Heirlooms in the Garden

    • Alpine asters, columbine, sea pinks and Tiny Rubies dianthus are outstanding plants for spring bloom in the perennial border.
    • Fuchsias in hanging baskets make beautiful patio plants. They bloom all summer and attract hummingbirds to their pendulous blossoms.
    • When you plant your tomatoes, put a handful of bone meal in the bottom of the hole to help prevent blossom end rot on the fruit later on.
    • Feed roses to encourage a beautiful display of color later this month. Treat plants to prevent insect and disease problems.
    • Earwigs are out and about and hungry. Control them with diatomaceous earth sprinkled around the plants or go out after dark with a flashlight and a spray bottle of Safer’s Insecticidal Soap. One squirt will put an end to the spoiler.

Heirloom and Heritage Plants
What are they and why should we be concerned about them?

Heirloom plants are all around us: ancient oak trees towering over our parks, antique roses growing wild in the cemetery, the cascading Bridal Wreath Spiraea that came with your home, California poppies on the hillside, Tiger lilies along the fence row or Butternut squash in the market. So what makes a plant an heirloom?

It is generally agreed that heirloom flowers are open-pollinated varieties that originated fifty or more years ago. Heirloom vegetables are open-pollinated varieties that were commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but are not used in modern large-scale agriculture.

Many gardeners consider 1951 to be the latest year a plant can have originated and still be called an heirloom, since that year marked the widespread introduction of the first hybrid varieties.

Open-pollinated plants are fertilized by insects, hummingbirds or wind, and the resulting seeds will produce plants that are identical or very similar to the parent plant. Open pollination allows the same cultivar to be grown simply from seed for many generations.

Old roses and trees are usually referred to as “heritage” plants. Heritage roses are roses that originated in the mid 19th century or earlier. Varieties that date from 1860 or earlier are also referred to as antique roses.

Heritage trees may be trees of exceptional size, form, or rarity; a tree recognized by virtue of its age; or trees that are landmarks of a community. When trees are designated as heritage trees by city ordinance, it gives them protection from being severely pruned or cut down.

The term “heritage” is a much broader term than “heirloom” and can mean whatever you want it to mean. For example, Heritage Perennials® is the name of a line of perennials which includes many new hybrids whose “unlicensed propagation is prohibited.” Such a plant would not be classified as an “heirloom” plant.

In California, the term “heritage plant” is used to refer to plants that still exist from the time of the padres.

So why should we be interested in these plants? What draws many gardeners to heirloom vegetables is flavor. They want a tomato that tastes like a real tomato, not a plastic one. Many of them taste wonderful, look beautiful, and are easy to grow. There are, however, varieties that take a more experienced hand to grow well. Some are local or regional varieties that may or may not be suited to conditions in your back yard. Others are susceptible to problems unknown to earlier gardeners.

Growing heirloom flowers helps make certain that every generation can enjoy the blossoms that were grown yesterday and long before that. They offer a living connection with gardeners of the past: the pioneers, Thomas Jefferson, medieval monks, Chinese emperors, or maybe your own grandmother.

The attractiveness of old roses grows from their disease resistance, their wonderful fragrances, and perhaps most important of all, their graceful growth habit which makes them ideally suited for the informal garden.

Many heirloom plants are rare, endangered, and in need of your help — since the only way to preserve these living artifacts — and their incredible genetic resources — is to grow them!

2 Responses to “Heirlooms in the Garden”

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.