Horsetail grass grew wild on my grandmas ranch.  Long walks always involved pulling apart pieces of grass, and I will never forget my first incorrect plant identification…when I excitedly thought that the nettle was mint, and my cousins and I rubbed it all over our faces trying to get it to smell….nice.

Hollyhocks that my mother planted were always rusty and never as nice at this picture,  but they were double flowered and made great little girl dolls for dirt fort houses.  My mother also grew beautiful oriental poppies and white daisies together…I loved them so much they inspired my wedding flowers and colors.

And finally – weeping willows – one grew on the banks of Spring Creek which runs through my grandmas ranch, our swimming hole was beneath it, and also one grew in the center of my childhood backyard. The one in my backyard can actually choke me up if I take a drive by that old house.  It is huge and beautiful, but it was a whip when we planted it.  I think it was a freebie giveaway tree from a grand opening of a K-mart.   After about 5 years, It had grow significantly but it appeared to be diseased – my dad insisted that the only solution to whatever ailed it was to cut it down and get rid of it.  I couldn’t bear the thought, and if not for my intervention (I was about 11) it wouldn’t stand today as one of the prettiest trees in the neighborhood.  I begged, I cried and I basically laid down in the front of the thing – I was an original tree hugger – we figured a way to cure the tree and it lives on.

Listing these in my head, I was surprised to realize that I don’t really have any of these plants in my own garden.  So I have my first resolution for 2010 – to change that.  I only have the shasta daisies and oriental poppies, but my evil woodchuck friend ate them. I will have to take some hard action, but it’s a good and accomplishable resolution I think.


Update 2020:  I have burgundy peonies (but not from my Grandma’s ranch). Rather, they are transplanted from a local historical garden whose story is at the root of the novel that I will someday finish. (more on that here). I am amazed at how tough they are – the peonies I transplants (as well as those that at the ranch) all must have been planted more than 50 years ago… and they live….and survive transplanting.  Amazing.

I also have a weeping willow. It too has had its struggles, (it got whacked in a storm and lost its main stem).  But, I could not let it go, and have pruned a new leader stem into existence and it continues to thrive (though it has a little more ‘character’ now).

I’ve tried to establish hollyhocks in my current garden, but the woodchuck seems to love them as much as I do.

And I have daisies for days, they go with everything, so I plant them with everything.  Everything except for Poppies. I can get the little California poppies to grow from seed in my garden, but the big oriental ones don’t love my land.  I think they may have a penchant for the sandy basic soil that mom mom had in our Colorado garden.  Here I have heavy acidic soils… I’ll keep trying though.


I am curious, what are some of your sentimental favorites?


Join my GDRT colleagues for their thoughts on Memory and Plants. 

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA

Thomas Rainer : Grounded Design : Washington, D.C.

REgister now!

A Free Master Class



  1. louise garwood says:

    Rochelle, so many of these images are familiar icons of childhood for me, too, and holiday baking has begun in our home as in many this time of year. I always make several dozen of my aunts butter spritz wreaths with an old cookie press and decorate with cinnamon imperial ‘berries’ which I only like on these cookies as they just ‘belong’ there. Over the years I have begun my own family favorites and christmas is not christmas without them set on a plate for an afternoon tea or to put out when friends stop by during the holidays. They include baklava and almond crescent cookies, both Mediterranean favorites. Scottish shortbread is also a wonderful treat- and the main ingredient that they all have in common-butter! mmmm. So warming this time of year.
    The gardens of my youth and into young adult hood included shasta daisies, hollyhock (we also made twirling dolls with the opened and partly opened blossoms-girls with turbans we called them) siberian iris, common daylily and of course spring peonies. I have a bunch of my mother-in-laws red burgundies but prefer the incredibly fragrant white ones with the red splash in them . In my own projects I love to experiment with bold textures and colored foliage , I try almost anything but these old blowsy favorites- interestingly they remain secreted away in memory- perhaps it is time to celebrate them in my future herbaceous border designs. Happy holidays!

  2. Rochelle, What a great post. You are sending me back in time to my great uncles house in Vermont, with many of the same type of memories. Thanks, Scott.

  3. James A-S says:

    Ahem, Rochelle, this looks as if it needs expanding into a proper post for Encounters With Remarkable Biscuits. Please.

  4. rochelle says:

    yes james – I agree – was thinking the same…expect it soon.

  5. Rochelle, these are really lovely memories and reminded of a talk I gave to a gardening group about plant associations. So many people remember plants for different reason. I always remember my grandparents having large moss green painted Versailles planter with white mop-head hydrangea and white snapdragons. I have never grown either but remember pinching the snapdragons off to play space ships – I don’t do that now!!
    I recently wrote about scandinavian associations with mistletoe on my own blog:

  6. Funny how some plants are so loaded with memories for people. Your list very much resonated with me.

  7. Rochelle: I was taken back to a garden where I started, my Grandparents’ back yard on the other side of town from my home in S Wisconsin. I especially felt drawn to their cherry tree, harvest time, and the ultimate baked product: the most amazing cherry pie you could ever imagine. Thanks for this sweet post, Douglas

  8. When I was a little girl in North Carolina, orange-striped daylilies grew wild in the woods behind my house. I didn’t know what they were called, so I named them tiger lilies (I was a fan of both Peter Pan and princesses at the time). Fast forward to my career as a California landscape designer, and daylilies are despised by many as far to ordinary for a professionally designed garden. But I still love them and use them, particularly the older, less flashy versions.

  9. Andrew Keys says:

    At first I was all, “Whaaaaat? She reposted an old post?!” and THEN it hit me what a GREAT concept that was for this topic. There’s something very meta about it, you know? I love that.

    Also love the picture of you spreading marigold seeds in your mom’s irises…

  10. Ok — since you clearly survived the incident — I confess to loving the story of your nettle misidentification. Sometimes, the negative experiences with plants make as big an impression on us as the positive. Growing up in North Carolina with foot-skewering “gumball trees” in our yard, I could not imagine why Liquidambar was so beloved in other regions for its fall color. Thank goodness for fruitless varieties! Also, I’m glad that some weeds made your list, as well as other plants. Dandelions, yellow sorrel, and red clover are my sentimental weeds from childhood rambles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Does Your Garden Need a Makeover?

Learn my 7-step system to design and build a stunning garden anywhere in the world.


Join my Free Class!

Understand the 5 mistakes everyone makes when creating a garden. (Save yourself time, money, & headaches and get much better results!)

See how to work directly with me (but at a DIY price!) to
design and create your own gorgeous garden.