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Step back in time at Hanley Farm Heritage Plant Sale

“Now the lilac tree's in bud,

And the morning birds are loud.

Now a stirring in the blood

Moves the heart of every crowd.”

— Bliss Carman, “Now the Lilac Tree’s in Bloom,” in “Later Poems,” 1921

A hundred years ago, Canadian-born poet Bliss Carman published his hopeful poem about lilacs in spring. In fact, in the introduction of “Later Poems,” R.H. Hathaway says, “Bliss Carman has full right and title to be called spring's own lyrist.”

I agree with Carman that lilacs are a familiar symbol of spring. I used to think they were an old-fashioned symbol of spring, but the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) and its more recent cultivars have become popular again. This may be due to the fact that lilacs are pretty, tall shrubs or small-sized deciduous trees that fit well in suburban lots (they can also be grown successfully in pots).

Or lilac’s comeback may be because they are hardy, disease-resistant, and long-lived trees (up to 200 years). Or because they send out the most heavenly scented blossoms in April that attract pollinators and beneficial insects.

I think certainly one reason lilacs are a favorite specimen tree is that so many of us have a story about Mom’s or Auntie’s or Grandma’s lavender, or purple, or white lilac tree. It’s similar to the stories I hear from folks about their Mustangs when I’m driving around in my ’67. Mustangs and lilacs are nostalgic, although they invoke very different eras.

Speaking of springtime and lilacs and bygone eras, it’s time again to pay a visit to historic Hanley Farm for the annual Heritage Plant Sale, hosted by the Southern Oregon Historical Society. The sale takes place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 24-25 at the farm, 1053 Hanley Road, Central Point.

The plant sale has been an important fundraiser for SOHS for the past 15 years. Last year, I admired the creativity of SOHS volunteers who took plant orders online and provided drive-thru pickup service. This year, the sale will take place in the pavilion area at the farm with masks and social distancing protocols in place.

The sale will feature a variety of herbaceous perennials, herbs and young flowering shrubs and trees, many of which were propagated by SOHS volunteers from heirloom plants growing at the farm. Some plants, like the lilacs, originated from trees that were planted by Martha Hanley after she and her husband, Michael, bought the homestead in 1857. Other plants, such as the irises and peonies, come from original plantings by Martha’s daughter, Alice, in the 1920s and ’30s, or her grandnieces, Mary, Martha and Claire Hanley, in the 1940s and ’50s.

Here’s a listing of some of the plants that will be available at the sale. Other plants will be offered in limited quantities, so arriving earlier rather than later is a good idea:

Flowers: achillea, autumn pink anemone, yellow columbine, coral bells, orange daylily, evening primrose, purple and pink hellebore, more than a dozen kinds of bearded irises, Dutch iris, Jupiter’s beard, half a dozen kinds of peonies, yellow “pioneer” roses, sedum, Shasta daisy, snow-in-summer

Herbs: comfrey, horseradish, lemon balm, mint bergamot, parsley, rosemary, sorrel, tarragon, thyme

Shrubs/trees: purple, lavender and white lilac, snowberry, Oregon myrtle

Particularly impressive is the large selection of bearded irises that are grown and hybridized by longtime SOHS volunteer and gardener Judith Meuser. My particular favorites are the miniature purple and white irises and the miniature blue irises; a wide assortment of other color combination is also available.

After visiting the plant sale, don’t rush off. Hanley Farm is a beautiful place to tour in the springtime when many of the orchard trees and flowers are in bloom, the sheep are grazing on the hillside, and the fields are being planted with spring crops by the Family Nurturing Center of Medford. FNC’s Farm and Food Program provides fresh produce grown without pesticides to local families in crisis.

Five years ago, FNC offered me some garden space within the acreage they lease from the SOHS; since then, I’ve been busy installing The Bard’s Garden, a Shakespeare-inspired botanical garden filled with fruit trees, flowering shrubs, perennials, vegetables, herbs and grasses that are mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. Spring-cleaning and planting are well underway in The Bard’s Garden, and the garden will be open for self-guided tours during the Heritage Plant Sale. I’ll be working in the garden that weekend, so be sure to drop by, say hello, and welcome springtime in Southern Oregon at historic Hanley Farm.

Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at Rnowak39@gmail.com. For more about gardening, check out her podcasts at https://mailtribune.com/podcasts/the-literary-gardener and her blogs at www.literarygardener.com.

My garden to-do list this week

Plant out hardened-off seedlings in raised beds; keep moist

Hold off on planting out tomatoes, beans and other warm season crops until May

Thin out goldenrod and other invasive perennials

Check irrigation system