Heirloom plants have stood the test of time. They are tough, more fragrant than hybrids and have historical significance.
An heirloom plant is a plant that has been grown from seeds that have been saved, planted again the following season, saved the seeds, planted again and continued on with that cycle for 50 years or more. This seed saving has been done since gardening began. Our grandparents saved seeds because they knew the value of them and did not waste these seeds. Because of that we now have what we call old fashioned plants or heirloom plants. This process keeps the plants genes alive and a ‘true’ plant grows instead of a hybrid. Most heirloom plants are open-pollinated which means their flowers were pollinated naturally by wind or insects.
Gardens can be planted to ‘fit’ a given period of home such as a Victorian style home. Heirloom gardens do not require any different care than a ‘regular’ garden. Antique roses are popular along with gladiolus, lilies, irises and more. A cottage style home is complete with a garden full of heirloom plants.
Many think that the antique rose is the only heirloom plant variety but vegetables can be heirloom plants also. The variety of lettuce called Tom Thumb comes from seeds of a plant from the 1700’s. Some other heirloom plants from Burpee Seed Company, which is very reputable company to purchase from, include the Premium Late Dutch Flat Cabbage from 1840, the Long Orange Improved Carrot from 1620 and Scarlet Runner Beans from 1800. Other heirloom vegetables included in the Burpee Seed catalog are Beet Chioggia, Carrot Touchen, Corn golden Bantam, Corn Country Gentleman, Eggplant Louisiana Long Green, Lettuce Deer Tongue, Cantaloupe Jenny Lind, Winter Squash Jarrahdale, Watermelon Georgia Rattlesnake, Watermelon Moon and Stars, and Tomato Bicolor Rainbow. The list goes on and on. These different plants or seeds were brought from different places around the world at different times, but were valued and saved for future generations to enjoy. Some catalogs tell the history of the heirloom plant or seed. Heirloom seeds can be found at the Seed Saver’s Exchange, and local garden clubs or nurseries.
Herbs like Anise-Hyssop, Armenian Basil, and wormwood are heirloom plants as are many other herbs. Many varieties of sunflowers fall in the heirloom category also. Roses are the most popular heirloom plant and there is a movement to try and save these historical plants. The Noisette roses originated in the United States. The Bourbon roses came from a French island called Bourbon . China Roses came from China through Europe in the 1700’s. There are Tea Roses and Polyantha Roses. Some of the varieties of antique roses are Cherokee, Swamp Rose, Mermaid, Yellow Lady Banks, Old Blush, Madame Alfred Carriere, and Crepuscule. The historical aspect of antique roses is part of the reason these seeds are saved. You may find an antique rose that came from a China Emperor’s garden, or one that was grown at a King’s castle. A handmaiden may have taken seeds across England and they found their way around Europe to one day come across the ocean to the United States.
Heirloom plants have stood the test of time and usually do not need as much care as hybrid plants. Some heirloom plants are called cemetery plants because at most cemeteries you will find roses or other plants growing without much care at all. Cuttings are sometimes taken from these plants to grow more like them.
The beauty, fragrance and toughness of heirloom plants make them worthwhile to grow in any garden.