Join Rosecraft for heirloom plants talk

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 12, 2016

During this tricentennial year, it’s appropriate to pay homage to the horticultural heritage that contributes to the beauty of Natchez. “Heirloom Plants …Then and Now,” is the topic of a special visual presentation I will give at 3:30 p.m. Friday at the meeting of Rosecraft Garden Club. It will be held at Grace United Methodist Church, 2 Fatherland Road, Natchez. The public is invited to attend.

Stunning flowering plants and trees have graced the garden of Natchez for centuries. Some of these treasured heirloom plants include camellias, daylilies, azaleas, magnolias, irises and daffodils. Garden enthusiasts have shared cuttings and divisions over the years. There are new versions of these old delights, like roses and daylilies that have improved with time and hybridization. A written description by Phillip Pittman of Natchez in the mid-1700s is “Natchez is the finest and most fertile part of West Florida …beautifully varied by hills and fine meadows, separated by small copses, the trees of which are mostly walnut and oak.”

As the city grew, so did the horticulture. By the early 1800s, chinaberry trees, popularly called “Pride of China” were planted around the city and on the bluff, as were locust trees. Farmers had tried unsuccessfully to cultivate various fruit trees. Their failures led to the belief that this climate was not suitable for fruit growing. But Thomas Affleck, an émigré from Scotland, profoundly influenced agriculture and landscaping in the South, and especially in Natchez. He founded Southern Nurseries at his home, Ingleside, in Washington. He realized that relying on cotton as the sole crop was risky, so he decided to grow fruit trees. Although earlier attempts were futile, he solved the problem. Instead of planting trees, shrubs and the like, imported from the North and Europe, he grew his own and sold them with great success. By the mid-1800s, his catalogues offered 200 different varieties of pears, 175 apple varieties, 75 peach varieties and numerous figs, plums and apricots.

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Numerous ornamental plants also thrived. Affleck loved dahlias, and offered 32 varieties. Roses were among his top sellers with more than 175 different varieties for sale. Visitors to Natchez at this time described it as “a city of roses.” Of course, gardens contained many more lovely plants at that time, including verbenas petunias and many different bulbs, such as daffodils and lilies.

I will discuss the plants that have proven the test of time and thrive in this hot, humid climate and show slides of some of these choice plants, heirlooms and new hybrids of old favorites.

In addition, Virginia Salmon, longtime member and past president of Rosecraft Garden Club, will explain the history and heritage of this oldest garden club in Natchez (it was founded in 1929).

There will be time for questions from the audience, and Rosecraft members will provide refreshments.

For more information, call 601-304-1007.


Karen Dardick is the president of the Rosecraft Garden Club.