Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History  •  Living Treasures from the Past
Sep
19
2018

Good News about the Red Lily Leaf Beetle

When my sister and her family visited us from Massachusetts this past summer, my brother-in-law had some exciting news – after years of being plagued by red lily leaf beetles, he’d seen very few in their garden this year. The parasitic wasps seem to be working!

If these voracious beetles aren’t in your garden yet, they’re on their way. They first appeared in Massachusetts in 1992 and have since spread throughout New England and into New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Washington.

‘Black Beauty’

In an attempt to control the beetles, researchers at the University of Rhode Island have released three species of tiny parasitic wasps. Two of these have slowly spread throughout New England, and it looks like they’re finally making a difference in my brother-in-law’s garden.

To learn more, see Margaret Roach’s excellent interview with Lisa Tewksbury of the Rhode Island University Biological Control Lab at AWayToGarden.com/controlling-lily-leaf-beetles-u-rhode-islands-lisa-tewksbury/.

And if you’re looking for a beetle-resistant lily, Tewksbury highly recommends ‘Black Beauty’. Although adult beetles may feed on it a little, she says, the larvae never do because eggs laid on it just die.

Read September’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.

Sep
13
2018

Southern Living Spotlights Dahlias for the South

‘Café au Lait’ and friends

When we opened the September issue of Southern Living recently, we were surprised to find a big, beautiful dahlia staring at us from the first page of the lead article.

Dahlias like cool nights, so growing them in the South can be a challenge. But just outside of zone-8a Birmingham, Deborah Stone grows dahlias commercially for cut-flowers at her Stone Hollow Farmstead.

In the article, Stone offers helpful tips for success with dahlias in the South such as waiting until several weeks after the last frost date to plant them and giving them some protection from the hottest, midday sun.

A handful of heat-tolerant dahlias are mentioned in the article, including jewel-toned ‘Juanita’ and dark-leaved ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, and a dozen of “Deborah’s Favorite Dahlias” are pictured, including dreamy ‘Café au Lait’ (pictured here), frilly ‘Tsuki Yori no Shisha’, and deep purple, always dependable ‘Thomas Edison’.

To learn more about how you can grow dahlias in the South, see our tips from experts and customers at oldhousegardens.com/DahliasForHotNights .

Read September’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.

Sep
11
2018

The Best Water for Your Garden – in 1686

Water is an essential part of life – especially the life of gardeners. If you spent too much time this past summer dragging the hose around like we did, this excerpt from John Evelyn’s 1686 Directions for the Gardener at Says Court is for you.

“The best water,” Evelyn wrote, “is from rivers and running streams [rather than from a well or spring] so it be not too lean and cold.

“That which is always standing or shaded corrupts and is not good, but the water of ponds, and wherein cattle soil, is excellent, [and] rain water has no fellow.

“If water be too thin and poor, enrich it with the dung of sheep or pigeons by hanging a basket full of it into the water and letting it steep. Cow dung is also profitable. [However] water over-dunged brings a black smut on orange leaves, etc.

“If you be necessitated to use cold raw spring water, let it stand a while in the sun, and therefore keep always ready an infusing tub or vessel. Four gallons of heated water qualifies 20 gallons to milk-warm.”

Who knew water could be so complicated, eh? But as you may have already discovered – and Evelyn’s gardener probably wanted to tell him – you don’t have to do everything perfectly to have a wonderful garden. Hopefully yours made it through the summer just fine, even if you didn’t water it with milk-warm, dung-enriched river water.

Read September’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.

Sep
6
2018

The Heirloom Daffodil Orchard at
England’s Felley Priory

Featured on the cover of Gardens Illustrated, Felley Priory’s Daffodil Orchard is the “crowning glory” of its “renowned gardens” – and filled with nothing but heirlooms.

1. ‘Carbineer’, 2. ‘Kilworth’, 3. ‘Bath’s Flame’, 4. ‘W.P. Milner’, 5. ‘Fortune’, 6. ‘Hospodar’

The Priory has been in the Chaworth-Musters family since 1822, but most of the daffodils were planted in the 1940s. Since then, many of their names had been lost, so the Priory asked three experts – including our friend Ron Scamp – to help identify them.

