Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History  •  So Much More Than New
May
24
2017

New and Improved:
The “Bible” for Restoring Historic Gardens

Like most people, I never thought about plants and gardens having a history – until almost 40 years ago when I bought my first old house and walked out into the tiny yard eager to make it my own.

New and Improved: The “Bible” for Restoring Historic Gardens - www.OldHouseGardens.com

There behind the overgrown privet hedge, I discovered a few barely surviving plants, including a white, single-flowered peony. Suddenly I realized it wasn’t just my yard. Someone else had loved it before me. But who, and when? Was the peony ten years old, or 50, or 100? And what about the hedge?

Looking for answers proved frustrating at first. This was back in the dark ages – before Google. But finally I discovered this book by Rudy and Joy Favretti – or rather the original, 1978 edition of it – and I was no longer wandering in the wilderness.

I’ve been using and recommending it ever since, and as I say on the back cover of this updated and expanded third edition, “Bravo! A new edition of this indispensable work has been long overdue. It’s the original guide to researching and restoring American home landscapes, by the dean of American landscape preservation. For decades, savvy home-owners and museum sites have turned to it for guidance – and now, with its many updates and additions, it’s better than ever.”

Although the core of it is unchanged, Rudy and Joy have added illustrations and updated information throughout. Best of all are the additional examples from their long careers, including a page on the archaeological excavation that revealed the long-vanished, mid-1600s garden at Bacon’s Castle in Virginia.

If there’s an old yard you care about, Landscapes and Gardens for Historic Buildings is the book for you. It may not change your life the way it did mine, but it will certainly help you see any yard – and the wider landscape all around us – with new eyes.

Read May’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.

May
18
2017

Coming Soon: The New OHG

A new day is dawning at Old House Gardens!

By the time we send our next newsletter, OHG will have a new owner – the incredible Vanessa Elms, our current VP for Bulbs – and a new home.

Coming Soon: OHG 2.0 – www.OldHouseGardens.com

Although we can’t announce our new location yet, OHG isn’t moving far – just outside of town a bit where we can consolidate our five micro-farms and grow even more old bulbs for you.

I say “we” because I’ll be sticking around one day a week to help out, mostly by writing our newsletter/blog, hunting for more great bulbs to offer, and serving as OHG’s expert emeritus and ambassador for heirlooms.

As for my endless hours of new free time, I don’t know what I’m going to do – and I like that. At first I plan to just take it easy, sleep more, garden more, and spend more time with my wife Jane, our dog Toby, and these two little angels, our first grandkids, 8-month-old Benjamin John and one-month-old Nolan James.

To all of you who sent me happy retirement wishes this past year, thank you! You warmed my heart and made this big step easier. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together over the past 24 years, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Old House Gardens.

Read May’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.

May
16
2017

Extra Easy Growing
(and Storing) Dahlias in Buried Pots

If you haven’t planted your dahlias yet, here’s a simple way to grow and store them from our good customer Jenn Hovland of Fleur de Louise Flower Studio in Stillwater, Minnesota.

Extra Easy Growing and Storing Dahlias “In the Dry” – www.OldHouseGardens.com
dahlias stored in the basement

“For several years now I have stored my dahlia tubers ‘in the dry’ as they do in England,” Jenn wrote on her spring order. “I start by planting a new tuber in a 1 or 2 gallon plastic pot. I lay it flat near the top of the pot, cover it with just an inch of soil, water it once, and then leave it alone until sprouts emerge.

“When the weather warms up, I plant it outside, pot and all, with the pot buried about halfway and a stake pounded in the ground next to it. I always use black or green pots so whatever isn’t buried or hidden by other plants is still pretty much invisible.

“At the end of the season when frost blackens the foliage, I wait a few days, lift the entire pot, cut back the dead foliage, let it dry on my porch for a couple of days, and then put it in the basement and forget about it. In March or April when I notice new growth, I move it upstairs to a sunny window and it’s ready for the new season.

Extra Easy Growing and Storing Dahlias “In the Dry” – www.OldHouseGardens.com
‘David Howard’ starting to sprout

“By using this method, I've lost very few tubers to rot or drying out. Although it takes a little extra space to store the pots, it has worked very well for me.”

Wanting to know more, I emailed Jenn and she cheerfully answered all of my questions.

One-gallon pots seemed small to me, so I was surprised to learn that she sometimes uses even smaller ones. Pot size doesn’t seem to matter much because, although the tuber-cluster remains confined within the pot, its feeder roots grow through the holes in the bottom. When the pot gets crowded after a couple of years, Jenn divides the cluster and starts all over again.

Extra Easy Growing and Storing Dahlias “In the Dry” – www.OldHouseGardens.com
dahlias hardening off before pots are buried

During the winter she keeps the pots as dark as possible because light encourages sprouting. In March she starts checking for new growth, and when the first sprouts appear – this year in mid-April – she adds an inch of compost to all pots, waters them once, and moves them to a sunny window.

