Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Plan a Gorgeous Heirloom Garden



Imagine what your personal garden might be like if you were the co-founder of Seed Savers Exchange. I had the opportunity to find out recently at a talk given by Diane Ott Whealy at Common Ground Organic Garden Supply and Education Center in Palo Alto, CA. After spending the bulk of her life working hard to build the non-profit Seed Savers Exchange, she now enjoys being a gardener again without the responsibilities of feeding a family and growing an organization.

She maintains a display garden at the Seed Savers headquarters, Heritage Farm, the Whealy’s former home in Decorah Iowa. Her approach is informal and loaded with enthusiasm.

Here are her top tips for creating a beautiful, naturally lush garden with heirlooms:
  • Grow vegetables, flowers, and herbs together (interplanting)
  • Let annuals reseed themselves for the next season, including vegetables (at least in part of the garden)
  • Learn to appreciate each stage of plant growth (lettuce gone to seed is strikingly attractive)
  • Plant bulbs (tulips, daffodils, etc.) for spring flowers, then interplant with lettuce for a dramatic effect
  • Let a flowering vine intertwine with a less showy plant, for example scarlet runner beans with sweet potatoes


The effect is a lush riot of texture and color with foliage and flowers to attract pollinators, and a feast for the senses. This technique of interplanting and companion planting creates a garden ecosystem that birds and insects love- the birds help control the insect population which will be a mix of beneficial insects as well as pests. Her display garden has about 500 species that include heirloom vegetables, old fashioned flowers and herbs. Some of her favorites are: Grandpa Ott's Morning Glory, Bees Friend (a flower from Germany), Scarlet Runner Bean, Moon and Stars Watermelon, and Five Color Silverbeet Swiss Chard, among many more.

Ott Whealy explained that the mission of the organization is to inspire people to grow the seeds: Seed Savers Exchange can save seeds but they cannot maintain gardens everywhere, therefore home gardeners are the key to keeping the thousands of useful plant varieties alive as they propagate them and share them with each other.

As she noted:
"the definition of an amateur is one who loves and cares"
You can order seeds directly from Seed Savers Exchange without a membership, or you can join and become part of the network of gardeners who exchange seeds and support the organization and their programs.

This post was also published here: Eat, Drink Better

Photos: Urban Artichoke

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