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Perennial means always: old fashioned plants we’ll always love

You know what’s great about being a landscape designer? You get to see the deeper meaning that some plants have for people. I’ve had clients tear up when I suggest a plant because it was their grandma’s favorite, or they associated it with time at the family farm. I’ve had plenty of specific requests. I’ve even had that terrifying moment when someone shares that such and such plant, they planted with their late husband and we can move it but they REALLY want it to survive. No pressure, right? (so far we haven’t lost a single memory plant!)

Over the many years I’ve been doing this I’ve noticed that some plants pop up again and again as sentimental favorites. It’s funny because so many of them would be considered too old-fashioned, and in some cases too temperamental, to be cool, and yet we love them. It’s sort of like why I have an 80’s era fake wood record player and crappy yard sale speakers in my office. My dad’s records just sound better that way. Here are some of the plants I’ve had people ask for repeatedly.

Peony (usually herbaceous)

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Peonies are probably the #1 plant for evoking some sort of emotion in my clients. Everyone’s grandmother or mom seems to have had them and let’s face it, those blooms will definitely stick in your mind for decades. One client in particular was using part of her inheritance to redo her landscaping and create a memorial garden of sorts for her parents. Peonies were the most important plant.



Iris is my personal memory plant. We had a large bed of them growing up, but what really sticks with me is the island bed of peonies at my uncle’s farm in Pennsylvania. Having maintained farm properties for clients in Ohio and Virginia has just reinforced what irises are to me: old fashioned, durable farm plants. If you go to any old farm out in the country you’ll likely see at least one bed full of iris. They’re the perfect plant-and-forget perennial because once they root in they want nothing from you and will fill in beautifully.



Lilacs can be pretty ratty looking if not properly cared for, and the bloom time is short. They also tend to get quite a bit bigger than the space folks have allocated them. Still, lilacs are that plant that every elderly relative has, the flowers are beautiful, and the fragrance of the bloom is distinctive. It’s an old fashioned plant that I love to see.



Technically this is a Japanese boxwood (Green Beauty) not English, but you get the idea
Technically this is a Japanese boxwood (Green Beauty) not English, but you get the idea

Now I know most people don’t wax nostalgic for boxwood but bear with me. Science has shown that our brains are wired such that smells can have such strong associations that they yank us right back to a point in time. Boxwood has a very distinctive fragrance, and for me when I smell English boxwood I’m six, wearing swim trunks, and walking up to the breezeway door at Aunt Sam’s house. I can’t be the only one.

I’m sure I’ve just scratched the surface. What are plants that have sentimental value for you? Tell me in the comments, I’d love to hear!


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