Chris and I have known each other for several years, but I was trying to pinpoint how exactly we meet. I believe it was when I was working for Proven Winners as their Public Relations & Marketing Coordinator. Then when I started my own business Flora & Fauna Media, I worked with Chris to promote her book, A Garden to Dye For, which I fall in love with. Once I had seen that Chris had written another book, I asked to review a copy of it. When it came in the mail, I was so excited! I immediately started reading and couldn’t put it down (ask my husband)! I love history, but only when it comes to flowers and there are SO many fun flower facts in her book, Growing Heirloom Flowers, that it made it a page turner. I think I read the entire thing cover to cover in two days! Not only does it have great historical stories and forklore, but floral craft projects, beautiful entertaining ideas, gorgeous photography and much more. This is a must-have book for any gardener!
Danielle Ernest: How did you become interested in Heirloom Flowers?
Chris McLaughlin: About 22 years ago, I met a local woman who grew a ton of flowers. I mean acres of them — It was an amazing sight. While we were both avid gardeners, I had never grown anything in those numbers. As we waded slowly through the bounty, she introduced me to the concept of growing open-pollinated and heirloom plant varieties. She was a natural teacher and I become fascinated. In fact, she actually was a college professor in the years prior to those days!
DE: I love all the historical facts about flowers in the book! Where did most of this information come from?
CM: I’ve been collecting stories and anecdotes about plants for many years. My first heirlooms book was about vegetables and I ran into an amazing amount of information while researching that book years ago, as well. So, it was simply a matter of seeking out old books and cross-referencing. Although heirloom flowers are endearing for many reasons, the stories and folklore around them are like icing on the cake!
DE: To be honest that was one of my favorite things about the book the stories & folklore around the flowers. What is your favorite Heirloom flower? Why?
CM: I can’t think of one heirloom flower that stand out as my favorite, to be honest. The flowers that I love are special for different reasons – there are so many! I do have a few that come to mind immediately, though. Peonies have always attracted me and my favorites remind me of bowls of ice cream.
Bold and dramatic Love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) is always worth having in an heirloom garden.
Also, strawflowers (Helichrysum bracteatum), no matter how many times I grow them, I am amazed to find these colorful everlastings perfectly preserved from the moment the buds open.
DE: Man, Love-Lies-Bleeding is a favorite of mine as well. It is just SO striking! And come on with that name…who could say “NO”! It seems that Strawflowers have really been lost in the gardening world. I hope to see them make a comeback as these colors are absolutely gorgeous. What is your favorite floral craft? Why?
CM: Again, I don’t have a favorite because I enjoy creating floral crafts for different reasons. That said, I never get enough of making flower crowns. Everyone that’s made turns out different from the last. Each person who tries it creates a crown unique to them I love that.
DE: Flower crowns are such a wonderful project to get children into gardening and the adults helping out have a pretty great time too! They remind me of an era very long ago. From your research, what historical plant fact did you find most interesting and hadn’t heard before? Mine was about the nosegay or tussie mussie being worn to cover up body odor!
CM: One of the funny things I found is that while opium poppies (Papaver somniferum) are illegal to grow in the United States (think “narcotics”), it’s perfectly legal to buy and sell the seeds.
DE: If a gardener only had space for five Heirloom plants due to space constraints, which would you select?
CM: For a small space garden, I like
- Zinnias for sure — They’re big on cut-and-come-again bloom production.
- Vining Sweet Peas – To take advantage of vertical space (plus, perfume city, my friend!)
- Heliotrope – Fairly small, well-behaved plants that smell delish. Great for containers.
- Lavender – Easy care, well-behaved, handsome, and extremely useful and versatile.
- Marigolds – Easy to grow, lots of blooms, and versatile for crafting.
Those are tops on my list, too! Zinnias are just so beautiful and last so long as a cut flower. Everyone knows I’m a sucker for any type of pea especially sweet pea flowers. During Mother’s Day weekend, I was searching for bouquets at Pike’s Place Market for them. I find Heliotrope to be such a great vertical element in a container and it has such a wonderful fragrance.
Could I almost say that a garden isn’t a garden without lavender. An essential for anyone that loves cutting for indoors, using for crafts, cooking or baking. You’ve convinced me that I need to add Marigolds to my garden. I’ve always looked at them and thought they were not very pretty and SO old-fashion, but your craft project on page 106 to create a dye-bath with them for scarfs is absolutely brilliant and a great idea that I would love to do as gifts for friends.
Thank you Chris for taking the time to do this interview and with sharing this amazing knowledge with the world! Wishing you great success with your book!
Reader Note: By clicking on the plant you are interested in – it will take you to a source such as Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co, Botanical Interests, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Renee’s Garden, Seed Savers Exchange, The Shop at Monticello, Southern Exposure Seed Company, Terrior Seeds and Victory Seed Company.
More Information About Chris:
Chris McLaughlin is a writer and author whose hands have been in the soil for nearly 40 years. She became a master gardener in 2000, followed up with specialty certificates in wildlife, children’s, and vegetable gardening. She’s the author of seven books including, A Garden to Dye For (St. Lynn’s Press) and Vertical Vegetable Gardening (Alpha Books). Her work can be found in Fine Gardening Magazine, Hobby Farm Home Magazine, Urban Farm Magazine, The Heirloom Gardener Magazine, and Mother Earth Living. Online, she’s a staff blogger for Finegardening.com and has written for a variety of sites including Vegetable Gardener.com, About.com, Fix.com, and From Scratch Magazine.
Chris and her family live on a flower and fiber farm in the Northern California foothills where they grow flowers, food, and Angora goats. You can track her down at her brand-spanking-new website, FlowersInk.com.
I am an Old MacDonald child born into an IBM family. My brothers and I grew up being chauffeured around in one of those station wagons that had a third seat facing backwards. Looking out that big window, breathing in a little exhaust, I was able to take in expanses of land and watch it slowly disappear from view. Along the stretches of highway, I would see property with fenced land and fantasize about pumpkin patches and flowers stands where people couldn’t help but stop and and visit. The dream came complete with crisp cornstalks flanking the entry to straw bale mazes. Back then I felt certain that my parents enjoyed torturing me, as they kept moving us to the suburbs that rested just on the shoulders of my beloved farmland. They carefully chose housing developments that seemed to always bring me within feet of my true love. I spent my weekends walking to nearby farms, pretending they were mine.
When I shuffled back to my side of the fence, I was determined to create my own little farm. As I dug into the hard pan soil of our backyard, the difference in the freshly cultivated earth of the neighboring land was clear. Would it have really been a stretch for my parents to move just one street over and onto the farmland? But, I digress. When I was ten, I snagged some Dixie cups from the upstairs bathroom and filled them with some potting soil out of a bag my mother had bought to top off the planters in our yard. I scooped up some small seedlings (and later learned the term “volunteers”) from our yard and transplanted them into bathroom-sized Dixie cups. Being raised by entrepreneurs, my instincts told me there was a profit to be made. I probably lined up fifty of those little cups into my younger brother’s red wagon and rolled along down the street selling them door-to-door for ten cents each. I do realize that I will never see that 100% profit again in my lifetime.
All images used with Chris McLaughlin’s permission from her book, Heirloom Flowers.