It’s been several years since I’ve grown morning glories, even though I really like them. It seems like plants are for me like favorite snacks. I’ll crave a particular one for a while and then another one calls my name. I’ve got a few that are always in the rotation and so it is with some plants.

In 2016, I planted my Tower Garden with vegetables and a couple of annual flowers. The Tower Garden is a vertical growing system that uses aeroponic principles by pumping a nutrient-filled water solution over the roots of the plants in 15-minute increments.

People typically only plant edibles in their Tower Gardens, often in addition to planting them in the ground, but some vegetables aren’t suited for this kind of growing. Root crops, such as beets, carrots, and radishes just can’t be grown in it, so I planted French marigolds in the top tier and morning glories in the bottom.

Morning glories are a vining plant easy to grow from seed, and although they’re annuals, they are prolific self-seeders. Some gardeners don’t like planting them in the first place because of this. And for others, this is a desirable trait. Such is the case for many heirloom plants.

Plants that have become so common and widely grown over a long period of years have become known as heirlooms. The proper definition of an heirloom species is one that has been grown for generations, often having been handed down through families. An heirloom must have been open-pollinated by Mother Nature.

Prior to World War II, a large number of vegetables and flowers grown in gardens were heirlooms, using seeds saved from year to year. Since that time, hybridizing to select desirable characteristics has led to planting large monocultures in agriculture, and the use of plants in home gardens that don’t come true from seed.

Various dates have been bandied about as to what constitutes an heirloom plant. Some consider an heirloom to be a variety that was grown prior to 1945 (the end of World War II), while others use 1951 as the cut-off date, when hybrids became commercially available.

There are seed companies that are particularly dedicated to preserving heirloom varieties so that they aren’t lost to history. One such company is the Seed Savers Exchange, located near Decorah, Iowa. This is a non-profit organization and one of the largest non-governmental seed banks in the US.

I met Diane Ott Whealy in 2012, while attending the Garden Writers Association annual meeting in Tucson, Arizona. Diane is a co-founder of the Seed Savers Exchange ( and author of “Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver. Beginning” with just two seed varieties that were handed down to her by her paternal grandfather, she began the organization in 1975.

One of those varieties was a deep purple morning glory with a brilliant white throat and a red star. It was brought to America by Diane’s paternal great-grandfather in 1884, when he and his family emigrated from the Bavarian region of Germany. Today, it is commercially known as Ipomoea purpurea ‘Grandpa Ott’s’ and it is one of the most commonly grown morning glory varieties.

It was ‘Grandpa Ott’s’ that I grew in my Tower Garden, which sat poolside, in 2016. I tried to save all the seeds produced by its vines, but I obviously missed a few. This year, the vine came up as a volunteer among the daylilies in a bed adjacent to where my Tower Garden sat, and produced brilliant blooms in early September.

I posted a photo of one of those blooms and it caught the attention of Diane Ott Whealy, who left a comment: “That's my Grandpa Ott for sure..fearless and determined to overcome any obstacle. I planted the morning glories on the side of the barn at Heritage Farm in Iowa 30 years ago and never replanted. Good to know he is spreading his light in Ohio.”

If heirloom plants could talk…

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