Dig Into History with Heritage Plants

Heritage is really about leaving a legacy. A big theme in gardening now is the use of Heritage Seeds or Heritage Trees, or what Americans call ‘heirloom‘ plants or trees.  Keeping these old seed breeds alive means we can introduce them to other gardeners, and have tasty, strong plants.

In our garden we have old Irish apple varieties. Basically, they are varieties that went out of fashion. Supermarkets trained people’s taste buds to certain varieties. When people had a garden and took a notion to planting an apple tree, they thought ‘I like Cox’s Pippins…or Macintosh…’ Or whatever…Yet there are equally tasty ancestral varieties to those that have become supermarket brands.

The greater the variety of plants grown, the greater the food security for a region. Ireland is a salutary example. The Potato Blight that ravaged the land and her people and their descendants happened because of reliance on monoculture. The Irish peasantry used the Lumper spud variety almost exclusively. The Lumper could not stand up to the blight spores, the potatoes rotted, and the people starved.

Dragon Carrots 1126350, an heirloom variety

Tony and I plant at least four types of potato. I only routinely plant one variety, Cara, every year, with three other varieties we haven’t grown before. I explore the seed bank. Some are more blight resistant than others. Some can’t resist eel worm. But I never bank on one variety for a crop. I use the same rule for tomatoes. I have even planted a kale variety called “Good King Henry”  that has been collected by Irish Seed Savers.

We can all help save our planet’s diversity by sowing a few of those ‘ancestral’ or heritage varieties. Seeds and plants (think old roses) that have been bred and saved in certain regions tend to be hardier as they have adapted to those specific conditions.

Our ancestry is not just genealogy. We may not always have a lot of information about how those ornaments on the family tree lived. But if you plant some heritage seeds and eat the fruits of your gardening labor you share a bit of how your forebearers lived and get a literal taste of their daily life. Putting antique or heritage produce on the dinner table is a most intimate way to get to know your own past.

About BeeSmith

I was born in Queens, N.Y, reared in Pennsylvania, did university in Washington, D.C. Then I moved to England for nineteen years. I lived first in London and then in Leeds. After my partner's sister died of cancer in 2000, we decided to take the leap of faith and move to Ireland to be nearer his family. Despite our friends thinking we were mad and feckless, it has worked out. The angels really do look after fools! We have a cottage on an acre and a quarter three miles from where the River Shannon rises. We have a polytunnel to grow vegetables and fruit organically, a small orchard of apple trees and plans to create a sacred space on the land over the rest of our lifetimes. We share our home with two tortoiseshell cats, Zelda and her daughter Zymina, and three dogs, Murphy, Pippin and Cara.

One thought on “Dig Into History with Heritage Plants

  1. i’m part of your heritage. I’m coming to Kidron on Wed. May 16 on a bus tour eith Butler Motor Tours. We eat at the Amish Door Restaurant, and we should arrive at Lehman’s at 2:30 PM. I’d be honored by a special guest appearance of the president of the company an any other family members.