The best books on why we love old-fashioned tomatoes, beans, and peas

Who am I?

I’ve loved gardening ever since I was five years old, when I followed my grandmother around her yard as she watered her dinner plate-sized dahlias. As a college student, I rode a bus to school each day and read every gardening book and magazine I could get my hands on. After I graduated with a degree in Journalism, I realized I wanted to write about flowers and veggies and show other people how beautiful and bountiful a garden could be. My first book, Gardening with Heirloom Seeds, led to a wonderful speaking experience in Orlando at Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival, and to contracts for two more books in the spiritual living genre.


I wrote...

Gardening with Heirloom Seeds: Tried-and-True Flowers, Fruits, and Vegetables for a New Generation

By Lynn Coulter,

Book cover of Gardening with Heirloom Seeds: Tried-and-True Flowers, Fruits, and Vegetables for a New Generation

What is my book about?

Heirloom seeds are more than the promise of next summer's crookneck squash or jewel-colored zinnias. They're living antiques handed down from one generation to the next, a rich inheritance of flavor and beauty from long ago and, often, far away. Gardening with Heirloom Seeds serves as a resource for gardeners, cooks, and plant lovers of all levels of expertise who want to know more about finding, sharing, and propagating the seeds of heirloom flowers, fruits, and vegetables.

In these beautifully illustrated pages, Lynn Coulter describes fifty treasured heirloom species, from Frenchman's Darling, a flowering herb whose seeds were pocketed by Napoleon Bonaparte when he invaded Egypt in 1798, to Snow White beets, an old Dutch favorite that will not stain the cook's fingers red. 

The books I picked & why

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Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time

By Craig LeHoullier,

Book cover of Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time

Why this book?

There’s one thing most gardeners agree on: you simply can’t beat the taste of a homegrown tomato. Supermarket tomatoes have been bred to withstand shipping and stacking, so they look like perfect, red globes, but unfortunately, many have lost their old-fashioned flavor along the way. Author Craig LeHoullier is a tomato connoisseur who tells you how to grow over 200 varieties, from planting to harvesting and saving their seeds for another season. The photos in this beautifully illustrated book will make your mouth water—just like the tomatoes he recommends.

Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time

By Craig LeHoullier,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Epic Tomatoes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book contains everything a tomato-growing enthusiast needs to know about growing over 200 varieties of tomatoes - how to sow seeds, plant, cultivate, and collect seeds. It also offers a comprehensive guide to pests and diseases of tomatoes. No other book offers such a detailed look at the specifics of growing tomatoes, from the point of view of a true expert, with beautiful photographs and tomato profiles throughout.


Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master Gardener's Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History

By William Woys Weaver,

Book cover of Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master Gardener's Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History

Why this book?

Have you ever wished you could grow those nutritious, meaty peas and beans your granddaddy used to grow? Some had cool names, like Rattlesnake Beans, Big Red Ripper, or Blue Podded Shelling. They were probably heirloom varieties, plants that have been around for 50 years or more. While heirlooms are harder to find than they used to be, and nurseries and garden centers don’t often sell them as young plants, you can still grow these varieties from seeds (tip: look for them online or search for “seed swaps” in your area). Weaver is an organic gardener and food historian who discusses the old-timey veggies our forebears ate and where their seeds came from. You’ll want to plant your own kitchen garden with many of the varieties he covers.

Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master Gardener's Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History

By William Woys Weaver,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Heirloom Vegetable Gardening as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"This book is sure to be a modern classic and is one of the most important books on gardening in the current century."
—Jere Gettle, founder, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Heirloom Vegetable Gardening has always been a book for gardeners and cooks interested in unique flavors, colors, and history in their produce. This updated edition has been improved throughout with growing zones, advice, and new plant entries. Line art has been replaced with lush, full-color photography. Yet at the core, this book delivers on the same promise it made two decades ago: It’s a comprehensive guide based on meticulous first-person…


Passalong Plants

By Steve Bender, Felder Rushing,

Book cover of Passalong Plants

Why this book?

