Heirloom Stories: Plums, Roses, Bulbs and More

Readers share heirloom stories about treasured plants that have been saved, grown, cooked, and enjoyed for generations.

Plums

"Blue Diamond" plums are not easily transported so are not widely sold in supermarkets, so they're a special homegrown treat.

Photo by Heather Cole

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Rambling Rose: An Heirloom Rose Bush

When I was seven years old, my mom and grandparents took me to visit the farm where my grandfather grew up. It was in bad shape. No one had lived there for many years, but there were a few flowers still thriving. One was a beautiful pink rose. My grandfather dug up a piece of it, and we brought it home and planted it. He told me his mom had planted it when he was a little boy. Now I’m 60 years old, and a piece of my pink rose always moves with me wherever I go.

Sabrina Page
Russellville, Kentucky


The ‘Blue Diamond’ Plum Tree

Flavor is a path to memory, taking us back to special places and people. For gardeners, these memories often lead us to grow the flavors we long for. We know they can only come straight from our gardens and not from the supermarket.

The plums from the ‘Blue Diamond’ tree are just such a memory for me. I remember the towering tree in our orchard, covered in fat purple plums hanging well out of reach. My father’s favorite, the ‘Blue Diamond’ always looked ripe a long time before it actually was.

My sister and I would climb the prickly branches or knock the plums off with the long hoe and then run behind the chicken shed to eat them. Often we were rewarded with a mouth-puckeringly sour plum, but it didn’t stop us. For that short time when the ‘Blue Diamond’ was ripe, it had a melting, sweet-and-spicy flavor that was heavenly.

By the time I came to plant an orchard, my folks had long since left the ‘Blue Diamond’ tree, but I remembered and started searching for my own. Like so many heirlooms, it wasn’t in any catalog. This European plum has dense, dry flesh and a high sugar content, making it delicious only when perfectly ripe. Because it’s not a plum that supermarkets can easily transport and store, many growers choose not to include it in their orchards.

But my persistence paid off. Mr. Limmer, a retired orchardist, had one in his garden. He grafted me my very own ‘Blue Diamond’ tree from his. It’s 8 years old now, and this summer it gave our family some new memories as my father, my sister, and I picked and ate perfectly ripe ‘Blue Diamond’ plums and remembered happy days.

Heather Cole
Tasman, New Zealand


A Wild Goose Chase

My heirloom seed story began about 20 years ago while I was visiting my great aunt. She had a bean growing in a container pot, and it was growing everywhere. When I asked about it, she smiled and said it was a “wild goose bean” and told a story that has been told many times: A bean was found in the craw of a goose, and it was given to her by someone I didn’t know then or now. I asked if I could have a few seeds, and of course she said yes.

I am happy to say that I’m still growing “goose beans” today. That one plant of beans has led to my fascination with heirloom beans. I currently grow eight cultivars from the United States — the ‘Conover Family Butter Bean,’ ‘Noble Fall Bean,’ and my goose beans are my favorites. Thanks to social media I have traded many seeds, and this year I started five heirloom beans from Italy and two from Spain.

I am also growing ‘Great Northern’ beans from the original strain developed by Oscar H. Will & Co. The owner of the company said that he selected it from beans he grew out from a pouch of seeds given to him in 1883 by a man named Son of Star, a Hidatsa (Hiraacá) tribal member from the Fort Berthold Reservation, Dakota Territory.

Larry Stephens
Edmonton, Kentucky


Beautiful Heirloom Bulbs

My grandmother Ruth grew the most beautiful flowers. Grandma Ruth passed away in 1984, but I was able to dig up some of the bulbs and rhizomes from the beauties she grew, and they’re flourishing in my yard. Each spring when the crocus, hyacinth, and iris are blooming, my memories turn once again to the days of my youth and the happy times I shared with my grandparents. The first bulbs were planted more than 100 years ago, and these heirloom plants are blooming in my yard this spring.

Sherry Marshall
Uniontown, Arkansas


Great-Grandmother’s Heirloom Rose Bush

I propagated a rose bush that originally came from my great-grandmother, whom I never met — she died in the 1960s, well before I was born. I’m unsure of the cultivar. The “original” bush is still growing at my great-grandmother’s home (where my parents now live), and it’s extremely hearty and vigorous, covering a fence that’s 5 feet tall and 15 feet long.

Three years ago, I took some clippings and successfully propagated the bush, and this year it bloomed. Now my children can enjoy their great- great-grandmother’s rose bush!

Blaney Carter
Covington, Georgia


Send Us Your Stories

We’re looking for readers’ heirloom stories about special plants passed down and shared for generations. We pay $25 for each story we publish and $25 for each photo we use. Please send your story and high-resolution photos, if available, to Letters@HeirloomGardener.com for a chance to be included in a future issue!