To Plant or Not to Plant

Historic Arkansas Museum - Thursday, January 01, 2015

If you have visited our herb garden on the grounds, you have seen a variety of plants that were common in Arkansasgardens in the 19th century. You may have even learned about how the plants were used for medicinal purposes. Before the days of adhesive bandages, the velvety, soft leaves of Lamb’s Ear did the trick.

Although we open our doors to every person, not everyplant belongs at Historic Arkansas Museum. Some plants, it seems, are not old enough for us.

Now that the museum is moving forward on the Log House grounds—adding two structures and additional landscaping—as well as on our Brownlee House backyard renovations that will include a kitchen garden, we are once again paying great attention to what we plant. With landscape historian C. Allan Brown and historic architect Tommy Jameson working on the plans, along with our expert staff and Commissioners, we are certain to wind up with very dated gardens—in a good way, of course.

Recently, gardening expert Mary Evans came to the museum to give the staff an overview of historic gardens and historic plants. On her list of historic plants was this charming French Hollyhock (left). Standing at three feet or so, with large, crinkled leaves and small, purple flowers it makes a delicate impression in a garden. At least Thomas Jefferson thought so!

Some of the other plantings on her list include Giant Cockscomb (Celosia Cristata) that can be seen at Monticello if you visit the gardens and Love Lies Bleeding (Amaranthus Caudatus) which is planted today at Mt. Vernon. But remember, just because the plant is an old variety, it may not be suitable for your historic garden. Mary reminded us that plants go in and out of fashion much like clothing. If you’re striving for a particular time period, you may have to do some research to find out what plants people were favoring at the time and whether a plant had been introduced to your region yet.

Here’s some of Mary’s sources for more information or to buy heirloom plants:

Old House Gardens

Select Seeds


Restoring American Gardens by Denise Wiles Adams

Roses in the Southern Garden by G. Michael Shoup