Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History • So Much More Than New
Winston-Salem to Host Conference on Restoring Southern Gardens
“Gardening in a Golden Age” is the theme of this year’s Conference on Restoring Southern Landscapes and Gardens scheduled for September 21-23 at garden-rich and always fascinating Old Salem.
Focusing on the early 20th century, the conference kicks off with the hand-colored “magic lantern” slides of photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston in “Picturing the American Garden, 1900-1930.” Other lectures and tours will explore Ellen Biddle Shipman’s work in Winston-Salem, African-American landscape architect David Williston, garden writing and art in the early 1900s, and more.
Garden antiques are increasingly popular – and I’m not just talking about “shabby chic” garage sale finds.
No one knows this better than Barbara Israel, the country’s leading source for high-end garden antiques. With customers ranging from Yoko Ono to the Smithsonian Institution, Israel currently offers such choice items as a terra-cotta Art Moderne greyhound for $3500, a Victorian fern-patterned cast-iron bench for $8500, and – at the top of my wish list – a 15-foot-tall copper-roofed garden pavilion for $55,000.
Israel has been selling garden antiques for over 30 years from her home in Westchester County, NY. There, as Therese Ciesinski writes in the winter 2017 issue of Garden Design, her lush gardens are filled with “a frozen menagerie of more than 200 maidens, warriors, animals, fountains and birdbaths, urns and obelisks, gates, finials, and follies. They are a reminder that strolling one's garden to contemplate nature, history, and art is still a worthwhile pastime.”
Her quarterly newsletter “Focal Points” is also excellent, with articles on “different types of garden ornament, specific makers, design suggestions, conservation,” and remarkable gardens, or for something lighter you can follow her on Facebook.
To browse her current inventory – which is much more than what’s pictured at her website – go to decaso.com/shop/xn5iii. Even if you can only dream of spending thousands of dollars on garden antiques, I think you’ll find it richly rewarding.
Crocus tommasinianus – “I’m always charmed by the starry flowers of this sweet little crocus which flowers so eagerly. . . . Plant great drifts of them. . . . They die away to nothing so cause no fuss at all.”
Tulipa sylvestris – “I found a patch of these exquisite, scented tulips growing in a damp meadow. . . . They are beautiful, with an elfin grace.”
‘Thalia’ daffodil – “I’ve lost count of how many of these sweet, pure-white narcissus I’ve planted. It is simply the best and most beautiful in my book, and very reliable.”
Annie Guilfoyle says, “Plant bulbs in larger quantities than you think you’ll want. That way you will not be disappointed.” She especially favors:
Crocus angustifolius, Cloth of Gold – “This little Ukrainian crocus has rich, golden petals. . . . Beautifully sophisticated, it forms a carpet of color when you need it most.”
Hyacinthoides non-scripta – “For me, English bluebells are the bulbs that really herald in the spring. . . . Perfect for naturalizing in those tricky, shady corners under deciduous trees.”
Alison Jenkins says, “It’s easy to overlook bulbs, but they add . . . some magic at a dreary time of year.” She recommends just one heirloom, but it’s superb:
‘Jenny’ daffodil – “The graceful form and soft tones of this daffodil work well when naturalized. . . . It has creamy-white, swept-back petals with a pale-yellow trumpet.”
And Declan Buckley says, “Bulbs are invaluable for injecting early season color. The key is to think big and plant in generous quantities.” His top choices include:
Heirloom peonies are rich in beauty, fragrance, and memories – but have you ever tried drinking them?
Now you can, thanks to Three Meadows Spirits, a New York-state micro-distillery. Headquartered in an 18th-century farmhouse, Three Meadows is part of the booming American craft spirits industry. Its unique Peony Vodka is subtly flavored with a blend of nine natural ingredients including “tincture of peony” derived from the roots of an antique row of peonies growing at the farm of founder Leslie Farhangi.
Although herbalists in Europe and China have used peony root for centuries to treat a variety of ills, Three Meadows claims only that its vodka is versatile and delicious.
Learn more in this recent article or visit the Three Meadows website where a big, beautiful peony bud on their homepage opens to full bloom in less than 30 seconds. And if you’d like to try a glass of Peony Vodka yourself – maybe as you sit in the garden on a warm summer evening – you can order it online here. To peonies!
Last year the Historic Iris Preservation Society (HIPS) launched an exciting grassroots effort to save the world’s rarest iris – and they’re hoping you’ll help.
The Guardian Gardens network is a far-flung group of iris enthusiasts who’ve agreed to grow and share varieties that are most at risk of extinction. The goal is to have five different gardeners growing each of these rare iris so that even if one or two lose theirs it won’t be lost forever.
You don’t have to be an expert to help, says Doug Paschall, the program’s coordinator. If you have experience growing iris and a sunny spot that’s big enough for four or five rhizomes of a few varieties, he’d love to hear from you.
