What qualifies plants to get shelved into the HEIRLOOM section?
Last week we jumped into a discussion about HEIRLOOMS, one of the current buzzwords in landscaping. Introduction date is the 1st factor that decides a plant’s place as an heirloom, as I indicated, but today we’ll look at the 2nd criteria for that classification: dependability and self-reliance.
SALVATION ARMY VS FAMILY HEIRLOOM: In her book What Makes Heirloom Plants So Great? Judy Barrett makes the point they’re “just like heirlooms of any other kind.” Something ends up a family keepsake because it’s useful to someone. The item must be handed down to become an heirloom, right? For plants, they have to be able and stable, handed down from seed (or bulb, or whatever mechanism it reproduces from) to qualify. “Able” means the plant CAN be handed down easily, and “stable” refers to the fact it DOES get handed down, coming back year after year as basically the same plant. Another name for this is open-pollinated. An open-pollinated plant will reproduce itself over and over, pretty much unaided. In the case of an annual plant, like many vegetables and herbs and flowers, those seeds may be saved by someone and then planted the next season. But the point is, it’s a fairly easy process and — if conditions are right — the plants could get by just fine on their own.
So, why all the fuss about heirloom plants then?
1) THEY’RE EASY! That doesn’t mean ANY heirloom can go ANYwhere. A favorite plant usually becomes a favorite because it did well in their specific environment. If your Aunt Betty’s lily became her stand-by in Indiana, that doesn’t mean it will be yours in New Mexico.
2) THEY’RE FUN! Maybe I’m weird, but I enjoy sharing the fruits of my labor AND the seeds.
3) THEY KEEP OUR HISTORY ALIVE! I get a kick out of putting a few of my ‘Tennis Ball’ lettuce seeds saved from last season in the mail to my daughter and know she’ll be eating the same salad Thomas Jefferson ate at Monticello. Handing down white cemetery iris from my grandmother to my children gives me joy. Our family ROOTS remain vital when we grow heirlooms.
I also have a theory about what we eat being better for us when we keep it the same as our ancestors. It just makes sense our bodies recognize what goes in our mouth as food if it’s what’s been going into our mouths for the last few hundred years. Doesn’t an engine need some tweaking if we pour a different type of fuel in the tank than what’s expected? Think of the difference even within the same plant. Ever eaten a ripe tomato straight from the field? Do they taste the same as one from Kroger? If you have no clue what I’m talking about, read Part 1 of this topic!