Among those they recognized were ‘Beersheba’, ‘Mrs. R.O. Backhouse’, ‘Trevithian’, ‘Van Sion’, and ‘W.P. Milner’, but many others “were deemed to be natural hybrids . . . or old cultivars whose names have been lost.”

Nameless or not, the Priory’s daffodils were so impressive that the experts “were spotted standing under an old pear tree, dabbing their eyes with their handkerchiefs, overwhelmed by the magnitude and beauty of the display.”

7. ‘Van Sion’, 8. ‘Beersheba’, 9. ‘Croesus’, 10. ‘Lucifer’, 11. ‘Mrs. Backhouse’, 12. ‘Sulphur Phoenix’

The article also includes photos of “12 Great Cultivars for Naturalizing.” We offer eight of them: ‘Bath’s Flame’, ‘Beersheba’ (“attracts the notice of all by its glittering whiteness,” said the great E.A. Bowles), ‘Croesus’, ‘Lucifer’, ‘Mrs. R.O. Backhouse’ (named by breeder Robert Backhouse in memory of his wife), ‘Sulphur Phoenix’ (“double flowers of bright lemon and pale cream with good weather resistance”), ‘Van Sion’, and ‘W.P. Milner’ (named by breeder Henry Backhouse for his brother-in-law).

Even if – alas! – you don’t have an old orchard, you can start your own magnificent display of long-lived heirloom daffodils by ordering now for October delivery.

Read September’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.

Aug
29
2018

Learning from You:
Are Peonies Really Rabbit-Proof?

‘Nick Shaylor’ – rabbit food or not?

Until a few years ago I don’t think I’d ever seen a rabbit in my garden here in the center of Ann Arbor, but now they’re everywhere. They devoured my glory-of-the-snow this spring, and my neighbor says they’re why so few of our self-sowing larkspur bloomed this summer.

Peonies, however, are not one of their favorites, according to UK nurserywoman Claire Austin who’s been growing a huge collection of them ever since her father, the famed rose breeder David Austin, gave them up for roses in the 1980s.

“Did you know that peonies are rabbit-proof?” she writes in the May 2018 issue of Country Living. “If you have rabbits that like nothing better than to nibble from your borders, get planting peonies! Rabbits do not like the taste . . . and won't be tempted to snack on their roots, stems or blooms.”

But Claire gardens in Wales, and we’re wondering if what she says is also true for American rabbits. A few stalks of my peonies were chewed on for the first time this year, and I blamed the rabbits. It was minor damage, but I’m still wondering – do the rabbits in your garden leave your peonies alone?

Aug
22
2018

‘Magnet’ Snowdrop:
“Like the Blades of a Helicopter”

If you think all snowdrops are the same, think again. Here’s what our good customer Virginia Boyett of zone-7b Perryville, Arkansas, had to say the first year one of our favorites bloomed for her:

“The ‘Magnet’ snowdrops that I planted last fall have been in bloom for about three weeks, and they are the biggest snowdrops that I have ever seen.

“On cloudy days the buds stay closed and remind me of miniature tulips hanging upside down. Stark white, they are graceful and elegant.

“On sunny days, though, the outer whorl stands literally straight out, like the blades of a helicopter. With the extra-long pedicels, the entire bloom looks as if it could take off and fly.

“The blooms keep coming, too. Each bulb has had 3-4 blooms apiece so far. I am loving it. I am just sorry I didn't order more.”

Last offered in 2014, ‘Magnet’ is back in our catalog this fall, so Virginia – and you – can order it now!

Aug
15
2018

Our Madonna Lilies Bloom
at the Washington National Cathedral

in the Bishop’s Garden

It’s always good to hear from our customers, and we love seeing photos of our bulbs in your gardens – such as the one here from our good customer Adrienne Schopf of the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

“I just wanted to send you guys a few pictures of the Madonna lilies that we planted last fall,” Adrienne wrote. “They’re doing well in our Bishop’s Garden. They’re planted in an area we call the Hortulus where we have different herbs that were planted at monasteries in the 9th century, so these lilies fit in perfectly.

in our garden

“We’d been having a hard time finding them and were very excited that you offered them. We’ve ordered more from you guys for this fall. Thank you for providing such great plants and keeping the older varieties around!”

