As fewer seed companies remain in existence and those that survive offer a dwindling number of cultivars, there’s an even more vital reason for growing old cultivars: These open-pollinated heirloom plants
represent a vast and diverse pool of genetic characteristics—one that will be lost forever if these plants are allowed to become extinct. Even cultivars that seem inferior to us today may carry a gene that will prove invaluable in the future. One may contain a valuable but yet undiscovered substance that could be used in medicine. Another could have the disease resistance vital to future generations of gardeners and plant breeders.
The federal government maintains the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, as part of its commitment to maintaining genetic diversity, but the task of preserving seed is so vast that the government probably cannot do a complete job on its own. Heirloom gardeners recognize the importance of maintaining genetic diversity, and many feel a real sense of urgency and importance about their own preservation work. Thanks to them, to seed companies that remain committed to offering open-pollinated heirlooms to the public, and to organizations like Seed Savers Exchange
that are dedicated to maintaining diversity in the garden, the future of heirloom plants looks bright.
If you’d like to start growing heirloom plants in your garden, try ordering seed from small specialty seed suppliers that carry old cultivars. Also, you can contact nonprofit organizations that work with individuals to preserve heirloom plants, such as the Seed Savers Exchange. Some gardening magazines also have a seed swap column. We have a swap on the OG forum