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For many gardeners, the elegant beauty, rich flavors and tradition of heirloom plants are an irresistible part of their beloved garden beds. Heirloom blooms, heirloom vegetables and fruits, as well as herbs, and bulbs, all become prized treasures over the years.

The popularity of heirlooms in recent years means that many of these long time favorites are returning to captivate new generations of gardeners.

This is a wonderful trend, as so many of our antique flowers and vegetables have been replaced by modern, genetically altered and hybridized varieties.

An heirloom plant is generally one that comes true to seed and has been around since before the age of commercial hybridization began. Depending upon who you talk to, this time frame may vary. Generally, an heirloom variety is one that has been around since before the 1950s.

Heirloom vegetables

Gardeners seeking unusual, flavorful and colorful vegetables and crops often make a return to heirloom treasures from the past.

Many seed companies and garden centers now offer a growing collection of proven quality heirloom vegetables and fruits.

Some of my favorite tomatoes are heirlooms, including yellow pear and green zebra.

There are hundreds of varieties of heirloom beans, tomatoes, peppers, herbs and more available to gardeners. In addition to your local garden center, check online sources such as Seed Savers at www.seedsavers.org.

Once you begin to collect heirloom fruits and vegetables, try saving seeds from year to year. This is one of the joys of heirloom crops, that the seeds are always dependable.

Heirloom bulbs

Spring means blooming bulbs and some of the classic heirloom tulips, daffodils and others fill many area gardens with their graceful elegance and beauty.

Classic in rich black, Queen of the Night is one of the oldest tulips available. The graceful beauty of double flowering Angelique in soft pink is another. Other heirloom tulips are the many dwarf, rock garden tulips that sparkle in the spring sun.

Classic Thalia daffodil is one of my all-time favorites, growing tall and thin with graceful, butterfly-like blossoms in pure snow white. Another heirloom daffodil is the unusual, spiky bloom of Rip Van Winkle.

Other heirloom bulbs include the many varieties of fritillaria, as well as dwarf irises.

Heirloom annuals

Annual garden flowers from the past bring back memories of the stunning gardens of our grandparents and beyond.

There are many wonderful, traditional annual blooms to choose from. Bells of Ireland boast wonderful, unusual blooms in bright lime green. Larkspurs dance in shades of blue while heirloom cosmos sway in the summer breeze.

There are many exceptional heirloom sunflowers that tower over the summer garden providing a bounty of seeds for both humans and wildlife.

Classic cottage gardens

One of my favorite ways to display heirloom blooms and vegetables in one place is to create a stunning cottage garden.

Here, you can include a variety of antique perennials, annuals, vegetables, herbs and fruits together where they mingle and accent each other in rich, memorable ways.

Combine the foliage of heirloom herbs such as fennel and dill, alongside antique perennials such as daisy, oriental poppy, delphinium, columbine and others.

Biennials such as foxglove and hollyhocks make a stunning addition to the cottage garden.

Find Rob Zimmer online at www.robzimmeroutdoors.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RobZimmerOutdoors.

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