Etymologically speaking, the title of this post may or may not be related to the subject of this post – the heirloom gladiolus 'Boone', named for the North Carolina town where it was rediscovered. Boon in the sense of a gift or an unexpected benefit comes from the Old Norse. The name Boone – the town was named after famed frontiersmen Daniel Boone – comes from either the French locale Bohun, or from the Norman word "bon," for good, or from the Dutch word "boene", or bean, denoting someone tall and skinny. Just to confuse matters further, the only surviving use of the Middle English word "boon," also meaning "good" and derived from medieval French, is in the phrase "boon companion."
'Boone' is a hardy gladiolus, a fact which alone sets it apart from its brethren. It is a gift – or boon – from the past, and from the dedicated plant hunters who search the countryside for lost or forgotten cultivars. It is good, in that it seems eager to grow and bloom, and because the flowers are distinctive and quite beautiful – think of a cross between a cowslip and an orchid. It is also tall and skinny. The Old House Gardens catalog where we found this treasure says it doesn't need staking, but gladiolus can't read, and we would up staking our modest little planting – the flower spikes reached at least three feet in height. Finally, it is a boon companion for other summer-blooming plants.
'Boone' is part of an unusual experiment we're conducting here at Reeves-Reed. We call it our Time Capsule Garden, and the idea is to pick a year from our period of historic interpretation (roughly 1900-1940), take over a location somewhere on the grounds, and plant it with cultivars that would have been available to gardeners in that year. We're not trying to recreate actual gardens that the Wisners or the Reeves would have planted. We just want to give visitors a sense of what gardeners had available to them three-quarters of a century or more in the past.
The Time Capsule Garden was a great idea on paper, but it proved surprisingly difficult to implement. We made it easy on ourselves by choosing the most recent possible year – 1940 – but even that didn't prepare us for the difficulty of researching, obtaining, and nurturing the correct plants. Careful design went by the wayside, some of the plants we obtained were obviously misnamed or misdescribed, and something found our back-of-the-border amaranth very tasty indeed.
Still, the Time Capsule Garden was an experiment worth making. We learned a lot from every aspect of the project, and we found some great (if tedious) research techniques for dating plant cultivars. For 2017, we're going back a whole century – don't miss it!