Edible plant varieties are rapidly disappearing. In fact, between 1903 and 1983, 544 species of cabbage disappeared from the United States alone. Growing fruits and vegetables from heirloom seeds is one way we can all help to preserve plant diversity.
Having a diversity of plants is not only beautiful, delicious and ecologically sound - it is of life preserving importance. The Irish potato famine of 1840 is just one example of the disastrous effects of over-planting one variety of food crop.
Heirloom seeds pre-date hybridisation, disease-resistance straining and genetic engineering. They have been handed down from one generation to the next, preserving the diversity and the beauty of our gardens, the taste of our food and our ability to adapt to changing environments. They are like edible antiques and are the most tangible representation of our recent history.
There are two very good reasons for heirloom gardening:
1. Preservation - of flavours, fragrances and on a deeper level - the way of life of our predecessors.
2. Proliferation - of diversity, which in turn carries with it the added benefit of abundant phytochemical solutions to present and future environmental, medical, and even spiritual diseases.
Situated in Sydney, the historic house museum Vaucluse House recently reinstated the kitchen garden using heirloom seeds. Following an archeological dig to find the exact site of the original garden, the house curator and head gardener cross-referenced
family papers, shopping lists, horticultural catalogues and 19th century garden practices to decipher what the garden may have contained.
We also contacted the Australian Seed Savers Network, an international network aimed at promoting the use of heirloom seeds, to help source the heirloom varieties required for the garden. The result is a garden that allows us to step back in time to taste fruits and vegetables available almost two centuries ago.
For further information:
c/o Historic Houses Trust
Ph: (02) 9232 3488