“We have irises waiting to be adopted,” Doug adds, and mid-summer is the ideal time for planting them. To learn more, check out the Guardian Gardens FAQ at the HIPS website.
And here’s a thought: wouldn’t it be great if other plant societies sponsored preservation efforts like this? In fact, if you feel inspired to launch a Guardian Gardens project for daffodils or dahlias or daylilies or glads or peonies – all of which have active national societies devoted to them – please let us know and we’ll help spread the word about it here. Working together, we can not only “Save the Iris” but “Save the Other Flowers, Too!”
Regal lilies will be blooming here soon, and every year when their fragrance fills the air I’m reminded of a scene described by E.H. “Chinese” Wilson, the great plant explorer who first brought them to America.
Of the 2000 plants Wilson collected in his eight trips to Asia, the regal lily was his favorite – although an avalanche broke his leg while he was collecting it and he walked the rest of his life with what he called his “lily limp.” In his 1917 book, Aristocrats of the Garden, he writes:
“Journey in thought with me for a moment or two, westward . . . to Shanghai, gateway of far Cathay; onward and westward up the mighty Yangtsze River for 1800 miles, then northward up its tributary the Min some 250 miles to the confines of mysterious Tibet; to that little-known hinterland which separates China proper from the hierarchy of Lhassa; to a wild and mountainous country . . . where mighty empires meet.
“There in narrow, semi-arid valleys, down which torrents thunder, and encompassed by mountains composed of mud-shales and granites whose peaks are clothed with snow eternal, the regal lily has her home. In summer the heat is terrific, in winter the cold is intense, and at all seasons these valleys are subject to sudden and violent wind-storms against which neither man nor beast can make headway.
“There in June, by the wayside, in rock-crevice by the torrent’s edge and high up on the mountainside and precipice, this lily in full bloom greets the weary wayfarer. Not in twos and threes but in hundreds, in thousands, aye, in tens of thousands. Its slender stems . . . , flexible and tense as steel, overtop the coarse grasses and scrub and are crowned with . . . large funnel-shaped flowers, each more or less wine-colored without, pure white and lustrous on the face, clear canary-yellow within the tube and each stamen filament tipped with a golden anther.
“The air in the cool of the morning and in the evening is laden with delicious perfume exhaled from every blossom. For a brief season this lily transforms a lonely, semi-desert region into a veritable fairyland.”
Thanks to Wilson's heroic efforts, it’s easy enjoy a bit of this grand fairyland in your own backyard. Simply order now for fall delivery!
Our good customer Marta McDowell, author of All the President’s Gardens, will be the keynote speaker at the third Midwestern Garden History and Design Preservation Symposium on June 20-21 in Akron.
After two years at Hale Farm and Village, the symposium is moving this year to the Akron Art Museum with its spectacular, gravity-defying 2007 addition. Lectures such as “Garden History Resources at the Smithsonian,” “Everyday Documentation,” and “Restoring Mrs. Harding’s Rose Garden,” will be complemented by tours of local historic landscapes including the incomparable Stan Hywet estate (pictured here) with its Warren Manning birch allée and perennial garden by Ellen Biddle Shipman.
The last two days of May here were filled with excitement and dust as we packed up and moved to our new home at this historic farmstead just three miles away.
After 24 years of working out of Scott and Jane’s old house and barn near downtown Ann Arbor, OHG is now headquartered in this even older house at the Washtenaw Food Hub. Located just north of town, the Hub supports small farmers by distributing their crops to local grocery stores, restaurants, and institutions as well as providing workspace for slow-food businesses such as Locavorious and The Brinery.
Although most people don’t eat our bulbs, the Hub’s owners – whose Tantre Farm is one of the state’s oldest certified organic farms – see our mission as a good fit for theirs, and we’re excited to be a part of the Hub community. Maybe best of all, moving to the Hub will allow us to consolidate our five Ann Arbor micro-farms into one location right outside our office door.
While Vanessa and the crew were settling in at the new place, Scott celebrated his first day of retirement by not shaving, eating pancakes for breakfast, buying a couple of new plants, and – since he’s only 80% retired – working on this newsletter. Life is good!
With a collection of 243 hyacinth varieties dating back as far as the 1700s, our good friend Alan Shipp is an inspiring example of what one person can do to save our incredibly rich garden heritage.
Although we’ve been the sole US source for Alan’s hyacinths for many years, and we’re proud to call him a friend, we learned a lot we never knew about him in an engaging post at the British blog Spitalfields Life. Alan is a great story-teller with a jolly sense of humor, and the blog’s author captures him well.
Alan talks about how his family farm got its start when his grandfather won a pony in a raffle, how he learned how to propagate hyacinths from a slug, and how the “extinct” 1767 double white-with-red-eyes ‘Gloria Mundi’ was rediscovered in a tiny village in Romania.
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.
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.
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.
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.