Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History • So Much More Than New
Read More: Raves & Faves
“Supremely Beautiful” ‘Ophir’ Daylily
Ten years ago in a pioneering article for Horticulture magazine, Betty Gatewood sang the praises of heirloom daylilies.
“These plants, once treasured by gardeners for their elegance of form, are mostly unknown today,” she wrote. “But they are distinguished by one great quality: they retain the classic lily shape that has largely been bred out of modern daylilies. They are supremely beautiful. For this alone they are worth seeking out.”
Betty’s number one example was the lovely ‘Ophir’. One of the very first American-bred daylilies, ‘Ophir’ has “trumpet-shaped flowers (rather like a golden Easter lily) of unmatchable shape,” she wrote. “It is also a robust grower, tall (about four feet), slightly fragrant, and very floriferous. Blooming . . . for almost a month, it is far too fine a plant to be forgotten.”
We completely agree – and though this “supremely beautiful” daylily is sure to sell out soon, you can still order it now for April delivery. If you listen carefully you can probably hear Betty saying, “You won’t regret it.”
Colette’s Gardenia: “I Bow Down Before the Tuberose”
Although little known today, Colette (1873-1954) was the highly regarded French author of some 50 novels, many of them considered scandalously sensual at the time.
Her 1948 book For an Herbarium focused on the sensual delights of flowers. In the chapter titled “The Gardenia’s Monologue,” that famously fragrant flower scorns jasmine, nicotiana, magnolia, and other scented rivals before finally making this confession:
“I put up with all of these humbler bearers of nocturnal balms, certain that I have no rivals, save one, I confess . . . before whom at times I do worse than confess: I abdicate.
“On certain meridional nights heavy with the promise of rain, certain afternoons rumbling with casual thunder, then my ineffable rival need only show herself, and for all the gardenia in me, I weaken, I bow down before the tuberose.”
Five Timeless Iris: High Praise from the First President of the AIS
The great horticulturist John Wister helped found the American Iris Society in 1920 and served as its first president for fourteen years.
At that time, iris were exceedingly popular and scores of exciting new varieties were being introduced every year. Yet in his small book The Iris published in 1930, Wister wrote that “the more of the new things I see, the more I am convinced of the worthiness of some of our oldest varieties” – such as these:
‘Pallida Dalmatica’ (1597) – “There is nothing . . . in the whole range of iris that is finer than the true ‘Pallida Dalmatica’,” Wister wrote, adding that planting it with lemon lily (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus) is “one of the most famous” garden combinations with iris.
Germanica (by 1500) – “The purple flag of our grandmothers’ garden . . . should never be omitted for . . . it makes a striking garden picture.”
‘Flavescens’ (1813) – Among pale yellow iris “there is nothing to surpass the variety ‘Flavescens’, well known in every old garden in this country.”
‘Queen of May’ (1859) – “On the pink side of the lavenders, the old ‘Queen of May’ is . . . still one of the best.” It is “lovely,” he added, “with white and pink lupines and pink Dianthus.”
‘Mrs. Horace Darwin’ (1888) – Although “rather dwarf,” this white iris is “wonderfully free blooming. It is unexcelled for massing and should be used in every garden in quantities.”
Of course you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy these timeless treasures. Just order yours now for April delivery!
Garden Gate Names ‘Fashion Monger’ a “Best New Plant” for 2017
Old can be new, as our friends at Garden Gate understand, which is why they’ve named our ‘Fashion Monger’ dahlia one of their “Must Haves for 2017.”
“‘Fashion Monger’ may not be brand-new,” writes associate editor Sherri Ribbey, “but it’s been away so long it seems like it is. Originally introduced in 1955, this collarette dahlia was gradually replaced by newer cultivars. Fortunately, it was preserved and heirloom-bulb grower Old House Gardens is offering it for sale again.”
“‘Fashion Monger’ is a favorite of bees,” Sherri adds, “and it makes a great cut flower, too.”
Our supply this first year is limited, so if you want this old-but-new beauty, order soon!
There’s an unlikely “cover girl” on the front of Garden Gate’s December issue – gladiolus!
Once scorned as hopelessly out of fashion, glads continue their slow rise back into popularity. Garden Gate’s headline touts their “Gorgeous Color, Dramatic Shape, Old-Fashioned Charm,” and adds “your garden needs this flower!”
