Heirlooms and Hybrids

Credit: All-American Selections

It is curious that at the same time modern hybrid plants are getting attention, heirlooms are garnering more appeal among home gardeners. So, what are heirlooms? They are cultivated plant varieties that have been grown for at least 50 years, time-tested and open-pollinated. Chiefly of European descent, heirloom seeds have been passed down from one generation to the next. Through the centuries people selected and conserved seeds of those plants with enhanced characteristics such as flavour, vigour, scent and local hardiness.

More than 40 of the All-America Selections varieties can be considered heirlooms. Among the initial AAS introductions – from the early 1930s – was the Gleam Series of nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus. ‘Golden Gleam’ with its brilliant gold flowers – and spicy flavour – made its debut in 1933. A favourite pink cleome, ‘Pink Queen,’ Cleome hasslerana, came on the scene in 1942. In 1947, the ever-popular French marigold ‘Naughty Marietta,’ Tagetes patula, with its bright-yellow petals marked with maroon at their centres, made its debut.

‘Purple Robe’ Nierembergia hippomanica, which was awarded AAS status in 1942, is still the only purple nierembergia grown from seed. AAS vegetables include several classics such as ‘Clemson Spineless’ okra (Abelmoschus esculentus 1939), ‘Straight 8’ cucumber (Cucumis sativus 1935) and ‘Salad Bowl’ lettuce (Lactuca sativa 1952).