What is an "heirloom" plant?
"Heirloom" plants, also called "heritage" or "antique" plants, are cultivated plant varieties that existed 100 or more years ago and are no longer in general commercial use. Modern garden centers and nurseries usually carry only more recently developed cultivars and tend to sell the same types of plants all over the country, leading to a sameness and uniformity. In many case, properties such as fragrance and, in the case of vegetables, taste have been sacrificed for other qualities like flower size, repeat blooming, shipability and shelf life.
About 25 years ago, a movement began to try and save many of the older plant species which had survived in people's gardens or been handed down through the generations of various families. In Texas, a group of people discovered old roses growing on abandoned farms which had received no care for 50 or 75 years and were still flourishing vigorous. These became known as "old" or "antique" roses. Such roses are on their own roots, which means that they are not grafted onto the root of a different kind of rose as in the case with most commercially available roses such as "hybrid teas." Most problems associated with loss of roses during the Winter months is due to the freezing of the point at which the plant is grafted. Heirloom roses, being on their own roots, are not so affected and do not require special care to survive the Winter so long as they are otherwise hardy to our area.
Fragrance was very important to people a century ago when everyone had outhouses and horses on their properties and did not have chemical fragrances. Therefore, they relied on their flowers, including both roses and other flowers, to provide sweet smells to freshen up the garden and home. These qualities have often been lost in modern flowers in favor of other attributes. Most people today don't understand what Shakespeare was talking about when he referred to the sweet smell of roses.
Vegetables suffered a similar fate. Around the turn of the last century the refrigerated box car was developed (at first just using large blocks of ice cut from lakes in the winter). This enables people for the first time to enjoy vegetables grown year round in places like Florida and California. Prior to that people grew their own vegetables in small back yard plots, or bought them fresh every day from local farmer's markets.
Unfortunately, many of the vegetables which were in use at that time did not hold up well for shipment and did not last long on the grocers' shelves so new varieties were developed which would withstand shipment and last longer. The down side to this was that taste was often sacrificed, resulting in the familiar "cardboard" tomato that is found today in our local supermarkets.
Again, in the mid 70's, groups of people like the "Seed Savers" in Iowa, began to collect seeds that had been passed down within families for their own gardens which retained the original flavors and qualities of the past. Here at Walkup Heritage Farm, we are proud to offer vegetables and plants grown from seeds supplied by Seed Savers Exchange and grown without the use of chemicals at our farm stand and greenhouse. Take a step back in time and experience the difference.
Plants and seeds available at Walkup Heritage Farm. Visit Seed Savers for more information and pictures of each variety.