Historic American Buildings Survey Old photograph copied 1934 EAST ELEVATION (FRONT) – Cady House, Dodge & Norlin Streets, Sonora, Tuolumne County, CA Photos from Survey HABS CA-116 -Library of Congress
Stealing is against the law, but the “theft” of garden ideas is something else. Driving slowly around your neighborhood will clearly show gardening successes. The premise is simple; if the plant is in the same type of ground, with the same water, in a like location, your yard should have equal success with that same plant. If you are lucky enough to live in an older, established neighborhood the views can be spectacular and may have existed for generations.
Gardens go through transitions as they age, just as the homes and families that live in them. Look for the home where accumulated generations of gardeners have worked with loving care. Those generational gardens have a secret of longevity that will save you time and money.
For example, along a country road, have you ever noticed a picture-perfect white lilac sitting out in the open, next to a dilapidated wooden building that it has out-lived? Lilacs are plants that are notorious for longevity and lack of care. Plants that survive through generations must be tough and long-lived.
Trees come immediately to mind for their longevity. Oak trees live for several hundred years. Flowering trees with long lifespans include magnolias (up to 120 years) and dogwoods (up to 125 years). Fruit trees like persimmons (up to 75 years), apple and apricot trees (up to 60 years), and pecan trees (over 300 years) are true legacies passed down from the person with the foresight to plant them. (Of course, the lifespan of any plant depends on who tends to the needs of the plant, the variety of the plant, and the plant’s growing condition.)
There are perennials that also surprise us with their longevity. Peonies, with softball-sized blooms, will last for decades after they become established. Daylilies with large trumpet-like brilliant colored flowers will last for years. Iris with bladed green leaves and bearded flowers in many colors are often found in historical cemeteries and around abandoned houses. (Iris needs to be divided every few years to help with the promotion of large new blooms but need little care otherwise.)
Another plant with a long lifetime is hosta. Beautiful leaf patterns and upright blooms grace hostas. (The issues for hostas are the snails, slugs, and deer that want to shorten its lifespan quickly.)
Sedum is drought tolerant and very tough even in cold weather. Sedum has varieties like ‘Autumn Joy’ and ‘Purple Emperor’ that serenade to pollinators. Liriope or lilyturf lasts for years with fine-bladed leaves and small flowers.
The list of generational plants is long: baptista or false indigo, catmint, agapanthus, Oriental poppy, wisteria, trumpet vine, heliopsis, yarrow, moss phlox, and balloon flower are all a good start.
How long do plants live? Long enough to be the envy of the neighborhood. Long enough to have designated heirs in a will. Long enough to bring joy for years to come. So, feel free to steal ideas from the gardeners with dirty hands for lifelong happiness.
Julie Silva is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County.
UCCE Master Gardeners of Tuolumne and Calaveras Counties can answer home gardening questions. Call 209-533-5912