ground covers

There is no one single definition for an heirloom plant variety.

Generally they are thought of as older varieties (originating before the 1950s) that have been preserved and passed on through multiple generations of gardeners through seed saving. They were chosen because they expressed some remarkable trait such as high yield, unique flavor, color or shape, exceptional disease resistance, heat tolerance, adaptability to soil types, etc.

Heirlooms are open pollinated, non-hybrid varieties. This means seeds saved from heirlooms will yield the same or similar plant when sown (a.k.a “grows true”).

Some hybrid varieties stabilize and become open pollinated, but are not considered heirlooms. One day maybe these will become new heirlooms.

Why grow heirlooms?

  • For superior flavor, unique colors and shapes.
  • To preserve genetic diversity and cultural heritage.
  • Some heirlooms resist certain diseases, bolting or other challenges.
  • Share seed next year with your community.

Heirloom Vegetables

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There are more heirloom varieties available than we can list. Here we have chosen some of the most popular, unique and best suited varieties for the Portland area.


  • Bountiful- A stringless snap bean variety.
  • Dragon Tongue- Multipurpose bush bean. Yellow pods with purple stripes. Productive.
  • Fin de Bagnol- A French pole bean with tender, slender pods. Good for cool soil.
  • Garden of Eden- A Romano pole bean with sweet & tender 6” pods. From Italy.
  • Kentucky Wonder- A snap pole bean, earlier than others, rust resistant. 1864.
  • Peregion- Beautiful, multi-patterned beans with nutty flavor. Originated in Oregon.
  • Scarlet Runner Bean- Stunning orange flowers attract hummingbirds. Grows to 8’. Beans are flavorful fresh or dried.
  • Windsor- Productive and cold tolerant fava bean.


  • Chioggia- an Italian variety with red and white flesh and mild sweet flavor.
  • Cylindra- easier to slice and can be planted closer together. 1880s
  • Early Wonder- One of the best for greens and roots. 1911
  • Golden- Unique mild flavor and golden yellow flesh. Sow seeds thickly.


  • De Cicco- Reliable, good side shoot production after central head is cut. 1890.

Brussels Sprouts

  • Red Rubine- Gorgeous Reddish purple plants yield small purple sprouts. Late but very cold tolerant. 1940s?


  • Early Jersey Wakefeild- Mild, sweet flavor, smaller core than most, resistant to splitting
  • January King- A savoy type with purple tints after frost. Very cold hardy and excellent flavor. 1885


  • Danvers Half Long- Great for clay soils. Sweet, tender, almost core-less. 1871.


  • Early Snowball- Dwarf, 6-7” heads, good for early spring and fall crops. 1888.


  • Fordhook Giant- Extremely productive, dark crinkled leaves. 1750
  • Rainbow (5 Color Silverbeet)- Bright yellow, orange, red, pink and white stems, smooth leaves.
  • Rhubarb- Dark red stems and dark green leaves. Mild flavor. 1857


  • Golden Bantam- Early producing, old fashioned flavor, compact plants. 1902


  • Armenian- Unique 2-3’,light green, spineless, burpless fruits are not bitter.
  • Boothby’s Blonde- Oval, light yellow fruits are crisp & sweet. From Livermore, Maine.
  • Suyo Long- A Chinese variety with long, dark green, ribbed fruit. Sweet non-bitter flavor. Disease resistant.


  • Pingtung Long- Lavender, thin 12-18” long fruits. Vigorous, disease resistant plants.
  • Rosa Bianca- Italian, round lavender and white fruits with creamy, non-bitter flavor.


  • Mizuna-An easy to grow, mild tasting Japanese green. Great in salads.
  • Osaka Purple Mustard- Large dark red leaves have a spicy kick. Great in fall through spring.
  • Sylvetta Arugula- Deeply lobed leaves with exceptional spicy flavor. Slower growing and bolting than other varieties.

Ground Cherry

  • Aunt Molly’s- Polish variety with a sweet, fruity flavor. Prolific, spreading plants.


  • Dwarf Blue Scotch- Compact plants are very cold tolerant.
  • Lacinato (aka Tuscan Black, Dinosaur, Nero Di Toscana)- Long, narrow dark green leaves are puckered. Tender, texture and mild flavor, an unrivaled favorite.
  • Russian Red- Purple stems , bluish leaves turn purple in cold weather. Tender.


  • Scotland- Wonderful texture and flavor. One of the best for overwintering.


  • Black Seeded Simpson- Light green loose leaf, crisp, sweet flavor. Early, slow bolt. 1850
  • Deer Tongue- Green bibb, loose leaf , thick, pointed leaves. Heat & cold tolerant. 1740s
  • Flashy Trout’s Back- A romaine with dark green leaves speckled with red. Buttery flavor.
  • Rouge d’Hiver- A red romaine that is sweet with buttery texture. Withstands heat if watered well. 1840s


  • Charentais- Said to be the most flavorful of all melons. Sweet, juicy flesh. 2# fruits.
  • Collective Farm Women- Of Ukranian origin. Sweet green flesh. Great for Northern climates.
  • Small Shining Light- An early watermelon with 10-12” dark green fruits and sweet red flesh.


  • Red Torpedo- An Italian heirloom with mild flavor. Great fresh or on the grill. 1880s
  • Walla Walla- Arrived in Washington state in the 1880s. Delicious, large, sweet bulbs.


