Ethnic Gardening: Heritage Garden Design From Around The Globe

People In The Garden Child Holding Vegetables
(Image credit: XiXinXing)

What is heritage gardening? Sometimes known as ethnic gardening, a heritage garden design pays tribute to the gardens of the past. Growing heritage gardens allows us to recapture the stories of our ancestors and pass them along to our children and grandchildren.

Growing Heritage Gardens

As we become more aware of climate change and how it affects our health and food supply, we are more likely to consider heritage garden design. Often, ethnic gardening allows us to grow vegetables that aren’t available from large grocery chains. In the process, we become more aware of our unique traditions. A heritage garden is a form of living history.

If you aren’t sure what to plant in your heritage garden, search for old gardening books, usually the older the better – or ask older members of the family. Your library may be a good source too, and check with local garden clubs or the historical or cultural society in your area.

History Through Gardening

Here are a few suggestions to get you started with your own heritage garden design.

Ethnic gardening allows us to develop pride in our unique cultural heritage. For example, descendants of the hardy settlers of the western United States may plant the same hollyhocks or heritage roses that their ancestors brought over the Oregon Trail many years ago. Like their industrious forebears, they may put up beets, corn, carrots, and potatoes for the winter. 

Turnip greens, collards, mustard greens, squash, sweet corn, and okra are still prominent in most southern gardens. Tables laden with sweet tea, biscuits, peach cobbler, and even traditional fried green tomatoes are proof that southern country cooking is very much alive.

Mexican heritage gardens may include tomatoes, corn, tomatillos, epazote, chayote, jicama, and various varieties of chiles (often from seeds) passed down through the generations and shared by friends and family. 

Gardeners of Asian descent have a rich cultural history. Many grow large home gardens featuring vegetables such as daikon radish, edamame, squash, eggplant, and an extensive variety of leafy greens.

These, of course, are only a starting point. There are a number of possibilities depending on where your family hails. Are they German, Irish, Greek, Italian, Australian, Indian, etc.? Growing an ethnic inspired garden (which can include more than one ethnicity too) is a great way to pass down traditions while teaching your kids (and grandchildren) about history and your ancestral background.

Mary H. Dyer

A Credentialed Garden Writer, Mary H. Dyer was with Gardening Know How in the very beginning, publishing articles as early as 2007.