Here’s a wealth of STAFF PICKS from our email Gazette and past catalogs, starting with the most recently published. For other topics, please see our main Newsletter Archives page.
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“Easy Arranger” Makes Bouquet-Making Even Easier

Fresh, local, and almost free, bouquets from your own backyard are one of the great pleasures of gardening. And they’re easy — so I admit I was skeptical when Vanessa brought a little wire doohickey called an Easy Arranger into work one day. It’s a grid of woven wire that fits over the top of a vase and holds flowers upright and in place. Once I tried it, though, I was convinced. This thing really does make bouquet-making easier.

It’s all but invisible, too, and relatively cheap. We ordered a set of three different sizes from thegrommet.com for $12 plus $2.20 shipping. You can find look-alikes elsewhere, but the Grommet sells the original by Annabelle Noel Designs, “a firm with a mission to launch innovative household products designed and manufactured by women. Its founder Anne Cork tapped her jewelry-making skills to create Easy Arranger after being inspired by the tape grids she saw florists using to hold their flowers in place.” Check it out here — and happy bouquets! (Sept. 2015)

Staff Picks: Vanessa’s 3 Favorites for Spring Planting

Vanessa Elms lives in a charming little 1920s bungalow in the Depot Town neighborhood of nearby Ypsilanti (the Brooklyn of Ann Arbor). She traces her love of plants to tagging along with her parents to local nurseries when she was a child, and after earning a horticulture degree from Michigan State and spending a few years working for a landscape company in Chicago, she returned here a few years ago to join us as our VP for Bulbs.
When I asked her to recommend ONE of her favorite spring-planted bulbs, Vanessa gave me three instead:
‘Mexican Single’ tuberose — “Every year I grow these in clay pots near my living room windows, and their fragrance drifts in nicely on warm summer nights. They’re also a favorite of the hawk moths that visit my garden in the early evening.”
‘George Davison’ crocosmia — “Last summer I planted these with some other plants that attract hummingbirds, and they were a big hit. They can be slow to sprout — I actually started to plant annuals over mine because I was sure they weren’t coming up — but they’re definitely worth the wait.”
‘Prince Noir’ dahlia — “My all time favorite dahlia! I especially love the contrast of these dark-petaled flowers in a simple white vase.” (Feb. 2015)

Little ‘Rip van Winkle’ “Cheers the Heart”

“I’m not especially fond of double daffodils,” says philosophy professor/garden writer Allen Lacy in The Gardener’s Eye, “but I make an exception for a selected form of N.pumila plena, which is generally listed in catalogs as ‘Rip Van Winkle’. . . . The somewhat greenish yellow petals of this small charmer open to form a rounded starburst about one and one-half inches across at the base of the flower. Just one blossom in a tiny vase cheers the heart.”
Rita, our fabulous Orders Manager, is also a big fan of this little daffodil. “It’s just sooo sweet,” she says. How so, I asked her, and after thinking a minute she added, “If ‘Rip’ were a little boy, he’d be Opie.” Because it’s small and grows so well, farmers can plant more bulbs of it per acre, making it one of our most inexpensive daffodils — which is another good reason, Rita says, to try it! (Aug. 2014)

Our Top 10 Bulbs to Plant This Spring for . . .

Hummingbirds — ‘Atom’ glad (runners-up: all of our other glads)
Fragrance — Tuberoses (runners-up: ‘Caprice’ and ‘Pallida Dalmatica’ iris)
Bouquets — ‘Popular Guest’ dahlia (runners-up: our other dahlias and Glorious Glads sampler)
Wildflower Grace — ‘George Davison’ crocosmia (runners-up: Abyssinian glad, Corky’ daylily)
Big Flowers — ‘Kidd’s Climax’ dahlia (runners-up: ‘Surprise’ and ‘Thomas Edison’ dahlias)
Growing in Pots — Tuberoses (runners-up: rain lilies; see our helpful Bulbs in Pots page)
Cool Foliage — ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ dahlia (runner-up: ‘Ehemanii’ canna)
Early Bloom — ‘Gold Dust’ daylily (runners-up: ‘Apricot’ daylily and sold-out (sorry!) ‘Florentina’ iris)
Drought-Resistance — ‘Flavescens’ iris (runners-up: our other iris)
Unique Beauty — ‘Kindly Light’ daylily (runners-up: ‘Ehemanii’ canna, ‘Green Lace’ glad) (late April 2014)

Josh’s Favorite ‘Caballero’

