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Heirloom Plants

Heirloom plants and flowers have historical significance because of their seeds are handed down across successive generations of gardeners.

Thomas Jefferson: Politician And Gardener

Thomas Jefferson was born on the 13th of April 1743 and, as well as being a successful public servant, he was also an expert gardener. He kept careful records of his crops as well as his ornamental plantings at Monticello, his estate in Virginia. The plants that Jefferson grew were open-pollinated, producing their seeds by natural processes. The seeds of his favorite flowers and vegetables were collected and saved to be planted again when the next spring came around.

Nowadays, there are many hybrid plants that are grown in our gardens. The seeds of hybrids do not produce identical types of plants. By definition, a hybrid is the offspring of parents of different varieties or species, engineered through human intervention.

Growing And Buying Heirloom Plants Today

Old fashioned plants, like those that Jefferson grew, are now referred to as heirloom plants and their seeds are called heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds can be purchased from catalogs and in the gift shops of some historic gardens. At Farmers Markets, we can usually find heirloom vegetables, especially tomatoes, on sale during the summer months.

Heirloom seeds are sometimes handed down across successive generations of gardeners. A tomato with wonderful flavor is treasured by the grower of heirloom plants, rather than a tomato that is blemish free or visually appealing.

While most of us will buy our annuals as small plants this spring, it is fun to plant the seeds of a few heirloom flowers too. Plants that have persisted across generations in their original form have a refreshing authenticity. It is pleasing to remember, for example, that the very same plant that flowers in our garden this summer may also have flowered for Jefferson.

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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