Vintage Gardens: 12 Old World Flowers with Everlasting Appeal

The nickname the “Big Apple” has gained traction in the colloquial American lexicon, but did you know that Baghdad on the Hudson was also once used to describe the city of New York, in allusion to the glittering excesses portrayed in Scheherazade’s A Thousand and One Nights? A casual excursion to New York will tell you that this epithet obviously did not catch on. 

Trends both notorious and obscure come and go, but some have managed to achieve staying power due to their classic appeal – and this includes old-fashioned flowers. 

Symbolic of the soft glamour of the Old World, these vintage blooms often get the short end of the stick for their old-fashioned reputation.

Yet, there’s charm in cultivating antiquated flowers, just as there’s a certain satisfaction to be gained in foraging for forgotten relics or strolling through a historical town at sunset.

Never gaudy or lurid, the flowers of yesteryear have seen a revival in many cottage gardens. This year, breathe second-life into these nostalgic flowers by delving into their history – so that they can live forever. 


In old-time China, peonies were revered for their beauty and were hallmarks of imperial grandeur – a flower of emperors and kings. Since then, they have taken root as a popular option in neighborhoods. An opulent flower with timeless appeal, peonies thrive in well-drained, slightly-acidic soils and function marvelously as cut flowers (some gardeners grow them solely for this purpose).

Zones: 3 – 8 

Morning glory

A morning glory in full bloom can be a psychedelic experience – so are their seeds (just don’t eat them). Often confused for its sinister cousin, bindweed, which terrorizes front lawns as if gifted from the Devil himself, morning glories dazzle in their trademark shade of heavenly blue, though they do come in other wondrous shades. If you’re worried about their spread, hang them over a trellis to curb their growth. 

Zones: 2 – 11 


Foxgloves are monstrously beautiful flowers, even more so the Digitalis purpurea monstrosa variety – a rare mutation that forms peloric flowers (a terminal flower that unfurls like a passionflower while the rest develop normally). Both a drug and a poison, its most common usage is as a showy ornamental in gardens, where it thrives in full sun to partial shade and courts hummingbirds. 

Zones: 4 – 9


A cherished flower, delphinium festoons tall stalks with cobalt blue whorls: the 'Guardian Blue' variety, striped with indigo and azure, is especially fetching. Often used interchangeably with larkspur, larkspur is actually a common name used collectively for two genus – Delphinium and Consolida. Delphinium is a cold-weather plant and will wither in heat, so make sure to water regularly.

Zones: 3 – 7, great for curb appeal 


Few flowers are as versatile as the daylily, a sturdy, low-maintenance plant that serves as a mainstay in perennial gardens – a utilitarian flower that combats difficult slopes and highlights more statement pieces. Admittedly, the ubiquitous yellow variety can be dull on the eyes, but as a result of crossbreeding, its repertoire has expanded to include specialty colors of bronze, violet, mauve, and pink. 

Zones: 4 – 9, blooms only for a day, but religiously sends up new buds 


The Spanish baptized this dapper flower (the black variety deserves a special mention) as Las Varas de San Jose, “rods of Saint Joseph”, as emblematic of God’s grace over them. Brought by Spanish settlers who traversed the Rio Grande, they alone survived the scorching heat when many more frail plants withered. At once delicate and rustic, hollyhocks are popular among gardeners who want to bring luck to their garden (or who appreciate the finer things in life). 

Zones: 3 – 8, able to survive in 9 and 10 with special care 


Redolent of heady perfumes and draped in velvet, roses are the classic damsels in distress, awaiting a chivalric order of gardeners to save them. Jokes aside, while roses do suffer more diseases and pests than the average houseplant, their immense beauty makes them worth going to war for. Gardeners whose roses fail on them often make a few common mistakes, such as ignoring fertilizer. Roses are heavy feeders and prefer soil rich in organic matter. 

Zones: 5 – 8 

Bearded iris

The bearded iris is a princely flower with a long genealogical background – it’s been in cultivation for thousands of years – old enough to become a deity. Despite poor drought and general neglect, they continue to flourish, with historic varieties performing most vigorously. Use them as your excuse to stroll through an historic neighborhood, and maybe, you might just encounter a friendly gardener willing to lend you a piece. 

Zones: winter hardy in zones 3 – 9 


An ancient Greek cautionary proverb warns ambitious politicos that the tallest poppies are cut down, but in gardens, they stand out. When flowers begin to bloom in the springtime, poppies hang prettily on their stalks, their gossamer petals swaying in the breeze. According to legend, they can grow to Jurassic proportions of 20 ft tall. 

Zones: 2 – 10, depending on species


Cosmos are a quaint flower that offers timeless appeal, available both in pastel palettes and striking shades of velvety maroon. These prolific clusters are easy to grow and attract beneficial insects to the garden. Well-adapted to the dry climates of Mexico where it hails from, cosmos thrive in full sun. 

Zones: 2 – 11 


Graceful and willowy, columbines serenade the susurrus of summer: the screechy whirring of cicadas, the staccato croaks of frogs, and the high-falsetto vocals of an indie song. Although they will cease blooming in the heat, if well-tended, they will bloom well into the summer in colder climates. 

Zones: 3 – 9


The gloriously tall spikes of gladiolus evoke idyllic summers of soft ice cream and glittering aqua oceans, rendered in that nostalgic haze of the 1950s. Given adequate moisture and full sun, they will bloom reliably all summer. Select a captivating shade of flamingo pink for an exotic feel, carmine black for a regal look. 

Zones: 8 – 10, can be kept alive in zones 6 – 7 with high-quality mulch 

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