7 Nostalgic Flowering Plants That Will Take You Back to Grandma's Yard

Pink Climbing Rose
Photo: Ralph Anderson

Grandma's yard was something else. The envy of the neighborhood? Sure. But for her grandchildren who spent years running through the grass barefoot, picking its flowers for bouquets held by sticky little hands, and building forts within the branches of its towering trees, well, it was some kind of magic. Fast forward a few decades or more, and we're brought right back to those days every time we look to create a little magic in the yard ourselves. Sometimes if feels like there's no better way to reconnect with the one we have to thank for so many of our most treasured moments than on hands and knees working in the dirt. While this list of quintessential flowering plants won't plop you right back down in the middle of Grandma's garden, plant a few and they might just transform your yard into the next best thing. We're sharing seven of the South's most nostalgic flowering plants, plus tips on how to make them flourish just like she did. One look at your yard and Grandma would be prouder than a peacock, we just know it.

01 of 07


Getty Images

"Wintertime doesn't often evoke images of soft, colorfully petaled blooms—which makes beautiful camellias and their cool-weather blooms all the more extraordinary," says Kip McConnell, Southern Living Plant Collection Director. Their flowers range in color from dark reds to creamy whites but, regardless of their hue, the result is spectacular. "Thick, year-round foliage and great height in some cases makes them an excellent screening plant, while their remarkable flowers make them a stellar addition to a cut flower garden," says McConnell.

Camellia sasanqua and Camellia japonica are two of the most popular camellia varieties grown in the United States, blooming in fall and the late winter or early spring, respectively. According to McConnell, they're ideal for garden beds due to their need for well-drained and organic-rich acidic soil. Their pruning needs are minimal, taking just a light shaping in the early weeks of spring if needed. "Pair them with other acidic favorites like Encore Azaleas for a fall floral show that will make the neighbors envious," says McConnell. Azaleas and camellias? Grandma would like the sound of that.

02 of 07

Crepe Myrtle

Crape Myrtle
Getty Images

"You can't talk year-round interest without mentioning [crepe myrtles]," says McConnell. Their bright blooms and brilliant foliage come fall make them a favorite for gardens in USDA Zones 7 through 9. They're also likely to thank for all the buzzing and humming in Grandma's yard. "Not only are they popular among gardeners, but wildlife loves them too," says McConnell. "Pollinators can be found buzzing around the bold flowers, and birds enjoy their seeds as an essential food source in winter."

If you're looking for a classic look, McConnell advises opting for 'Miss Frances', which features a combination of bold, red flowers and rich, green foliage. "Not only are [crepe myrtles] timeless, but they are also easy to grow," he says. Once established, they have the ability to adapt to their soil and are known to put up with excessive pruning (we like to call it Crepe Murder), though a light pruning is certainly a better choice for the health of the plant.

03 of 07


Close-up of white flowering plant
Getty Images

The dogwood is a lot like Grandma herself, gaining in beauty each year as it matures. "They stay at a small, manageable height, and many offer multi-seasonal interest with flowers, fruit, and fall color," says McConnell. Native flowering dogwood and Kousa dogwood are the two primary categories, both featuring early spring blooms in shades that range from white to pink. Even though Grandma had a remarkable green thumb, this is one plant from her garden that you can grow with ease in yours. They require no fertilizer, being naturally acclimated to both shade and low nutrient levels, and become even more cruise-control worthy if you opt for a variety that's been bred to ward off diseases like powdery mildew. "Once planted and established, just sit back and enjoy the show season after season," McConnell says.

04 of 07


Getty Images

If Grandma was a Florida snowbird, or of the rare variety that called the Sunshine State home long before retirement came into view, chances are she had at least one hibiscus (if not a dozen) speckling her yard. "The iconic hibiscus flower comes in a range of colors, from bicolor pink and yellow swirls to deeply saturated pinks and reds," says McConnell, but you'll likely know it as soon as you spot its long pistil bursting forth from the flower's center. But not all varieties are meant to just sit pretty. Hibiscus sabdariffa is edible, packing a dose of tangy flavor and big kick of vitamin C to all who delight in a taste.

Hibiscus will need full sun and lots of water, especially when the temperatures start to soar. You might notice the flowers don't have quite the life some of your other garden favorites do, but don't be alarmed, McConnell assures fresh, new blooms will continue to appear throughout the growing season.

05 of 07


White Gardenia Flowers
© Santiago Urquijo / Getty

"No plant hearkens Grandmother's yard quite like the floral fragrance of a gardenia," says McConnell. You can smell them oftentimes well before you spot them, but once you do, their glossy green leaves and white blooms are unmistakable. McConnell attributes their popularity to their varied sizes, growth habits, and flowers. If you're looking for a gardenia variety ideal for cutting, go with the semi-double Jubilation™, that features boundless clusters of white blooms from summer through fall. For containers, the compact beauty of Diamond Spire® can't be beat. They grow vertically and feature a single bloom with a bright yellow center. Whatever variety you choose, make sure they're kept watered and fertilized (McConnell recommends a slow-release variety, bone meal, or fish emulsion) as gardenias require a nutrient-rich diet.

06 of 07


Sweetbay Magnolia Flower in Bloom
Getty Images

When adding a magnolia to your landscape, McConnell suggests going for the gusto. Magnolias can be layered in the landscape for a multi-dimensional, season-spanning bloom," he says. "Start with the smaller Star and Saucer magnolias for spring flowers and fragrance, then anchor the landscape with a grand, towering Southern magnolia to add height, summer-through-fall blooms, and evergreen foliage." The needs for your magnolia will vary depending on type, though you can count on the Southern magnolia's non-fussy requirements when it comes to soil, flourishing in rich, acid soil compositions that range from sandy to clay.

07 of 07


Lovely pink rose
Getty Images

"As one of the most cultivated and noteworthy ornamental shrubs, roses hold a soft spot in every gardener's (and hopeless romantic's) heart," says McConnell. Grandma may have spent hours in the garden each week, working on her roses but, thanks to the modern garden roses that breeders have cultivated through the years, your rose plant's success doesn't have to hinge on your experience level—or green-thumb qualifications. "Recent introductions like It's A Breeze® Groundcover Rose from Southern Living® Plant Collection pack a punch with bold red or white blossoms paired with rich green foliage that starts flowering in spring and last through frost," says McConnell. "Their superior disease resistance, winter hardiness to zone 4, and compact habit make them easy to manage in landscapes all over the U.S." Just be sure to plant your roses in a sunny spot with well-draining soil and they'll reward the whole neighborhood all winter. Depending on your rose variety, you might have to fertilize annually or more in order to achieve the blooms you desire.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles