Family Heirloom Stories: 'Seven Sisters' Rose, 'Moneymaker' Tomato, Fernleaf Peony, and More

Readers share stories of treasured family plants.

Seven Sisters rose

The author has transplanted her 'Seven Sisters' roses several times, and the bush continues to thrive with little upkeep.

Photo by Darlene C. Hohensee

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An Enduring Rose

When I was a little girl, I used to accompany my grandmother while she “played” in her garden. A beautiful pink rose climbed along her fence. When I was 10, my dad planted some cuttings from that rose bush along our back fence. Many years later, I noticed that someone had removed the bush. I climbed over the neighbor’s fence to dig up a piece of the bush that had spread into their yard and brought it to my own house to nurture it into the beautiful plant it had once been. I have been able to transplant this same bush through all three of my moves.

The ‘Seven Sisters’ rose (Rosa multiflora) is extremely easy to grow — I just plant it and enjoy it. It doesn’t seem to require any fertilizers or amendments — at least in my Zone 8 area. I do add some organic compost occasionally, if I’m already adding it to my other plants. Unless it’s a severe drought, I don’t even water this beauty.

Every time I pass this beautiful ‘Seven Sisters’ rose or tend to it, I feel my dad and grandmother close to my heart. I only wish it bloomed all year!

Darlene C. Hohensee, Carriere, Mississippi


The Luxury of Dill

Nothing reminds me of spring more than the dill sauce my dad used to make when I was a kid. Somehow those little flecks of chopped green made all the difference in milky sauce poured over plain potatoes.

Back then, stores were empty, factories were silent, money lost its value, and people went to war. My parents worked day and night to put food on the table. One day when I was 10 and my sister was 6, I decided to make a meal to greet my parents when they arrived after a long day. We settled on baked potatoes with dill sauce. While my sister peeled potatoes (as well as a six year old with a dull knife could), I went out to pick dill.

My parents knew nothing about gardening, but we did have a huge garden full of grass and flowers. I knew we had dill somewhere, but the backyard was so full of weeds that I wasn’t sure what was what. I looked for the plant with dark, spiky leaves that smelled nice, and I took a bunch. I cooked the sauce following my father’s recipe, and we baked the potatoes, set the table, and waited. My parents were so surprised and proud of us when they came home. They sat down smiling, and we all enjoyed that simple meal.

They never told me. I knew my sauce was no good. It wasn’t like my dad’s — it tasted funny. I thought that was because I was a bad cook. A year later, when I learned how to recognize all the plants around me (thanks to a strict biology teacher who made us categorize them in 120-page herbariums), I realized I had actually picked another plant. I made chamomile sauce. My parents laughed at my discovery and said it was still the best sauce they ever had — the first meal their kids made for them together.

I became the first gardener in my family. At times in my life, I didn’t have a big garden or a backyard, but I always had green things growing in small pots inside my apartment, and very often one of them was dill.

Tatjana Almazan, Waterloo, Ontario


The Most Valuable Tomato

Like many men living in rural, coastal communities of England, when my dad wasn’t fishing, he could be found in his vegetable patch. He grew potatoes and peas, essentials for a fish dinner, but his gardening passion was his tomatoes. While he ordered his beets and onions into neat rows, he didn’t seem to have the heart to tame his tomato vines. Like the wild child on the block, they grew unrestrained, laughing in the face of their regimented neighbors.

Over the years, he tried many cultivars until the ‘Moneymaker’ tomato became his firm favorite. Dating back more than 100 years to 1913, this English heirloom cultivar produces a smooth-skinned tomato with a sweet bite that’s full and meaty. Absolutely delicious, fresh or cooked.

This ‘Moneymaker’ tomato thrives in my Canadian garden, where the summers are much warmer than in Britain. On a sunny August day, while I putter in my garden, the tomato vines bring back memories. As I fill yet another basket with the red globes, I swear I can hear his laugh on the evening breeze and his teasing, “I told you to tame those unruly plants!”

Jane Fowler, Bear River, Nova Scotia


Sisters’ Fernleaf Peonies

My sister was given a fernleaf peony (Paeonia tenuifolia) about 25 years ago by a very dear friend. She had many beautiful plants in her yard, but this peony was special, and I always admired it. Knowing how much I loved it, she divided it and gave me part for my yard in Pennsylvania. This created a wonderful sister bond, as my peony grew into a healthy specimen. Every May it would treat us with its gorgeous magenta blossoms against its feathery greenery. It grew from four blossoms to almost three dozen blossoms. Every time my sister and I spoke on the phone, we talked about our “fernies.”

When I sold my house five years ago, I transplanted the fernleaf peony to my son and daughter-in-law’s new home. Unfortunately, two years ago, the peony succumbed to a particularly bitter winter. I was heartsick. It was rare that I could take a trip to Iowa to see my sister, and then her health began to fail. Donna passed away just before Thanksgiving last year.

I am hoping to find a way to bring her beautiful plant to my home this spring and keep those memories of my sister. At my sister’s funeral, my cousins gave me an angel statue to put in my garden. I’m hoping to create a special reflection garden around the fernleaf peony and the angel. Do you all have any tips for transplanting my sister’s precious peony?

Sheila Jameson Blandon, Pennsylvania

Sheila, The best time of year for transplanting peonies is in September. First, cut the leafy stems back to only 2 or 3 inches tall. Use a sharp spade to dig up the plant, cutting as few roots as possible. If necessary, divide the peony roots so that each section has three to five “eyes,” or growing points. Brush the soil from the roots and let them air-dry to form a hard callus before replanting; this is to help prevent root rot. Peonies don’t like to be disturbed, so it may be a few years before the plant blooms again.Heirloom Gardener staff