Heirloom and Heritage Plants

    • The average date of the last frost in Willits is May 12. So protect young flowers and vegetables on clear, cold nights.
    • Hang up Codling moth traps now to reduce the number of wormy apples in your harvest this year.
    • Fertilize established roses now and begin spraying them for insect and disease problems. Neem oil is a very effective, less toxic spray that works against both insects and diseases.
    • Petunias can be planted now. Their bright flowers will bloom all summer in hot, sunny locations and they will take a light frost.
    • Flowering dogwood trees are blooming now to help you choose a beautiful small tree for a focal point in your garden.

Heirloom and Heritage Plants

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 the 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? Many gardeners choose heirloom vegetables for their flavor. They want a tomato that tastes like a real tomato. They do, however, have a shorter shelf life and are less disease resistant than most hybrid tomatoes.

Growing heirloom flowers helps make certain that every generation can enjoy the blossoms that were grown in yesteryear. 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 is their disease resistance, their wonderful fragrances, and their graceful growth habit that 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!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.