Josh Myers has earned a reputation here as the hardest-working guy in the history of the world. If you’ve ordered daylilies or iris grown in our micro-farms, Josh not only planted, weeded, and nurtured them, he dug and washed them for shipping, too — often in weather that’s barely above freezing. Yet Josh says he loves daylilies because they’re so easy. “They’re low-maintenance,” he says, “and resilient. They multiply quickly, they’re drought AND flood resistant, pests don’t bother them, their bloom season lasts a long time,” and if that’s not enough, “they’re easy to divide if you want to spread them around or give some to a friend.”
Josh has planted many of our heirloom daylilies in a small park that he’s taken under his wing as part of Ann Arbor’s Adopt-a-Park program. From late May on, he says, something is always blooming there. When pressed to name a favorite, Josh picks one that Kelly, our Micro-Farms Manager, loves too ‘Caballero’. Our photo doesn’t do it justice, he says. (Did we mention Josh also takes photos for us, often sprawled on his belly in the cold, wet mud of spring?) He likes ‘Caballero’s distinctive pattern of narrow yellow petals alternating with wider petals of red-brown marked with a racing stripe down the middle. “It’s beguiling,” Kelly pipes up from across the room, but Josh says simply “it’s just cool.” (March 2013)

Donna’s “Tall, Strong, Lovely” Snowflakes

Gardener extraordinaire Donna Squires has been helping us ship bulbs for a decade now, and her big front-yard garden is filled with our beauties. When I asked her which fall-planted bulb she liked best, her answer surprised both of us:
“Of all the gorgeous, fragrant, brilliant, and outstandingly stunning bulbs you offer, I can’t believe I am declaring my favorite (for now) is ‘Gravetye Giant’ snowflake. I’m not sure if I can even articulate why. I have a soft spot for white and simplicity; which certainly is the ‘Gravetye’, but it is also tall, strong, hardy, lovely, and early. I admire that in anyone or thing!”
Donna says her love of the much shorter and more common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) led her to plant her first snowflakes five or six years ago. “I grow them in my shade yard in a bed of myrtle,” she added, where the groundcover’s dark green leaves make “the white blooms really pop.” (Sept. 2012)

Mike’s First and Favorite Glad

Mike joined the Navy right out of high school and came home six years later to start work on a degree in computer security. For the past year and a half he’s also been our awesome IT assistant, the guy behind our Facebook page, and a brand-new gardener. Kelly, our Micro-Farms Manager, writes:
“Mike loves glads. He came to us as a non-gardener, but since he’s such a nice guy I managed to rope him into helping me out on our big glad-planting day last year. After we’d planted thousands of corms and cormlets, Mike found an unidentified corm stuck in the cuff of his pants. I told him to take it home and plant it. Wasn’t he surprised to see a big spike of leaves emerge from that small corm. And then came the bloom stalk — ‘Lavanesque!’ It was even better than the picture.
“Mike has very little garden space at his apartment, so he was growing the glad in a pot on the porch. Just as it started to bloom, the wind blew it over. Undaunted, he salvaged the bloom stalk and brought it inside where the buds all opened and impressed the heck out of his girlfriend. Then the corm produced a second bloom stalk just when his mom had to go into the hospital, so he could cheer her up with it — cementing ‘Lavanesque’ as his favorite. This summer Mike plans to plant a purple bed of ‘Lavanesque’, ‘Violet Queen’, and ‘Fidelio’ in front of his mom’s smoky gray house. As he says, ‘It’s gonna look awesome!’” (March 2012)

Rita’s Cheap, Stunning Crocosmia

Rita, our [former] VP for Customers (and unofficial mother hen of the office), writes:
“I love crocosmia. It’s cheap, doesn’t take up much space, grows well in crummy soil, and its flowers are stunning. Crocosmia colors are very saturated so they seem to glow, even from a distance. The dog-walkers in my neighborhood have commented on mine even though none grow anywhere near the sidewalk.
The blooms are simple and widely-spaced on the stem, something like forsythia’s. That makes a single sprig striking all by itself in a vase, or it can add a lot of variation and excitement to a bouquet of other flowers.
The crocosmias we offer tend to bloom late, when most summer color is over, and that’s another thing I like about them. They also have the added advantage of being small enough to tuck in almost anywhere. I have a clump of just five bulbs that I planted in heavy clay soil among the roots of a shrub, and it makes a big splash. Not bad for $4.75! (Feb. 2012)

Botanic Superpowers and Kelly’s Favorite Dahlias

Kelly, our Micro-Farms and Shipping Manager writes:
“The older I get, the more I am awed by nature’s ingenious strategies for dealing with extremes. For Christmas my nephews gave me a moss terrarium with dry, dormant moss ready to start growing again as soon as I provided water. It’s a superpower, this ability to go dormant for a few months till it gets wet or warm again. I covet that ability, especially in winter. Oh, the burden of being a mammal.
“On the up side of mammal-hood, I had some time off over the holidays. Along with eating lots of cookies, I took a moment to check on my stored dahlias. And speaking of superpowers, how miraculous is a tuber? That a spectacular plant stores its energy and DNA in this compact unit that can sit dormant till spring — wow. Mine were holding steady, not too dry, not too moist, just waiting patiently.
“I also organized the photos on my desktop over the holidays. Among my favorites was a snapshot of three bouquets of dahlias sitting on my kitchen table. I was reminded of how truly stunning dahlias are. Of course I love the show-offs like ‘Kidd’s Climax’ and ‘Kaiser Wilhelm’, but I also love the pure yellow of ‘Glorie van Heemstede’ in its perfect waterlily form and the simple beauty of ‘Clair de Lune’, especially paired with ‘Atropurpurea’. January may be a little early to get all excited about dahlias, but I guess that’s why we take pictures — and check on our tubers.” (Jan. 2012)

Looking Ahead: What’s Your New Year’s Resolution for the Garden?

