Family Heirlooms: Christmas Cactuses, Fig Trees, Hostas, and Gooseberries

Readers share tales of treasured family plants.

| Fall 2019

cactus
Photo by Lori Hespe Hutchinson

Christmas Cactus

This Schlumbergera was a part of my husband’s late grandmother’s collection. Grandma and her family moved from Colorado to South Dakota in a covered wagon when she was a child, and her hardworking life inspired her whole family. When Grandpa bought a place outside of Lander, Wyoming in February 1938, the former missus of the house left a Schlumbergera cactus for Grandma. In 1943, the family moved to Montana. Grandma’s plants sat on a board in the back seat of a ‘37 Chevy, the cactus among them. Apparently, it survived tipping over several times on the trip to Montana! They moved again in 1947 back to the Wyoming ranch house, where she and her cactus lived until she passed. The Schlumbergera’s home was her sunroom. She had several Thanksgiving and Christmas cactuses hanging there, and they were always a welcome sight when guests entered her home through this cheery room. When she passed away, I received one of her beloved plants. I didn’t have much of a green thumb in the mid-‘90s, but I managed to keep it alive. My husband and I traveled for his job from 2001 to 2010, and I asked a friend to care for it while we were gone. She kept it alive as well, but it didn’t flourish. When we bought a home in 2011, I got it back from her. With full custody of my Schlumbergera and a better understanding of plants, I’ve repotted her twice, and I feed her every three months. She loves her west-facing window, and she’s watered every Friday. Last winter, my husband made a plant stand for our Schlumbergera, complete with a tile top to prevent ruining any wood when accidentally overwatering. Since 2012, she’s bloomed a week or so before Thanksgiving and displayed her gorgeous fuchsia blooms for 5 to 6 months. Not too shabby, considering she’s over 80 years old! Each time I water her, I remember Grandma: her garden, her chickens, and most of all, her love of plants.

Lori Hespe Hutchinson


Familial Figs

I’m growing a fig tree in Vermont that came from my Italian grandparents’ garden in New Jersey. It’s survived seven winters and bears small fruit, but it isn’t nearly as big as it was in my grandparents’ garden. When my grandmother could no longer care for her garden, my aunt, my mom, and I all took a root from the tree. I think of my grandparents often while tending this plant.



Ellie Stubbs


A Host of Hostas

My grandmother had a large, healthy ring of ‘Variegated’ hostas (Hosta venusta) in her backyard for more than 40 years. It encircled and eventually enveloped an old concrete birdbath estimated to be more than 80 years old. When Grandma decided to sell her house, I divided the hostas and shared them with my family, planting many in my own garden.






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