Heirloom varieties of vegetables, fruits and flowers offer great flavor and color, plus a generally hearty constitution. They have stood the test of time!
Here are a few great heirlooms to try:
'Dragon's Tongue' bean—produces long, stringless bean pods that are cream with purple markings. You can harvest them when ripe and eat the juicy beans (purple stripes disappear during cooking) or leave them on the bush longer and harvest them as shell beans.
'Choigga' beets—slice one open to find its gorgeous red and white stripes. Good for both eating fresh and for pickling.
'Paris Market' carrots—red-orange carrots with a very sweet taste and a very short, squat shape. They can easily be grown in containers.
'Parade' cucumbers—great choice if you're planning to pickle your cukes, because this vine's fruit matures all at roughly the same time. The cucumbers are a good size for pickles, too, at 5 inches long and 2 inches thick.
'Hartman's Yellow Gooseberry' tomato—bright yellow cherry tomatoes with a subtle sweet flavor. Very productive plant.
'Black Knight' sweet pea—very fragrant, deep maroon/purple spring flowers.
'Pan' sunflower—plants grow to 5 feet tall, with neat branching producing deep golden flowers with dark chocolate eyes. Long bloom period, from summer through the frost.
'Irish Poet' tassel flower—light orange, buttonlike flowers on skinny stems, blooming summer into fall. Dates to the 1820s.
'Marbles Mix' four-o-clocks—orange, yellow and pink flowers bear stripes of darker shades across their petals. Fragrant.
'Indian Cress' nasturtium—vining nasturtium with large orange flowers. Petals are streaked with darker orange. Edible.
'Empress of India' nasturtium—low, bushy plant produces loads of dark red flowers. Victorian favorite.
Good mail-order sources for heirloom plants and seeds: