Heirloom Flowers Are the Jewels of Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg is the place to see early American architecture and capture the essence of our first patriots. Stroll through this “step back in time” and you will see cozy cottages, stately courthouses, barns, inns and the minutiae of life… valued silver teapots, tick mattresses, a lamb pull toy to name a few.  The details of early life are revealed by what was brought along from the homeland, including those plants and seeds that helped to make America feel like a new home.  Williamsburg gardens were set up either as a formal English style or fence row. Often herbs were the most important seed brought over, as they provided a burst of flavor in foods or valuable medicinal relief.  Click here for a good blog post covering many of the herbs our ancestors brought and why.

What caught my interest as a flower nut were the Heirloom flowers growing throughout Williamsburg.  Many of the flowers I saw in Williamsburg also grew at my own childhood home in Milwaukee.  To name just a few:

  • Balsam seeds, with pods that “pop” in your hand when they warm up, sprinkling their seeds on the soil below.
  • Four O’Clocks, with small grenade-shaped black seeds, were also in abundance.  These plants are so easy to grow, lure hummingbirds, and open in late afternoon (a treat after work).
  • A flowering plant that doubles as a salad plant is Dames Rocket.  This plant has a wildflower look and is a member of the mustard family (so it must be tamed or it may become invasive).
  • The happy sunflower was a resident in the Williamsburg gardens, and I wonder if it was planted by the squirrels like mine are at home.  Of course the sunflower’s seeds could have provided a nut-like treat for the colonists too.
  • Are you looking to banish freckles?  I guess the colonists were vain too, as they brought Love in the Mist seeds with them.  When crushed, the seeds were used as a paste to diminish freckles.

For more information about purchasing Heirloom flower seeds, see the Colonial Williamsburg Heirloom Seed shopping page.


Balsam flowers are an old-fashioned heirloom flower.


These little girls in bonnets and flowered dresses show how much fun it is to dress in Williamsburg style!


A nodding sunflower provides an abundance of seeds for man and squirrel alike!

The formal gardens of our European fathers were brought to America. These tamed spaces hold flowers and herbs, fruit trees and vegetables, serving a dual purpose for beauty and necessity.


The trimmed boxwood hedges serve to enclose the wilder garden of English lavender and herbs.

A colonist’s work is never done.

A twig trellis holds the vining bean plants well, while marigolds try to keep the bunnies away.

Using a shovel forged not far from where he digs, a colonial gardener works through heat and insects.

Hydrangea flowers were planted for beauty and to use as a dried flower.

About the Author: jane