In winter, every gardener seems to be making plans for how they’re going to make their garden even better in the year ahead. So we ask: do you have a New Year’s resolution for your garden? If so, we’d love to hear it at help@oldhousegardens.com. Heck, we might even share it in an upcoming newsletter. To prime the pump, here are a few of ours:
Mike (IT Assistant): To force hyacinths indoors (since last year my beagle dug up all the ones I had in pots outdoors).
Kelly (Shipping Manager): To plant my lawn-extension with daylilies.
Rita (VP for Customers): To fertilize!
Vanessa (Bulbs Manager): To make sure there’s color in my garden for all four seasons.
Derick (Order-Entry Expert): To learn from everyone else here how to keep my first bulbs coming back and blooming bigger and better.
Rick (IT Manager): To start the year weed-free. I plan to take extra precautions to control weeds as early as possible. This includes teaching my children! (Dec. 2011)

Matthew’s Favorite Dahlia Bouquet

Our awesome [former] trial-garden manager Matthew Scott writes:
“Dahlias are my favorite plant by far. They bloom for months, and in the fall when many gardens are full of yellow flowers, dahlias offer a wide array of other colors. They also make great cut flowers. For brightening up your dining room table or taking to a friend’s house, nothing is better than a big bouquet of dahlias you grew yourself.
“Three that look especially good together in the garden or in a bouquet are purple and white ‘Deuil du Roi Albert’ (1936), cool, refreshing ‘White Fawn’ (1942), and velvety purple ‘Thomas Edison’ (1929). ‘Deuil du’s variable coloring (it’s sometimes more white, sometimes more purple) blends beautifully with the clarity of ‘White Fawn’ and the true purple of ‘Thomas Edison’. Our co-worker Ann brought in a bouquet of these three dahlias last fall and folks here were bowled over. It’s a stunning and simple combination. Give it a try!” (Feb. 2005)

Liz’s Favorite Dahlia

Our beloved [former] office manager Liz Rother writes:
‘Winsome’ first stopped me in my tracks two summers ago. Scott was growing it in the trial beds here and late afternoon sun was shining on the blooms. They absolutely glowed — intense pink, orange, and yellow all blended like some tropical drink. They gave off so much energy that I felt drawn to walk over and stand near them. I may plant an entire row of them in my front yard this spring. That’s the kind of dream that can get you through March in Michigan!” (Jan. 2003)

Denise’s Favorite Lily: ‘Black Beauty’

If you’ve ordered from us by phone in the past year or so, chances are you’ve been helped by fabulous [former employee] Denise Lynne. She writes:
“I first fell in love with the BULBS of ‘Black Beauty’. As they lay in their bins, waiting to be picked and sent to their new homes, they looked like huge, ripe, purple plums — plump, firm, and gorgeous. When Scott gave them an adoring tribute, I ordered 25 bulbs on the spot.
And my evaluation after their first season in my garden? I wish I had room for 50! In my small cottage garden, entirely visible from the street, ‘Black Beauty’ was a tremendous success. Tall and sturdy, its many blooms were bright, cheery, and subtly fragrant. Their dark raspberry color seemed to glow in the sunshine and at twilight they looked almost like velvet. My many garden visitors — both friends and passersby — always seemed to comment on them. I can hardly wait for next year’s show. Like all lilies, they should be even more spectacular their second year — which hardly seems possible!” (Nov. 2002)

Rachel’s Favorite Tulip

Rachel Murphy, our terrific [former] VP for Customers, has a front yard filled with tulips. She writes:
‘Bleu Aimable’ surprised me by being the latest and longest-blooming tulip in my garden this spring. Long after my neighbors’ tulips had faded away, ‘Bleu Aimable’ was still going strong, blooming for over two weeks. Its unusual periwinkle color stood out in my borders and caused quite a few people to stop and comment on its beauty. In the catalog we say it’s 24 inches tall, but I swear that each of mine was over 30 inches. So if you enjoy hardy, uniquely-colored, late-blooming, tall tulips which will stand proudly in your garden, join me in planting ‘Bleu Aimable’ this fall!” (Sept. 2002)

For articles on other topics, see our main Newsletter Archives page.

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