You’re welcome, Adrienne, and thanks for sharing these deeply historic lilies with your many visitors!

To enjoy this fragrant beauty in your own 21st-century garden, order now for October delivery.

Aug
10
2018

Our New, Fall-Only Catalog is Coming Soon!

2018 Fall Front Catalog Cover
2018 Fall Back Catalog Cover

We’re taking our new catalog to the printer today, which means you should have it in your hands by the end of the month. Woo-hoo!

One big change this year is that we’re sending TWO catalogs – one now that’s just for fall-planted bulbs and a separate catalog of spring-planted bulbs in January. By doing it this way our spring-planted catalog will be based on the actual results of the entire growing season rather than hopeful predictions made in mid-summer.

As always, we hope you’ll enjoy our cover images. The bouquet on the front is from the 1902 catalog of San Francisco’s Trumbull and Beebe, and the gold band lilies (and bumblebee!) on the back are from the 1905 catalog of Milwaukee’s Currie Brothers.

P.S. If you’ve moved since last fall, please call or email us with your new address right away so you don’t miss this one!

Jul
26
2018

‘Nonette’ is “So Unique You’ll Stop and Stare”

Garden writer Stephanie Cohen – who’s been called “one of the most influential women in horticulture” – gives our ‘Nonette’ a shout-out in the August 2018 issue of Fine Gardening.

Calling it “A Dahlia to Die For,” Stephanie writes that ‘Nonette’ has “bright apricot flowers that are speckled with burgundy,” and “even those who consider themselves dahlia connoisseurs find this particular blossom so unique they will stop and stare.”

“As with many bicolor dahlias,” she continues, “the red stippling is highly irregular: one flower may have a lot of mottling, while another may appear to be just solid apricot. But the surprise is half the fun!” ‘Nonette’ also produces lots of flowers, “giving you plenty for the garden and the vase.”

Although it sells out every year, ‘Nonette’ is available now for delivery next spring. For plenty of flowers that will make you stop and stare, order now!

Jul
24
2018

Too Hot? Too Dry? This May Help

If you’re enjoying a cool rainy summer, lucky for you!

Unfortunately much of the country is once again suffering through high heat and low rainfall. (When even the weeds are wilting, as in the photo here from my neighbor’s yard, you know it’s bad!)

It’s a topic we’ve addressed frequently in recent years, so rather than write a whole new article about it, here are some links to our Weather and Hardiness archives that we hope you’ll find useful – and maybe even a little bit “cooling.”

“Hot, Dry Summer: Is it Bad for Bulbs or Good?” (Aug. 2016),

“Learning from California: Gardening with 28% Less Water” (Oct. 2015),

“Hot Summer = Dahlia Hell” (Aug. 2012),

“Got Drought? Bulbs Are Built for It” (Aug. 2011),

“High Heat Stresses Your Bulbs, Too” (Aug. 2010).

Jul
18
2018

“Easy, Inexpensive, and Intoxicating” Regal Lily

“There are few plants as rewarding and foolproof” as bulbs, Dan Cooper wrote recently at his Frustrated Gardener blog. Most are “bold, colorful, long-flowering, and best of all inexpensive, giving gardeners plenty of bang for their buck. In short, they are one of the plant world’s best investments.”

Regal lilies are one of Dan’s favorite summer-flowering bulbs.

“Here’s a bulb with class, elegance and history,” he writes. “No wonder it was named Lilium regale, the regal lily. It was introduced to England from China in 1903 by Ernest Henry Wilson and quickly became a favorite of Gertrude Jekyll, who used it prolifically in her garden designs at a time when it would have been quite a novelty.

“Jekyll would frequently plant large clumps of Lilium regale in strategic spots, creating height and drama at pivotal points in her schemes. In addition to stature, the lilies also contributed intoxicating scent and blushing white flowers that stood out well against dark foliage. . . .”

“There is no flower so exquisite as Lilium regale at dusk on a warm June evening, glowing in the gloaming and sharing its intoxicating perfume,” Dan writes in closing. “Plant plenty, and then plant some more.

We couldn’t agree with him more! To enjoy these intoxicating beauties in your own garden, order now for delivery at planting time this fall.

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