Heirloom Vegetables by Simon Rickard

A guide to their history, varieties and growing your own

By Laura McKinnon
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Organic vegetables - Victorian Farmers' Markets

Organic vegetables - Victorian Farmers' Markets [©VFMA]

Heirloom Vegetables: A guide to their history and varieties  By Simon Rickard


Described by the author as a celebration of the beauty and diversity of heirloom vegetables, Heirloom Vegetables is perfect for anyone interested in furthering their knowledge of vegetables that they have probably always taken for granted.

The book is written by Simon Rickard, who was formerly head of the famed Diggers Club in Victoria, and now works as a garden designer, gardening coach and garden communicator, whilst also lecturing and giving workshops for many prominent organisations.

Heirloom Vegetables tells the stories of where humans and vegetables have been together, and where we might go in the future. The book is comprised of three main parts; information about heirlooms, information on different heirloom families and a ‘Growing Your Own’ section.

Its information is incredibly interesting, detailing the importance of heirloom vegetables as domesticated organisms that at one stage almost became extinct, but are now part of a renaissance and resistance against agribusiness and their attempts to dominate the global food supply.

Heirloom vegetable growers directly oppose the idea of having companies dictate what should be grown and what varieties should be consumed. This is one of the main reasons heirloom vegetables are making such a strong resurgence.

The book traces the family history of different heirloom vegetables while giving details on common varieties available today. These include lists of varieties with wild and colourful names such as 'Drunken Woman Frizzy Headed' and 'Makes the Daughter-in-Law Cry', both of which would make good conversation starters at dinner.

They are complemented with beautiful colour photography showing the unique features and textures of these vegetables.

Warrigal Greens warrants a mention as the only Australian native that can be considered an heirloom vegetable. As described it is a sprawling perennial that flourishes in coastal environments but will also preform well in rich garden vegetable soil. Simon describes it as a handy plant to have to supply emergency greens when you have a gap in supply of other greens from your garden.

This reviewer would add however that if you live in a coastal climate as I do, it spreads easily and can take over you garden beds if you leave them unattended while on holidays. On the up side, we will never run out of Warrigal greens!

The 'Grow Your Own' section that gives practical information on how to propagate and grow heirloom vegetables in a no nonsense practical way. Personally I loved his top tips which included 'Set your sights low' and 'Little and often' to mention just two, as they describe my style of gardening and highlight how anyone can give growing heirloom vegetables a go.

Overall the book achieves what it sets out to do, to provide a significant amount of information about heirloom vegetables; where they came from, why they are important and their role in the scheme of things. For any organic gardener, anyone interested in the history of vegetables, or for the general gardener wanting to further their knowledge of gardening this is a must have.

Beautifully presented, well researched and written by someone with passion for the topic.


Heirloom Vegetables by Simon Rickard is published in Australia by Lantern Press, an imprint of Penguin (Melbourne, 2014; hc, 344pp) and retails in Australia for $49.95

Heirloom Vegetables is available to purchase online via Booko here »



  • Mornington Peninsula (VIC)

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November 04th, 2014
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