Indigenous horticultural plants. How to keep them?

Indigenous horticultural plants. How to keep them?


Horticulture has become a science, and few have retained the knowledge and skills for growing food for themselves. Fortunately, there are a number of grandmothers who have been collecting vegetable seeds year after year, and so, many of the native plants grown in the farm gardens have survived.


Horticulture in Estonia dates back to the beginning of the nineteenth century, when slavery was abolished and Estonian peasants were given the right to own farms. Planting a beautiful garden was definitely not at the top of the agenda for the fresh farm owners. Producing food was a priority – beauty came second. They created the first orchards and the selection of vegetables expanded rapidly: cabbages, peas, onions, potatoes. The first Estonian horticulture and landscaping boom dates back to the early years of the republic: most of the old farm gardens that we now visit and admire were built back then.


In Estonia, native plants have also been called native varieties, old varieties, heritage varieties, and selected varieties. It is agreed that indigenous varieties are plants that have adapted to the local climate. Their value lies in their genetic origin and cultural heritage, in the diversification of nature. A plant can be considered indigenous if it has been grown by generation after generation in the local climate for more than fifty years.


Different varieties are common in different regions of Estonia, because the soil and the climate affect the spreading of the plants. There are vegetables, natural food plants, herbs and spices, fruit trees and berry bushes, and ornamental plants among the native plants. The most well-known native plants are the bleeding heart, larkspur, wolfsbane, columbine, soapwort, peony, bellflower, mock-orange, geranium, rhubarb, turnip, common bean, chives, primitive rye, hops, currants, gooseberries, apple and pear trees. The native varieties are, for example, the rye variety ‘Sangaste rukis’, the onion ‘Peipsi sibul’, the potato ‘Väike verev’, the broad bean ‘Helbi’, the pea ‘Vanaema hernes’, and the apples ‘Liivi kuldrenett’ and ‘Suislepp’.


There are several reasons to collect seeds from your garden. Throughout history, the cultivation of food has always been a basic skill to master in life. Culture itself is based on the knowledge of how to get a better harvest from your field. Indigenous horticultural plants are part of the cultural heritage. Today, however, the cultivation of food plants mostly falls to the fields of large farms and culture is therefore poorer for it. We no longer remember the names of plants, nor do we have the knowledge and skills of how to propagate and grow them. In addition to the heritage, you should collect the seeds from your garden because if you want to buy seeds of plants grown in Estonia, you will find the selection is rather limited. Plants grown from seeds originating in the southern regions of the world have not adapted to the Estonian climate and are also more susceptible to diseases. However, if you collect and sow seeds yourself, year after year, the plants become stronger and more resistant to Estonian weather conditions.


Obstacles to the seed exchange and storage of native vegetable varieties. Estonia has not yet reached a common understanding that native varieties are our cultural heritage and our gene pool that need state protection and preservation. It is prohibited to share the seeds of self-grown vegetables. Marketing (giving something away free of charge is also marketing) is allowed only for certified seeds of the variety that are listed in the Estonian Variety List. That, however, means dealing with complicated bureaucratic procedures. The problem is being addressed. We hope that a decision will be made soon that will allow native varieties to be preserved, propagated, distributed, and sold in an easier way.


Full article in the April 2019 issue of Eesti Loodus, pages 30–33



By: Tiia Trolla, Vanaema Aed OÜ gardener

Edited for Loodusveeb by: Reigo Roasto