Find the Perfect Heirloom Plants with a Day Trip to Petals from the Past
Story and Photos by Bonnie Helander

Jason and Shelley Powell are celebrating 29 years as owners and managers of Petals From the Past Plant Nursery in Jemison, Alabama. They specialize in cultivating and selling antique roses, heirloom shrubs, and hard-to-find perennial flowers and herbs – many of the cherished plants you might remember from your grandmother’s garden! Gardeners from all over the South make a pilgrimage to Petals From the Past for the wonderful selection of old-fashioned plants.

Jason and Shelley met at Texas A&M, where Jason got his master’s degree in Horticulture and Shelley received her BS in Horticulture. According to Jason, “We married and opened our nursery in 1994, right out of college, too young and too dumb to understand the challenges and risks of owning a plant nursery!” Their shared vision was to use contemporary techniques to grow the finest-old garden plants, along with new varieties. They were inspired by Dr. William C. Welch, who wrote a series of popular and ground-breaking books for Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Service on heirloom plants, including Antique Roses for the South, and The Southern Heirloom Garden.

Petals from the Past is a family affair.  Shelley likes to roam through old cemeteries and abandoned home sites to find tough, antique plants to add to the nursery’s plant selection. Jason’s mom, Gwen, who always loved flowers and a cutting garden, roots the plants for the display garden. Jason’s dad, Arlie, who spent his career as a fruit specialist with the Auburn Extension Office, cultivated Jason’s love of horticulture. Jason recalls riding all over Alabama with his father to visit fruit farms. After retiring, Arlie joined the rest of the family and began planting seven acres of fruit orchards around the perimeter of the nursery. Customers can harvest his fresh fruit throughout the growing season, including blackberries, blueberries, figs, apples, Muscadines, Asian pears, Oriental persimmons, oranges, Meyer lemons and kumquats.

The display garden is the focal point of the nursery, where the family selects and evaluates plants that can survive on their own in our tough southern habitat. Plants will be watered up to one inch per week for the first summer. After that, the plants are on their own to survive! Jason is always looking for new plant selections with fragrance,  that are drought and disease tolerant, and deer resistant.

When I visited in late April, there was a stunning array of antique roses on display – the heady fragrance filling the air.  One amazing rambler rose, Leontine Gervais, was climbing a post and spreading eight feet horizontally on a fence, packed with fragrant salmon, orange and yellow blooms. Nearby a vibrant group of yellow/orange California poppies exploded in color – a great reseeding plant to fill in and fight weeds in garden beds. Other blooming plants in the display garden were coreopsis, phlox, swamp rose, baptisia, Mexican bush sage and yarrow ‘paprika’

Next to the display garden is a large, rustic, restored farmhouse that serves as the gift shop and is a quiet place to sit and relax on the porch to enjoy the blooms. Petals From the Past offers guided group tours of the gardens and has added an educational building where Jason and staff can provide wonderful educational programs.

Petals From the Past is located at 16034 County Road 29 in Jemison, Alabama, 35085. The nursery is about 190 miles and a three-hour drive from Fayette County. You can take the freeway or a backroads drive from Newnan through some charming towns and beautiful country. Pack a picnic lunch, and be sure your trunk is empty, because you will be filling the space with a wonderful selection of heirloom plants to add to your garden!