It’s hard to resist a garden in the springtime, whether you’re planting your own, or visiting one of the beautiful public gardens around the South.
Heirloom gardens are becoming increasingly popular. If you haven’t heard of heirloom plants, they’re simply varieties that have been around for 50 years or more, earning them the nickname “living antiques.” They’re also open-pollinated, which means you can plant their seeds and get new plants that are almost identical to the parents. (You can’t do that with most modern hybrids.)
Heirlooms are the kind of flowers and vegetables that our ancestors grew, which makes them especially intriguing to history buffs. Gardeners are also growing them again because these antique flowers have rich perfumes, and heirloom foods offer delicious, old-fashioned flavor.
Today’s hybrids have almost eclipsed heirloom plants, but you can still purchase their seeds and visit historic gardens to see them growing. Here are some of our favorite historic spots:
The Gardens at Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia. Thomas Jefferson’s magnificent estate was once a botanical showplace for vegetables, flowers, medicinal plants, and fruit trees from around the world. Jefferson’s flower gardens almost disappeared after his death in 1826, but they’ve been restored and are open to visitors. The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants collects, preserves, and sells many of the heirloom varieties you’ll see here. 1-434-984-9822.
Colonial Williamsburg, in Williamsburg, Virginia. You’ll find restive green spaces and lush, 18th century plantings at this historic site. Don’t miss the formally designed Governor’s Palace Garden or the simple, authentic kitchen garden. Walking tours and gardening talks are offered in the spring. 1-800-HISTORY.
Mount Vernon House and Gardens, in Mount Vernon, Virginia. Did you know our first president had a green thumb? George Washington designed the gardens at his Mount Vernon home with many unusual 18th century flowers, and planted an orchard with pear, apple, and—you guessed it—cherry trees.
Where to buy heirloom seeds for your garden:
Seed Savers Exchange – This non-profit has preserved thousands of heirloom varieties, many of which are offered for sale. 1-563-382-5990.
Park Seed Company – Known primarily for its hybrid seeds, Parks, based in Greenwood, S.C., also sells many heirlooms. 1-888-768-3476.
Tomato Growers Supply Company – Located in Fort Myers, Florida, this seed seller has a large selection of heirloom tomato, pepper, and eggplant varieties. 1-888-768-3476.
Lynn Coulter is the author of Gardening with Heirloom Seeds (UNC Press). Visit her blog at http://www.LynnCoulter.com.
- ADVERTISEMENT -