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Heirloom plants on the family tree

Memories of people as well as well as plants that span the generations.


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The term "heirloom plants" reminds me that I am of an age when the vegetables grown in my mother's garden are now considered "heirloom." These plants are like the Barbie doll I received for my 10th Christmas, which is now a vintage collectible. Not wanting to label myself as vintage or antique, I prefer to focus on plants.

Several reasons are given for growing these old plants. Some motives sound quite noble. Especially altruistic is the suggestion that some people raise these plants "to increase the gene pool for a particular plant for future generations." To me, that has a "save the world" ring to it.

But I admit that I rarely discern many changes from old to modern plants. I don't see any gene permutations from those I ate fresh from the vine as a child. To me, a tomato is a tomato and the same with hollyhocks, asters, irises, and the hundreds of other plants now deemed heirloom varieties. The subtle differences are lost on me.

Altruism aside, growing these old varieties of vegetables, fruits, and flowers seems a nostalgic thing to do. A former Ohio neighbor raised vintage hollyhocks, asters, and cockscomb because she remembered playing among them as a child in her grandmother's flower garden. Perhaps it's the memories that drove Mom – and now drive me – to keep an old Christmas cactus that belonged to Grandma alive and blooming.

There are also heirloom plants in my husband's family. These plants grow at Great-Grandma Mollie's house. Although she has been gone almost 30 years, it will always be Mollie's house. She enjoyed a long life on the farm, preserved a gazillion jars of vegetables from her garden and fruit from her trees, and baked hundreds of cakes and pies in her primitive (by our standards) kitchen. Even in her later years, she continued to go out every morning to battle for eggs. She threatened the aggressive rooster and elbowed her way past defensive hens.


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