As a Southern gardener, I’ve learned a lot from Passalong Plants by co-authors Steve Bender, the self-described “grumpy gardener” columnist for Southern Living magazine, and Felder Rushing, from Mississippi, who is an eleventh-generation gardener, writer, author, and broadcaster on MPB Think Radio. As the title suggests, their book is about plants that have been passed along from one gardener to another, sometimes over a neighboring fence. Many are now living heirlooms you can’t find at retail. Instead of focusing only on seeds, Bender and Rushing discuss plant swaps, dividing and sharing perennials, and growing more plants from cuttings. Their style is chatty and informal but also informative.

Passalong Plants

By Steve Bender, Felder Rushing,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Passalong Plants as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Passalongs are plants that have survived in gardens for decades by being handed from one person to another. These botanical heirlooms, such as flowering almond, blackberry lily, and night-blooming cereus, usually can't be found in neighborhood garden centers; about the only way to obtain a passalong plant is to beg a cutting from the fortunate gardener who has one. In this lively and sometimes irreverent book (don't miss the chapter on yard art), Steve Bender and Felder Rushing describe 117 such plants, giving particulars on hardiness, size, uses in the garden, and horticultural requirements. They present this information in the…


Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners

By Suzanne Ashworth, David Cavagnaro (photographer),

Book cover of Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners

Why this book?

This is a guide to saving and growing 160 different vegetables, and you must know how to harvest, save, and store their seeds if you want to plant some of the harder-to-find varieties. Co-author Kent Whealy was one of the founders of Iowa-based Seed Savers Exchange, a nonprofit organization and seed bank that has a collection of over 20,000 varieties of heirloom flower, vegetable, fruit, berry, grain, and herb seeds. He and his former wife, Diane Ott Whealy, are credited with sparking the heirloom seed movement in the 1970s. 

Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners

By Suzanne Ashworth, David Cavagnaro (photographer),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Seed to Seed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Seed to Seed is a complete seed-saving guide that describes specific techniques for saving the seeds of 160 different vegetables. This book contains detailed information about each vegetable, including its botanical classification, flower structure and means of pollination, required population size, isolation distance, techniques for caging or hand-pollination, and also the proper methods for harvesting, drying, cleaning, and storing the seeds.Seed to Seed is widely acknowledged as the best guide available for home gardeners to learn effective ways to produce and store seeds on a small scale. The author has grown seed crops of every vegetable featured in the book,…


The Heirloom Gardener: Traditional Plants and Skills for the Modern World

By John Forti,

Book cover of The Heirloom Gardener: Traditional Plants and Skills for the Modern World

Why this book?

Author John Forti’s book combines personal essays and gardening info on traditional/ heirloom plants. He encourages readers to slow down and reconnect with the land (he’s one of the founders of the Slow Food movement) and learn or re-learn sustainable, traditional gardening skills. He describes herbs like angelica, pre-industrial agricultural practices (I wish I had goats, so they could eat all the poison ivy around my house), and much more. I enjoyed the beautiful woodblock print images throughout the book. They help remind me that I don’t have to depend on all the modern “stuff,” like technology, chemicals, and modern hybrids, to have a successful and satisfying garden.

The Heirloom Gardener: Traditional Plants and Skills for the Modern World

By John Forti,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Heirloom Gardener as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An A-to-Z compilation of traditional gardening skills and heirloom plants, nostalgically illustrated with wood block art. Modern life is a cornucopia of technological wonders. But when we spend so much time glued to our phones and computer screens, something precious is lost: a sense of connection to the generations that have preceded us. John Forti is acutely aware of this loss, and his mission is to heal it. In The Heirloom Gardener, he celebrates and shares the lore and traditional practices that link us with the natural world and with each other. Arranged alphabetically, entries include heirloom flowers like beebalm,…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in tomatoes, vegetables, and pea?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about tomatoes, vegetables, and pea.

Tomatoes Explore 9 books about tomatoes
Vegetables Explore 27 books about vegetables
Pea Explore 10 books about pea

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Tomatoes for Neela, Astro Pea, and Grow Your Own Vegetables if you like this list.