“Then in May,” she told me, “I take the plants outside to harden them off for a couple of weeks, bringing them in at night until they adjust to outdoor living. By mid-May they’ll be staying outside overnight, except when frost is predicted. I finally plant them in the garden around Memorial Day. By then they are quite large plants – which means they’ll bloom earlier.”

That sounds good to me, and I’m planning to give Jenn’s method a try. If you do, too, please let us know your results so we can learn from you as well!

Read May’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.

May
10
2017

History in Bloom: Presby Memorial Iris Garden

History in Bloom: Presby Memorial Iris Garden – www.OldHouseGardens.com

One of the world’s greatest collections of historic iris is celebrating its 90th anniversary this month, and you’re invited to the party!

Established in Montclair, New Jersey, in 1927, the Presby Memorial Iris Garden today includes nearly 14,000 iris plants of 1500 varieties. Every year from mid-May through the first week in June, over 100,000 flowers bloom there in a dazzling display that’s come to be called “the rainbow on the hill.”

To celebrate the big anniversary, on weekend afternoons this May volunteers will be serving cookies and lemonade on the porch of the Garden’s historic Walther House. Iris dug from Presby’s vast collection will also be for sale on weekends starting this Friday from 10:00-3:00.

If you visit, please share a photo or two on our Facebook page – and even though admission is free, we hope you’ll donate generously to support the important work Presby is doing to preserve great old iris for all of us.

Read May’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.

May
9
2017

Customer Raves: Two Great Dahlias

Customer Raves: Two Great Dahlias – www.OldHouseGardens.com

Here are a couple of rave reviews for two of our most popular dahlias:

‘Prince Noir’ was absolutely brilliant,” our good customer Connie Casey of Old Chatham, NY, wrote us a while back. “Many, many huge wine-red flowers from late July till the end of October. It (he?) was next to our outdoor shower, set off spectacularly by two vines in back – hops and a red and orange honeysuckle. Whenever we were invited to dinner I brought a bouquet of mahogany sunflowers, red snapdragons, maroon sneezeweed, pink cosmos, and ‘Prince Noir’.”

‘Old Gold’ is absolutely, stunningly glorious!” our good customer Sejean Sohn of Bethlehem, PA, wrote. ”It really does appear to flicker with light. I’m growing over 70 different dahlias this year from several specialty sources, but OHG’s ‘Old Gold’, ‘Prince Noir’, and ‘Jane Cowl’ are truly exceptional.”

May
4
2017

Brighten Your Summer with “House-Pot Lilies”

Brighten Your Summer with “House-Pot Lilies” – www.OldHouseGardens.com

We recently learned an old name for pink rain lilies from Russell Studebaker, Tulsa garden writer and a great friend of ours.

Russell saw a pot of them in full bloom at a garden club meeting. “The owner had gotten them long ago from her family in Missouri, but she never knew their actual name,” he wrote us.

“They called them ‘house pot lilies’ because they were always grown in an old pot that no longer served for cooking – probably enamelware, agateware, or graniteware that had developed a hole. Can’t you just imagine how nice those little pink flowers would look blooming in a blue enamelware pot?”

Rain lilies bloom when rain drenches their roots, so it makes sense that they’d thrive metal pots – although ours bloom just fine in regular terra cotta, as you can see here.

May
2
2017

Misspellings Can Be Fun: Turborose

Misspellings Can Be Fun: Turboroses – www.OldHouseGardens.com

If you’re not sure how to spell tuberose, you’re in good company. Misspellings – or alternative spellings? – have been common for hundreds of years.

In 1664, for example, the great John Evelyn in his Kalendarium Hortense spelled it tuber-rose – which makes a certain sense because it grows from a tuber (actually a rhizome, but whatever) and smells as wonderful as a rose.

Many of the misspellings entered into our website’s search-box are mundane ones such as tube rose, tuberosas, tuberrosa, tuperose, toberose, and tuberus.

Others are more entertaining, though, such as tubarose (with really big flowers?), tiberose (a Roman form?), tubrose (best in containers?), tuberoe (less expensive than tubecaviar?), and my favorite, turborose, which perfectly expresses the flower’s high-powered fragrance.

Apr
21
2017

American Gardener Honors Us
for Making a Difference

<i>American Gardener</i> Honors Us for Making a Difference – www.OldHouseGardens.com

From Christmas tree ornaments to one of my favorite childhood books, Julia Polentes tells the OHG story in the March-April issue of the American Horticultural Society’s American Gardener. As an avid reader ever since I joined the Society in 1989, it’s a special pleasure to be profiled in “AHS Members Making a Difference.”

Julia starts with me comparing heirloom bulbs to the ornaments on our family Christmas tree which are “pretty to other people, but there’s a deeper beauty for us” because they have “so much more personal meaning.” She talks about my “epiphany” when I realized that historic plants can be found all around us if you know what you’re looking for, and my efforts since 1993 to preserve “the best bulbs of the past in order to enrich gardens today.”

