Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History • So Much More Than New
American Gardener Honors Us for Making a Difference
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.”
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.
Learn (and Have Fun!) at the 2017 Mount Vernon Garden Symposium
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.
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!
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. . . .”
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.
The frothy pink blossoms of our ‘Rosemary Webb’ dahlia fill an old yellow pitcher on the cover of the April-May 2017 issue of MaryJanesFarm magazine.
Inside, in an article titled “Dreamy Dahlias,” MaryJane writes, “I bought my tubers from Old House Gardens.... A ‘new generation of sustainable farmers,’ they cultivate heirloom bulbs on five ‘micro farms’ on vacant lots and other scraps of land within a few blocks of downtown Ann Arbor. Mine were, if I must say so myself, stunning!”
An organic farmer in Moscow, Idaho, MaryJane launched her “organic-focused lifestyle magazine” in 2001. Today it has a circulation of 135,000 and if you’re not already a subscriber you can find it at Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, and other stores all across the country.
MaryJane showcases our daffodils on page 5 of the May-June issue, too, with photos from our catalog of eleven heirloom varieties she planted at her farm last fall. Stay tuned for a follow-up article on them sometime later this year – and subscribe or learn more at maryjanesfarm.org/.
Save the Cobblestones, Granite Curbs, Oyster Shell Paths, and More!
Although streets, sidewalks, and paths are important landscape features – imagine your city or favorite park without them – they’re often overlooked as historic resources, and paved over or ripped up without a second thought.
A new website, HistoricPavement.com, hopes to change that by opening our eyes to the rich tapestry that’s hiding in plain sight beneath our feet. From colonial cobblestones to mid-century modern hexagons, paving has changed dramatically through the years, often with a fascinating regional diversity.
In Philadelphia, for example, a few old streets are paved with iron-slag bricks that look like dark blue ceramic. In the Midwest, wood blocks were once widely used, “with some cities like Detroit utilizing them for most of their paved streets by 1899,” writes HistoricPavement.com’s creator, Robin Williams of Savannah College of Art and Design. “Yet nationwide only a handful of streets preserve this material, including Wooden Alley in Chicago – a rare example of a street that has attained historic designation and protection.”
‘Atom’ and 6 Friends in “100 Great Plants for an English Country Garden”
Our signature glad ‘Atom’ has a famous friend in England – and we introduced them!
Garden designer Rosemary Alexander is the founder of The English Gardening School, author of a half-dozen books, and winner of the RHS Veitch Memorial Medal. We met years ago when we lectured for a series of Horticulture magazine seminars. Although OHG usually ships to US addresses only, when Rosemary asked if she could order a few of the bulbs I’d shown in my slides, I happily agreed.
‘Atom’ was one of the first she ordered, and she liked it so much that – ten years later – she recommends it in “Rosemary Alexander’s 100 Great Plants for an English Country Garden,” the February cover article of Gardens Illustrated. “Long overlooked as an attractive garden plant,” she writes, “smaller gladioli are now back in fashion.”
Another half-dozen heirlooms we offer also made it into Rosemary’s top 100 plants: ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, dahlia, ‘S. Arnott’ snowdrop (“quickly forming very handsome clumps”), ‘Thalia’ daffodil (“longevity and vigor make this a popular choice for naturalizing”), regal lily (“I plant the bulbs in plastic pots and sink these in their final position in early summer as a glamorous, scented treat”), winter aconite, and sternbergia.
Spring-planted ‘Atom’ and ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ are going fast, but if you order them now you can enjoy their simple, bright blooms this summer – just like Rosemary does.
Try This at Home: Multiplying Glads by Dividing the Corm
Even if your glad planting season is still months away, here’s a tip from expert Cliff Hartline that you can use whenever that happy time arrives.
Cliff writes my favorite section of the NAGC journal Glad World. It’s a Q & A column titled “Talk Radio,” and a while ago a reader asked, “I heard you can cut corms in two to multiply them. How do you do that?”
First of all, Cliff replied, it’s important to “make sure there are eyes and root nodes on both halves. The eyes go across the corm in only one direction. They are not like potatoes that have eyes everywhere. Peel the husk off before cutting, so you can identify the line of eyes.” Look for small, individual flaps of shiny husk that protect the eyes, or the emerging tips of the eyes themselves.
Don’t do this too early, though. “Without the husk, the corm will dry out quicker, so you need to do this close to the time of planting.”
