Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
Nature Bulletins
Newton Home Page

Introduction and Instructions

Search Engine

Table of Contents



Pioneer Flower Gardens
Nature Bulletin No. 268-A   May 6, 1967
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Richard B. Ogilvie, President
Roland F, Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

One day this spring, while following an abandoned trail through a deep forest, we came upon a small clearing, At the north edge of it stood a tall red cedar, two huge cottonwood trees, and behind them there was a slight depression surrounded by a sod-bound rectangle of rocks marking the site of some pioneer' s home. Close by there were two lilac bushes, a snowball bush, and some honeysuckle -- all very old, large and unkempt. There was a big patch of bright yellow-green shoots of the Tawny Day Lily, some young hollyhocks, and a great colony of crocuses which apparently no longer bloom. It brought nostalgic memories of "the old home place" and grandmother' s garden of posies.

Around such forsaken homesites we often find decrepit fruit trees and tangled thickets of lilac, spirea, honeysuckle, mock orange, snowball bush, flowering quince, roses, trumpet creeper and other old-fashioned ornamental shrubs and vines. Near the old dooryards we find clumps of hollyhocks, sunflowers, morning glories, iris, lily-of-the-valley, phlox, periwinkle and other flowering perennials that have managed to survive and still bloom. Some like the Day Lily, Bouncing Bet, the Coreopsis or Tickseed, and the Daisy have escaped and become conspicuous nowering weeds along our roadsides and railroads.

All of these plants, like the immigrants who brought them, were newcomers to America. Native wildflowers were admired in their natural setting, as they are today, but few were considered suitable for a flower bed. In those days, a garden had to be enclosed, usually with a picket fence, to keep out chickens, pigs and other livestock, Flowers and vegetables were both planted inside, with the perennials most often in borders around the fence, Some flowers were grown for their blossoms alone but many had other uses for flavoring, medicines, perfumes and dyes. Lavender, with its straplike whitened leaves and purple bloom, was dried and used to perfume stored bedding and clothing if the dried fruits of the flowering quince were not available for that purpose. Foxglove or Digitalis doubled as a flower and as a heart remedy. The powdered roots of the fragrant lily-of-the-valley were used as an effective substitute for digitalis. Flax, with its exquisite satiny sky- blue flowers, produced seeds which were used for poultices and to remove a cinder or a bit of chaff from an inflamed eye.

Nasturtiums furnished leaves and seeds for flavoring pickles and salads. The poppy shed its gaudy petals to leave a pepperbox-like pod full of seed used in baking. The sage had large purple flowers and its dried leaves provided seasoning for sausage and dressing. The crushed leaves and stems of the Bouncing Bet or Soapwort, with its lavender blossoms, made an excellent substitute for soap.

Among the other old flowers, loved for just their blooms, are the bleeding heart, cockscomb, mignonette, forget-me-net, daffodil, larkspur, the rose moss or Portulaca in several colors, and many kinds of petunias and sweet peas. Pansies were cultivated because of their colorful "baby faces". The clove-scented pinks were frequently chosen by our grandfathers for their buttonholes.

Among the thousand-odd varieties of roses grown in America today, a few hardy old favorites have come down to us from those early gardens. The fragrant cabbage rose, with its flat solid flower in hues of pink and white, is one. The tall yellow rose with small petals and very thorny stems -- Harrison's Yellow -- is another. Some places, we still find a purplish-black broad-petalled single rose in dense low thickets.

These are living remnants of the dreams of those pioneer men and women.

To return to the Nature Bulletins Click Here!
Hosted by NEWTON

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Sponsered by Argonne National Labs