IF YOU GO
* What: Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia Heirloom Plant and Garden Club meeting; new and experienced gardeners are welcome.
* When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 7.
* Where: Crabtree Farms, 1000 E. 30th St.
* Information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Extra: After the meeting, the group will caravan to a member's home for a lesson on winemaking from heirloom grapes.
Geri Sink bought a house built in the late 1800s when she relocated to LaFayette, Ga., from Florida. The gardener wanted her home's landscape to complement the historic age of the house, so she planted heirloom roses in the yard. Commonly called "old garden roses," they are reminiscent of flowers the home's residents might have enjoyed 125 years ago.
Sink and her daughter, Tina Jennings of LaFayette, discovered these antique roses while attending meetings of the Tri-State Rose Society. Jennings is the third generation of females in her family to grow roses. She now specializes in heirlooms and is a speaker on antique roses for clubs around the region.
"We're known as the 'old garden rose ladies,'" Jennings jokes.
But the mother-daughter rosarians are serious enough about their love of heirlooms that they've driven to South Carolina, Texas and Michigan to purchase new plants.
Just as they were educated on plants by attending the Rose Society meetings, the two hope to pay it forward by planting seeds of information about heirlooms through a new garden club. Sink, Jennings, landscape designer Scott Drucker and herbalist/master gardener Ivana Patterson have founded the Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia Heirloom Plant and Garden Club.
The new garden club, specializing in heirloom plants of all types, began meeting about three months ago at Crabtree Farms in Chattanooga on the first Thursday of each month.
"We decided since there was not really a gardening group in this geographical area that specialized in heirlooms, that we would give it a try. When we started talking to people, we found more young people were interested in learning about older plants," Jennings says.
Drucker says the club's first goal is to reach new members and offer educational programs on growing heirlooms. Long-range plans include creating an ornamental "old-time garden" at Crabtree Farms and helping restore local historic sites/gardens around the Chattanooga area with age-appropriate plantings, he says.
"'Heirloom' is a large category for every type of plant over 100 years in use," describes Drucker.
"As a landscape designer, I am drawn to unique, beautiful plants, flowers and trees," he continues. "I find many of them in historic gardens, but they are not readily available to the public. My wife and I have collections of various heirloom roses, camellias, hydrangeas, perennials, and we have started growing some heirloom tomato varieties for their amazing taste. My favorite tomatoes are Cherokee Purple and Brandywine."
Jennings, who planted her first heirloom tomatoes this year, agrees that "heirloom vegetables are becoming more popular." Among the heirloom vegetable lines now out there are Kentucky Wonder pole beans, Golden Bantam corn and Jenny Lind melons.
Drucker and Jennings say encouraging a new generation of gardeners to invest in heirlooms is important to them.
"Once they hear about old garden roses, they become interested because they are low-maintenance. As a society, we are moving toward easy care. Young married couples are raising families and don't want to spray chemicals around children and pets. Old garden roses are flowers you don't have to spray," says Jennings.
In addition, these long-lived lines reveal historic tidbits as gardeners investigate plants before purchasing,
"Most of the roses we've been able to salvage here in the United States were rescued from cemeteries because it was the custom to plant a rose at the grave," Jennings says.
One of Sink's favorites, the Apothecary's rose, came to America on the Mayflower, historic records show. It blooms one time per season; but its showy, dark-pink blossoms are 3 to 4 inches in size with bright yellow stamens, she says.
"When the American West was settled, the Apothecary's rose was carried along on wagon trains. Its rose hips are high in Vitamin C and the plant was used for medicinal purposes. They made rose petal tea with it for stomach ailments," explains Jennings.
Popular heirloom roses in Southern gardens include Seven Sisters, a climbing rose in multiple shades of pink, and Hermosa, an easy-care shrub rose that is a repeat bloomer.
"Hermosa doesn't like to be sprayed, has very few thorns and is truly easy-care," she adds.
Jennings says heirloom roses average $30 to $40 each, depending on the shipping fee. So she and Sink have learned to propagate, and will sell rose plants for $16 a gallon.
"We don't ship plants," she adds, "we're just backyard growers."
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.