Photo by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Recommended by Craig LeHoullier, Gardener advisory board:
A few years ago, I was asked to attend the Seed Savers Exchange Tomato Tasting event at its headquarters in Decorah, Iowa. One of the first I sampled was a cultivar recently sent to Seed Savers called ‘Dester’ (Solanum lycopersicum). This tomato truly impressed me, and it ended up winning the tasting straw vote.
Like many heirlooms, ‘Dester’ has a story. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds introduced ‘Dester’ and relates the history on its website: “The seed came to us from an Amish lady [Anna] just a few miles from our Baker Creek farm. Anna worked as a house cleaner for Dr. Dester and his wife in Indiana in the 1970s. Having acquired the seed from Germany, the Desters shared their favorite tomato seed with Anna, who treasured it and now shares it with us.”
You can choose from many large, pink-fruited heirloom tomatoes on the market, but ‘Dester’ is among the best flavored of them all — and believe me, I’ve tried dozens. The cultivar is productive, and resists common tomato diseases.
$3.00 per packet (25 seeds)
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Photo by Nina Gentle
Recommended by Pam Dawling, Gardener advisory board:
‘Epic’ eggplant (Solanum melongena) is a high-yielding, heat-tolerant eggplant that also does well early in the season before the heat sets in. With the summers getting hotter, we gardeners at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia found that we needed to switch from our previous favorite, ‘Nadia.’ Although we still grow some of the latter to hedge our bets, ‘Epic’ does better in late summer, when the weather stays hot. ‘Epic’ plants are compact and produce large teardrop-shaped fruits that are dark purple.
$11.30 for 1,000 seeds
Photo by Flickr/Peter Stevens
Recommended by Robert Pavlis, Gardener advisory board:
The shooting star (Dodecatheon pulchellum) has unusually shaped flowers that stand out in the garden. Bare-root plants are uncommon in nurseries, but shooting star is easy to grow from seed, and will flower the second year.
Common names for this plant include few-flowered shooting star, dark-throat shooting star, western shooting star and prairie shooting star. Its normal habitat is wet alpine and subalpine regions of western North America, but it can also be found in very dry desert locations. The plant is easy to grow in a normal garden setting, and is perennial in Zones 3 to 7.
I’ve always grown shooting star on the wet side with a bit of shade, but it should grow fine in drier soil. The most common color forms are light to deep pink, but white and red forms are available.
$2.50 for 100 seeds
‘Hot Portugal’ Pepper
Photo by Flickr/Mark Levisay
Recommended by Andrew Moore, Gardener advisory board:
I’m in love with the ‘Hot Portugal’ pepper (Capsicum annuum). A farmer at my local farmers market sells this cultivar. It caught my eye because it’s big, bright red, and beautiful, and I’d never heard of it before. I fermented it to make a hot sauce, a simple pepper mash; it produced a lovely, sweet sauce, with just a little heat, that was good on just about everything. ‘Hot Portugal’ was introduced in 1935 by Joseph Harris & Co. of Coldwater, New York.
$3.25 per packet
‘Carl’s Glass Gem’ Corn
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Recommended by Oscar “Hank” Will III, editor at large:
I inherited an interest in corn, especially for older, neglected varieties, from my great-grandfather Oscar H. Will. He was a plant breeder who developed hundreds of northern-hardy open-pollinated varieties. So, it wasn’t hard for me to like ‘Carl’s Glass Gem’ when I first saw it. ‘Glass Gem’ (Zea mays) is historically significant, easy and fun to grow, and stunningly beautiful. You can eat it popped or ground up as meal. The corn is named after Carl Barnes, the part-Cherokee farmer and breeder from Oklahoma who developed it. He selected for it by crossing traditional corn varieties, many of them preserved by Native American tribes, and saving the most colorful, translucent seed. ‘Glass Gem’ stalks can grow up to 9 feet tall but are more commonly 6 feet, and the ears range from 3 to 8 inches in length.
$26.95 for 4 pound