“After cutting it, put powdered sulfur [available at garden centers or online] on the open wound. This helps seal the scar and protect the corm when it is planted.”
Before going on to cut another corm, sterilize your knife with alcohol.
If you’re feeling lucky, “you can even cut the corm into three or four pieces,” Cliff says, although “this increases the chance that it may not survive.” Even if you only cut it in half, there’s some risk involved, so we recommend you try it with inexpensive glads first (although not Abyssinian glads).
Good luck, have fun, and please let us know how it goes!
We’ve all been there. It’s the first beautiful Saturday of spring, you’ve spent hours blissfully working in the garden – and the next morning you’re sore all over and hoping you haven’t seriously injured yourself.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Whether you’re heading out to the garden after a long winter off or just a long week at work, you can protect your body from pain and worse by doing a few easy exercises ahead of time.
Our friend Doug Oster recently posted some simple tips and a short video at his excellent Everybody Gardens blog. We hope you’ll give them a look and do your muscles, back, and joints a favor!
43 Daffodil Shows Begin Now – Including Michigan’s First!
From heirlooms to varieties so new they don’t even have names, tens of thousands of daffodils will soon be on public display in 43 ADS daffodil shows all across the country.
The season kicks off this weekend with shows in California, Louisiana, and Dallas; the spectacular National Show is March 10-12 in Sacramento; and it all ends May 7 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
Michigan will have its own show this year, April 26-27, at Fernwood Botanical Garden in Niles. For an added treat, the fields of breeder John Reed will also be open to the public. Organizers are hoping the events will help spur the founding of a Michigan Daffodil Society. (Sign us up!)
‘Jersey’s Beauty’ and the Millionaire Gardeners of Sewickley
(Here’s a fascinating story by our good customer Letitia Savage. Thank you, Letty, for sharing it with us!)
By the 1920s Pittsburgh’s industrial millionaires had flocked to Sewickley, Pennsylvania, to summer in country houses along the bluffs of the Ohio River. While the estates had ranks of professional gardeners, the owners were often actively involved, particularly when it came to competitive gardening.
Mrs. B. F. Jones, Jr. was typical of these serious amateur gardeners. The wife of a steel industry magnate, she lived at Fairacres, a 100-room Louis XVI mansion surrounded by acres of gardens. There, with the help of her gardener R. M. Fletcher, she grew thousands of dahlias.
In Sewickley the gardening year culminated in September with the annual Dahlia Show. As the Sewickley Herald reported in 1926, “There is hardly another flower which makes such a glorious showing when exhibited in mass.... Those who have never seen a dahlia show have indeed a thrill yet to live for.”
The three-day event included almost 50 competitive classes for dahlias – including many for vases of 12 to 25 blooms of a variety. Photos of the show in the society pages of the Pittsburgh press are still breathtaking. Dahlias in vases tower over the heads of the small girls admiring them, and some arrangements are even taller than their mothers.
In 1926, the star of the show was ‘Jersey’s Beauty’. The Herald featured it in a full color photo on the front page of it’s September 25 edition and noted, “If you are familiar with dahlias, you will be interested in ‘Jersey Beauty,’ in some ways the finest dahlia developed in recent years.” Introduced just three years earlier, it originally sold for $25 a tuber – a trifle for Mrs. Jones but the equivalant, according to the ADS’s Martin Kral, of “fifty gallons of milk, or a man’s new suit, or one of those modern home appliances, a vacuum cleaner.”
Although it’s not 100% clear whether it was Mrs. Jones’s ‘Jersey’s Beauty’ that stole the show in 1926, local reports say the Herald’s cover-girl dahlia was raised at Fairacres, and an oil painting of that flower once hung in splendor there, perhaps alongside her Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington.
Twenty years after her death in 1941, Mrs. Jones’ opulent summer home was razed. Her painting of ‘Jersey’s Beauty’ survives, though, preserved by the Sewickley Valley Historical Society, along with a stack of small cards tied with a faded blue ribbon. Although they don’t include dates or variety names, each card documents one of the many flower-show awards that Mrs. Jones won, poignant souvenirs of her prize-winning roses, chrysanthemums, and, above all, her glorious dahlias.
(‘Jersey’s Beauty’ went on to become one of the most popular dahlias of the 20th century. Although it’s almost sold out, if you order it now you can enjoy it just as Mrs. Jones once did – and it won’t cost you anywhere near as much as a vacuum cleaner!)