The easier a plant is to grow, the more different people will enjoy it. Heirloom potted plants tend to tolerate low light and low humidity of indoors, especially those with thick leaves such as Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema) which is one of the most durable for low-light apartments and offices. Its stems are very easy to root in water.
Not all heirloom plants are antiques – yet. Many modern hybrid plants, including cannas, ferns, and this Stella d’Oro daylily, can quickly become heirlooms within just one or two generations of gardeners who see their value and who know how to divide them to get more to spread around.
Last, but not least, passalong heirloom plants such as this Begonia don’t care who grows them; they provide a unique opportunity for people of all backgrounds and abilities to learn from and share with one another! They not only preserve incredible, sometimes hard-to-buy garden plant, but also built a common link within a diverse garden community.
Not all heirloom tomatoes, including most of the heavily-ribbed varieties such as Beefsteak and this rare Zapotec Pleated variety, are pretty and smooth - but they make up for looks with exceptional flavor. After washing the sticky jell off tomato seed, I dab them onto paper towels to dry, then cut the paper into small bits, each with a seed, to plant the following spring.
Unlike hybrids, which typically have to be started anew every year from cross-pollinated “parent” plants, heirloom vegetables are open-pollinated meaning they come true to type every year, so they can be kept going from saved seed for many years. Gardeners who grow and share these plants help preserve important diversity in a somewhat bland, streamlined world of modern agriculture.
Along with their unique attributes, heirloom plants have the power to bring generations together. My grown children learned to make fruit preserves from their great-great-grandmother’s fig bush, and now they each have a “start” of the original tree in their own gardens.
In an interesting twist to heirloom plants, “friendship bread” is made from fresh sour dough yeast kept alive and shared between cooks. This image was taken at the National Heirloom Exposition held every September in Santa Rosa, California, but could have been taken in kitchen anywhere in the world. Sources and recipes for “starter” yeast can be found through an online search.
The word “heirloom” comes from an old English term meaning “inherited tools” but now refers to anything – including plants – passed along or shared with others. Unlike a hand-me-down tool or even a cherished antique statue, which only one person at a time can possess, heirloom plants can be shared and preserved among countless gardeners, who keep the plants going for future generations to enjoy.
This quaint dining space was designed with a Parisian café in mind. Elegant European rattan bistro chairs surround a mango wood dining table with classic cabriole legs, providing the space with cozy seating. Sunlight floods into the space, while apricot blossoms add to the outdoor bistro feel. Family photographs and vintage objects create an eclectic gallery wall among heirlooms, plants and books, making this space the perfect place to cozy up with a newspaper, croissant and cappuccino.
A garden that includes heirloom plants is a garden of memory as well as a place to preserve a slice of history. This white yarrow (Achillea), and the Iris and purple coneflower (Echinaceae) in the background, have been grown and shared for many centuries for their beauty and herbal uses, but they have survived because they are durable in a wide range of conditions and easy to propagate and share – all important characteristics for a plant to become an heirloom.
One way to help reduce outbreaks of disease in your heirloom tomato patch is to stake plants. Staking tomato plants with stakes or cages keep plants upright and improves air circulation around leaves, which is a key to reducing diseases. Drip irrigation helps keep leaves dry, which also reduces disease outbreaks.
If you want to try growing figs, but aren't sure which varieties to choose, try an assortment of rare varieties from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. The company says you'll get three small plants of two varieties; the flesh may be pink, green or red, and they'll thrive outdoors in zones 7 to 11. Gardeners in colder regions may be able to grow these trees with winter protection.
The SCAD Back40 garden has been planted not just to provide edibles, especially heirloom varieties like Carolina Gold rice related to the region, but ornamentals like these foxgloves, which make a functional, edible garden more beautiful.
To find the most durable plants for your area’s soil and climate, scout out old graveyards to discover orange daylilies, hardy daffodils, “cemetery whites” (Iris albicans), and other heirlooms which have grown as memorials in utter neglect for centuries. Now that’s the kind of toughness plants need in my own garden!
Another heirloom allium, ‘Nigrum’ has softball-sized, silvery to grayish-white heads with six-petaled florets. Bees and butterflies visit the flowers, but deer tend to leave the plants alone. Expect blooms from late spring into early summer. Allium atropurpureum is also shown here.