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Credit Samantha Shapin 4.jpg
(Image: Samantha Shapin)

A new way to create unique family heirlooms, through plants

"Gram loved her Irises. One day, when you have a house of your own, I will give you some of these bulbs," explained my mother, as she snipped stems from the small flowerbed in the front yard. Still living in my city condo, I wait for the day they will live on in my own yard, generations later, and states away from where my mother lives, where my grandmother lived, and where I grew up.

With the quest for the Fountain of Youth still ongoing, we are left to find other ways to leave our stamp long after we have passed. Our legacy is preserved through memories, stories, and the markers of our time spent here on earth. For example, I wear my grandmother's ring and with each glance at my hand, I am reminded of her. But one day, I will also nurture to life Irises passed down from the same ones that grew in her yard, creating a new connection to my family history.

Inanimate objects such as china, jewelry, or furniture, devoid of life yet rich with memories are expected, but there exists another form of inheritance -- a living, breathing, and sustainable piece of the past. Heirloom plants provide a unique connection to those that lived before us, living on in microscopic and cellular prestige.

Their fragility brings with it a unique challenge -- the need to keep them alive! A gift from my mother-in-law, I was given cuttings from a jade plant she has had for 30 years! The stress of not killing your MIL's 30-year-old plant is as nerve-wracking as you might imagine. It is also a source of great pride as I let out a sigh of relief each time she inspects its healthy leaves and comments on the new growth with every visit. Success, as I carry on this little piece of what is becoming family history.

Heirloom plants are more prevalent than you might think. In our homes, and throughout history, plants have endured the passage of time as silent observers. As Washingtonian's we have the privilege to enjoy some great historical heirloom plants. Whether you are taking in the famed cherry blossom trees, originally gifted to Washington in 1912, or enjoying the sweet fragrance of roses in the Franciscan Monastery gardens in Northeast. D.C. - you are surrounded by a rich living history. To learn more about different kinds of heirloom plants and for inspiration on how to incorporate them into your life, take a trip to the Smithsonian Heirloom Garden that wraps around the National Museum of American History or visit the jade plants of First Lady Edith Wilson at her D.C. home.

A green thumb is not needed to appreciate the delicate and long lasting kinship created through the continued life of our plants, but it does take a green thumb to keep that tradition alive. Here's to hoping I can keep it up.

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