5 Times Growing Heirlooms is the Way to Go

May 5, 2016

It's the time of year again. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping and the ground is ripe for planting. It's a good chance to check out heirloom varieties of vegetables, fruits and even flowers. 

If you're more likely to buy your produce than grow it, don't worry. It's also the season for farmers' markets and gardening centers. 

Contributor Stacy Tornio shares her list of heirloom plants to brighten up your garden (or salad):

1. Coneflower: All Heirloom Varieties
(Echinacea purpurea, Zones 4 to 8)
New coneflower varieties are great, but some native plants should be staples in the garden, and this is definitely one of them. The prairie-style perennial attracts bees, birds and butterflies. It’s hardy, resilient and comes back year after year. Check with your local garden center or extension office to ask for recommendations, or consult a native plant society in your area.

2. Bleeding Heart: All Heirloom Varieties
(Dicentra spectabilis, Zones 3 to 9)
Some classics can’t be replaced, and this lovely plant with tiny, heart-shaped blooms is one of them. If you have shade, then you’ve likely already embraced this beauty because it will tolerate heavily shaded areas. Look for this one at your local native plant sale or Master Gardener sale—they’ll be more likely to carry heirlooms.

3. Peonies: ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ and ‘Madame de Verneville’
(Paeonia lactiflora, Zones 4 to 9)
The large, delicate blooms of peonies just can’t be duplicated, and newer peony varieties simply don’t compare. The classic peony has enormous, gorgeous blooms, which are rich in fragrance and are often swarming with pollinating bees. Look for pink ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ and white ‘Madame de Verneville’. But seriously, you can’t go wrong with any heirloom variety. They all smell fantastic, even if they do require a little bit of staking because the blooms are so big and heavy. The American Peony Society offers lots of helpful information about heirloom peonies.

4. Tomatoes: All Heirloom Varieties
(Solanum lycopersicum, Zones 1 to 13)
While many new tomato varieties promise higher yield, any food lover will tell you that you can’t compete with the flavor of an heirloom tomato. Plus, you’ll have a blast looking through heirloom catalogs finding the variety that sounds best to you. A few to look for include ‘Cherokee Purple’, ‘Snow White’ and ‘Black Krim’. Searching is half the fun!

5. All Veggies
If you haven’t jumped on the heirloom vegetable bandwagon, now is the time. You can find entire books on heirloom veggies. Many heirlooms really do taste better or offer better disease resistance. It’s worth experimenting. Look for cucumbers, melons, beans, peppers and anything else you want to grow in your veggie garden.