Now that I’m retiring, Julia notes that I’m appreciating more than ever “the far-flung, world-wide village of people who have helped turn this dream into a reality.” As in Stone Soup, one of my favorite books as a kid, what we’ve accomplished together is “way bigger and better than what any of us could have done alone.”

For more, you can check out the entire article at our website.

Apr
13
2017

Toasting Spring with Black Tulip Ale

Toasting Spring with Black Tulip Ale – www.OldHouseGardens.com

We love bulbs, and I love beer, so when I saw a beer called Black Tulip at the grocery store recently, I felt duty-bound to drink a few and give you a full report.

Black Tulip is a tripel ale brewed by Michigan’s New Holland Brewing Company and named for a novel by Alexander Dumas (author of The Three Musketeers) set in 17th-century Holland.

Tripels are “similar to Belgian-style golden strong ales,” I learned at craftbeer.com, except they’re “generally darker and have a more noticeable malt sweetness.” Popular in Belgium and the Netherlands, they’re best enjoyed in a goblet-shaped “tulip glass,” and New Holland claims theirs is actually “dusted with tulip petals.”

Online, fellow beer drinkers have described Black Tulip as “a big, full-flavored, complex, easy to drink beer” that’s “very creamy and smooth,” with “lots of fruit and spice” and “a reasonable dose of hop bitterness.” I’d agree, and I liked Black Tulip a lot. Tripels have a higher alcohol content than most beers, though, so please drink it with care.

Black Tulip is available in 26 states. To find it near you, enter your zip code at beermenus.com/beers/5675-new-holland-black-tulip – and as our Dutch friends say, Proost!

Apr
11
2017

Learn (and Have Fun!) at the
2017 Mount Vernon Garden Symposium

Learn (and Have Fun) at the 2017 Mount Vernon Symposium – www.OldHouseGardens.com

For a good time, call Dean Norton – Director of Horticulture at Mount Vernon and the organizer of this year’s symposium on “Gardening, Landscape, and Design in the Age of Washington.”

Three years ago I lectured for Dean at the first Mount Vernon symposium, and it was more fun than just about any other conference I’ve ever attended. Sure I learned a lot, and it was great hanging out with so many fellow enthusiasts, and the Mount Vernon grounds are incredible.

But what really sticks in my memory was an elegant after-hours reception on the piazza and grand lawn high above the Potomac where Dean fired off his home-made PVC potato cannon to show us how the Washingtons celebrated special occasions – although they, of course, used a real cannon.

Learn (and Have Fun) at the 2017 Mount Vernon Symposium – www.OldHouseGardens.com

This year’s symposium is set for June 2-4 with a wide array of presentations including Restoration Agriculture, Creating Central Park, Ceramic Vases and Floral Ornament, Jefferson and Wine, Slavery at Mount Vernon, and The Garden of the Future.

Our good customer Joe Gromacki will also be there talking about his Kelton House Farm, an early-1700s New England farmhouse moved and rebuilt in Wisconsin, which Joe has furnished with colonial antiques and surrounded with heirloom plants, including thousands of our bulbs.

To learn more and register, go to the 2017 Symposium page at mountvernon.org. It’s sure to sell out, though, so don’t delay. I’ll hope to see you there!

Apr
6
2017

Garden Design Spotlights Daffodils Old and New

Heirloom Daffodils (and OHG) Featured in <i>Garden Design</i> – www.OldHouseGardens.com

The spring 2017 issue of Garden Design arrived here last week with a host of excellent articles including profiles of Annie’s Annuals and Floret Flower Farm as well as “Small Gardens, Big Ideas” which explores gardens ranging in size from a fifth of an acre to a mere 400 square feet.

Best of all, though, is an eight-page article about daffodils which, I’m happy to say, gives heirlooms as much attention as modern varieties. (Thank you, Garden Design friends!)

“Deer hate them,” author Meg Ryan begins. “They’re low maintenance. They have a wildflowerish charm. And there are enough heirloom and newly developed varieties . . . that they offer gardeners endless opportunities for discovery. Says plant historian Scott Kunst, “They keep things richly complicated. . . .”

Heirloom Daffodils (and OHG) Featured in <i>Garden Design</i> – www.OldHouseGardens.com

To see what else we talked about – as well as photos of dozens of daffodils including our heirlooms ‘Bantam’, ‘Beersheba’, ‘Butter and Eggs’, ‘Geranium’, ‘Mrs. Langtry’, ‘Rip van Winkle’, ‘Stainless’, ‘Sweetness’, ‘Thalia’, Trevithian’, and ‘Van Sion’ (aka ‘Telamonius Plenus’) – look for Garden Design at your local newsstand or bookstore, or subscribe online at gardendesign.com.

And if you see an heirloom there you especially like, you can order it now at oldhousegardens.com/daffodils/.

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