Plantcestry, A Riff

Andrew over at the just-launched Garden Smackdown (–bookmark it!) has come up with a delightful term: “plantcestry.” As he explains:

What I can say with some measure of certainty is that my ancestors, more and less immediate, were people of the land. They grew stuff, and most of the stuff they grew was plants. It’s plants, I’ve found, that give me a window into their world, and thereby a mirror of my own, and it’s through plants that I will attempt, here, to map another type of genealogy: my own natural history.

This is just such a good course he’s set upon, deciding to mine one’s own family heritage as spelled out in horticulture.

It is, of course, also how RW&G came to be two years ago. I set out to write down my mother’s memories of her father’s renowned vegetable garden, to poke around in history to discover the American kitchen garden’s roots. I never set out to be a “garden blogger,” per se. To do so in such a limiting, unforgiving climate would be agony.

Plus, I do so like to write about things other than plants.

And yet of all the things of which I’ve written, it’s been my freelance, unpaid coverage of the plants (or, more precisely the people who love the plants) that have resonated most deeply within me.

Tonight I thought I’d follow Andrew’s lead and type up a very short plantcestry summary of my own, one with roots in the past and tendrils (I hope) curling out to the future. I’m going to stick with just three plants tonight for sanity’s brevity’s sake. If you like this game, I encourage you to play along on your blog and/or Twitter (or in comments below). Just be sure to credit Andrew (aka @oakleafgreen) with the clever term!

Pamela’s (Brief) Plantcestry:

1. Roses – I grew up with roses, but didn’t get full swing into them until we bought our first house. When we moved to Louisiana, we went a little wild with roses, narrowing down our favorites to Belinda’s Dream (a shade of pink reminiscent of my wedding roses) and Knockouts over time. Funny, but despite the climate difference between humid Baton Rouge and dry as a bone San Antonio, we’ve discovered that BOTH of these beauties work brilliantly here. Now that she’s gone (we lost her a year ago this week, in fact), I think of my mother-in-law Faye when I see them blooming. This is not because she was a green thumb (not at all), but because my husband took a small potted red rose bush to greet her when she arrived from Alabama to attend our wedding. She was so proud of it, and many is the time that she remarked upon it years later. To her surprise, she’d successfully planted it in her yard, the house in which my husband spent most of his growing-up years. I think of all the things that she witnessed in our various yards, she was most pleased with our having planted so many roses. Now that’s she’s gone, they help keep her in mind.

2. Rosemary – This is a story of friendship, which is fitting for the plant associated with recollection. Years ago I worked for a music professor-turned-administrator who insisted that I plant rosemary at my first house. That’s when the “rosemary for remembrance” saying first came into my consciousness. Later, a good friend bought a house with a rosemary hedge. This blew my mind. When we moved back home to Texas in 2005, my husband planted rosemary in several places in our yard. I put another one out front, in a blue pot near the front door. Tater Tot was born in 2006, and by the time he learned to walk the following year, most of the rosemary bushes were thriving. This lead to him learning to maul love this fragrant, robust herb. I recall vividly roasting whole chickens one Autumn during his naps, placing bunches of fresh rosemary alongside the birds so he’d awaken to the aroma. No small wonder that, to this day, he will send visitors off with a bit of just-plucked rosemary. I have plans, of course, to share this bit of info with his betrothed someday. Perhaps she’ll tuck a sprig in with her bouquet?

3. Zinnias – According to my mother, my grandfather loved these bright-hued flowers. They’ve been a staple of our victory garden since I started it back in 2008. The garden, I knew, was a fitting tribute to his memory. What I didn’t learn until later was that he loved them as much as I did. It’s silly, yes, but I think of that revelation as my purest, most direct plantcestry connection. That I, who cannot remember my mother’s father, would pick the same flowers he loved out of instinct (and give up valuable square footage for their beauty) is, for me, the sweetest kind of revelation.


  1. Thank you SO MUCH for linking and sharing your stories! I don’t think there are any stories I love to hear quite so much as family tales involving special plants, whether they’re from my family or others’. I’ll look forward to hearing more from yours.

  2. Thanks, Andrew. I quite agree about the “specialness” of plant stories. I have a few more to share, and am looking forward to where you take this “plantcestry” concept on your blog.

  3. I’m enjoying reading posts like this (and Andrew’s new blog, though we’ve not “met” I do follow him on Twitter.) When I started growing our gardens years ago I was amazed to find that many things I grew like zinnias, roses and poppies were my grandmother’s favorites she grew. I had no idea, my parents didn’t garden. I wonder if there is a garden “gene” that connects our families’ fondness for certain varieties? I like to think so, anyway.

  4. Have been thinking a lot lately about my garden and how it connects me with family and friends. Can’t look at plants without remembering the folks who introduced me to them–or the experiences forever tied to the flora. These memories create such a warm feeling inside. Thanks, Pamela, for sharing some of your own joy–and to Andrew for providing inspiration. Happy day!

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