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Grass from the past: Retro plants for gardens

Looking to update your yard with some old favorites? P. Allen Smith lists flowers and ferns that are blooming with nostalgia.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Everything old is new again!  Plant breeders are playing up nostalgia with blooms and foliage that were once popular in our grandparent’s gardens and I love it.  It’s like running into old friends each time I visit the garden center or nursery.  Here are a few picks that you might want to try when it comes to plants we Boomers might remember from our childhood.

It’s hard not to go wild over a bed of brightly colored zinnias but today’s choices are better than ever with new bloom sizes and shapes and my favorite new zinnia ‘Envy’ which is a dramatic green.  Marigolds & Sunflowers These are about the easiest thing to grow and both are classics in the garden.  Get kids involved by sowing some of these fast growing seeds which are now available in a wide range of colors and styles. 

In the past coleus were passed on from person to person via cutting and grown in the shade.  Well plant breeders have taken this charming foliage plant and brought it into the sun with new sun loving varieties.  Some of my favorites are ‘Fishnet Stockings’ and ‘Kingswood Torch’.   CaladiumFor shade be wowed all over again by the classic caladium.  They are just as wonderful as you remember and will provide colorful foliage all summer long.  Cannas & HibiscusFor sun, try cannas for foliage and hibiscus for bloom.   If you love the classic look of Ox Eyed Daisies or Shasta Daisies but want the bloom to last longer then you’ll be pleased with some of the new introductions such as ‘Broadway Lights’ Leucanthemum.
Palms & Ferns
The Victorians used palms and ferns indoors but today we take these beauties outdoors during the summer to decorate our outdoor rooms.  Of course they’re ideal for bringing back inside as houseplants when the weather cools.  SedumsI remember sedums from my Grandmother Smith’s front porch as virtually indestructible and so the ideal plant for someone so practical as my grandmother.  Of course, I’m sure the new ways people are using sedums as elaborate topiaries today would have turned even her head. 

P. Allen Smith is the CEO of Hortus Ltd., a media production company responsible for two nationally syndicated half hour television programs, numerous magazine columns, a popular website, a best-selling series of garden-design-lifestyle books, lecture series, and news reports which air on stations around the country as well as on The Weather Channel.  He is also the principle in P. Allen Smith and Associates, a landscape design firm.