  • Dwarf Grey Sugar- Vines do not need support. Early, stringless snow peas. 1770s


  • Bull Nose- An early, productive bell pepper. Sweet and pungent. Grown by Thomas Jefferson. 1759.
  • Corno di Toro- Sweet, tapered Italian peppers. Sweet, mild flavor, vigorous plants. Yellow or red varieties available.
  • Hungarian Hot Wax- Medium heat. Prolific plants yield yellow, 6” fruits ripening red.
  • Long Red Cayenne-Very hot, dark red, wrinkled, 4-6” fruits. Standard for drying.
  • Pimento de Padron- A Spanish variety traditionally fried when green and mild. When red and mature it has a medium heat.
  • Serrano- A Mexican classic. Productive, 3” long, green, hot peppers


  • Cinderella (aka Rouge Vif D’Etampes)- Stunning, flattened red/orange fruits used for decoration or baked for soups etc.
  • New England Pie (aka Small Sugar)- Sweet, creamy orange flesh is perfect in pies and for canning. 4-6 fruits per plant.


  • Bloomsdale- Heavy yields, slow to bolt. Tender, excellent flavor.

Summer Squash

  • Black Beauty- Long dark green zucchini. Plants are open, mildly resistant to mildew.
  • Costa Romanesco- An Italian zucchini with dark green flesh and deep grooves. Exceptionally rich, sweet flavor *Tromboncino- Climbing squash with tender, sweet, large, green fruits with a bulbous end.
  • Yellow Crookneck- A favorite with distinctive yellow, warty fruits. Unbeatable sweet, buttery flavor and firm texture. 1700

Winter Squash

  • Anna Swartz Hubbard- Great for storage. Orange flesh is reminiscent of sweet potato.
  • Delicata- Thin skin and amazingly sweet, smooth flesh. Compact, trellises well. 1894
  • Marina di Chioggia- Unique grey, warty skin. Sweet, rich flesh, good keeper. Productive.
  • Spaghetti- unique stringy, cooked flesh with mild flavor. Good pasta substitute!
  • Table Queen Acorn- Stores well. Handles poor soil. Sweet, dry orange flesh. 1913


  • Toma Verde-Large productive plants. Tangy flavor.

Red Tomato

  • Bonny Best-6-8oz, dense fruit. Good for Northern climates.
  • Constoluto Genovese- A fluted Italian variety with a full, slightly tart flavor, meaty flesh.
  • Moskovich- Productive, early 4-6oz fruits, fantastic flavor, meaty flesh.
  • Paul Robeson- Sets fruit at lower temps. Unusual, earthy flavor, dark red, 7-10 oz fruit.
  • Silvery Fir Tree- Gorgeous plants with silver leaves. Good flavored, 3” fruit, productive.
  • Stupice- Very early, good yields, reliable in the PNW. Great tasting 2 1⁄2” fruits.

Pink Tomato

  • Anna Russian- Heart shaped, juicy fruit with superb flavor. Early for a large variety.
  • Brandywine (Sudduth)-Standard Brandywine unparalleled, rich, mildly acidic flavor. Large fruits require a long season.
  • Caspian Pink- Russian heirloom, similar to Brandywine in flavor. Large fruit.
  • Zapotec Ribbed- Unusual, large, ruffled, hollow fruits. Sweet taste, great for stuffing.

Purple & Black Tomato

  • Black Krim- Russian variety with very rich, complex flavor. Darkest in warm weather.
  • Black Prince- Siberian variety with juicy, rich flavor, garnet flesh.
  • Cherokee Purple- Good rich flavor, thin skin. Medium yields of 10-12 oz fruits.
  • Pruden’s Purple- 1lb, meaty, delicious fruits. Earlier than other large varieties.
  • Purple Calbash- Ruffled 5-6oz fruits with rich, intense flavor. Mexican variety.

Green Tomato

  • Aunt Ruby’s German Green- Delicious, sweet, large fruits.
  • Cherokee Green- Good flavored amber green fruits. Large 12-16oz beefsteak type.
  • Green Zebra- Sweet, fruity taste. Small to medium fruits have dark green stripes.

Yellow & Orange Tomato

  • Dr. Wyche’s Yellow- 10-16oz fruits, with few seeds and rich flavor.
  • Golden Jubilee- Prolific, thick walled, meaty, low acid, medium sized fruits. Golden orange.
  • Kellog’s Breakfast- Dark orange, beefsteak type fruit. Tangy, fruity flavor. Open habit.
  • Taxi- Early, low acid, meaty, bright yellow fruits.
  • Valencia- A short season orange variety with 8-10 oz fruits. Few seeds, full flavor.

Multicolor Tomato

  • Ananas Noir- Huge fruits are black, green, orange and yellow. Sweet and tangy.
  • Hillbilly- Huge yellow, orange and red dense fruits. Sweet, low acid and juicy.
  • Pineapple- Large 1lb fruits are yellow streaked with yellow. Meaty, classic flavor.
  • Red Zebra-2-5” red fruits striped with gold. Sweet flavor, very productive.
  • Striped German-Medium to large, flattened red and yellow fruits. Complex, fruity flavor.

Cherry Tomato

  • Green Grape- A large, green cherry tomato with a smooth sweet taste. Prolific.
  • Isis Candy- Golden fruits with red marbling. Sweet, fruity flavor. Productive.
  • Matt’s Wild Cherry- Early producing. Sweet, dark red 1.5” fruits.
  • Sugar Lump- A productive German variety. Very sweet, small red fruits.
  • Yellow Pear- Distinctive, yellow, pear- shaped, low acid fruits. Mild flavor, very productive.

Sauce Tomato

  • Amish Paste- Delicious fruits are good fresh and in sauce. Meaty, tear-drop, red fruits.
  • Japanese Black Trifele- Pear shaped, dark red with green shoulders. Complex, rich flavor.
  • San Marzano- Italian heirloom. Prolific red, angular, pear-shaped fruits. Classic for sauce.
  • Yellow Icicle- Elongated golden yellow fruits with sweet flavor. Good for fresh eating or canning.