To integrate glads into your garden – instead of just growing them for bouquets – check out the article’s excellent tips and photos in “Design Your Garden with Glads.”
Our True (and Hardy) Byzantine Glads vs. the “Weeny Ones”
One of the bulbs I’m most proud of helping to preserve and share with gardeners across the country is our true, American-grown, zone-6 hardy Byzantine gladiolus. It’s both spectacular and very hard to find, as our good customer Sharon Beasley of Newcastle, Oklahoma, pointed out recently on Facebook:
“My most exciting purchase is your Byzantine glads. I saw them in a garden years ago and bought some back then [from another source] that turned out to be the weeny ones. They are cute, but once you have seen the real thing, they don’t seem wonderful at all. I finally ordered some from you last fall and got the real beauties. They bloomed this spring and I am so happy I ordered them.
“I don’t think I’ve seen another catalog that carries the big ones. I think the price gives away whether they are the weeny ones or the real thing. Thank you!”
Since Byzantines are FALL-planted only, now is the time to order yours and make yourself happy like Sharon!
Bulb Love: Confessions of an Unreformed Bulbaholic
Lauren Springer Ogden, the award-winning author of Plant-Driven Design, The Undaunted Garden, and other fine books, calls herself “an unreformed bulbaholic.” She explores the roots of her obsession in this excerpt from “Bulb Love,” an essay she wrote for Horticulture magazine many years ago that we hope will resonate with you as well:
“For those who are not yet hopelessly in love with bulbs, let me attempt to describe the allure. Bulbous plants are the toughest of the tough. Most thrive in mineral-rich, humus-poor soils and tolerate periods of extreme drought. They’ve evolved to hide and wait for the return of better conditions, and then to send up, in many cases, the most extraordinary, otherworldly effort of beauty. . . .
“Bulbs need so little and give back so much. They start off homely, even ugly, and return transformed. We help them just a bit – we dig a hole in the dirt for them. Then we forget about them until, time and time again, they make their brief, joyful appearance, following the rhythms of the natural world, marking rains and seasons in floral time. . . .
“I plant them by the hundreds. There’s always room for more; the garden’s soil is my fruitcake and the bulbs are the raisins. It’s the safest addiction I know.”
Along with an excellent article about the Hortus Bulborum, the October issue of Gardens Illustrated (#226) includes bulb recommendations from UK garden celebrities in an article titled “Designers’ Favorite Bulbs.”
Famed garden writer Mary Keen recommends fragrant ‘General de Wet’ tulip, “hard to find” Tulipa clusiana, and ‘Trevithian’ daffodil which is not only “scented and good for picking” but also “lasts longer than most in the garden.”
Rosemary Alexander of the English Gardening School recommends “showy, long-lived” winter aconite, “timeless and elegant” ‘Thalia’ daffodil, and — at the top of her list — silver bells (Ornithogalum nutans). “With silvery, gray-green, bluebell-like flowers,” she writes, “it is subtle and beloved by flower arrangers as it lasts well when picked. Best in well-drained, light shade. Great among ferns.”
And Tom Stuart-Smith, whose current projects include “restoring an Islamic garden in Marrakech,” recommends “subtle” ‘Vanguard’ crocus – “for sheer impact it is superb,” he says – and pricey ‘S. Arnott’ snowdrop. “I am not a collector,” he writes, “and for the most part I am completely happy with . . . humble Galanthus nivalis . . . but I have bought about 20 ‘S. Arnott’ every year for the past ten years and am beginning to think it’s really worth it. So much substance combined with grace.”
‘Thalia’ at Chanticleer: “Reliably Elegant and Breath-Taking”
Chanticleer horticulturist Emma Seniuk had high praise for the graceful white ‘Thalia’ daffodil in the June 2016 issue of Fine Gardening:
“This classic daffodil is so beautiful that upon first sight of the flower, I swore I would name my first-born daughter Thalia. Pure, nearly translucent white blossoms are held in sweetly nodding clusters with reflexed petals. There is a slight fragrance to the blooms, too.
“It is one of the latest blooming daffodils, with thin, grass-like foliage. This feature makes the deterioration of ‘Thalia’ a graceful event compared to other daffodils whose fat, heavy foliage collapses into a heap looking like a pile of discarded linguini.
“Stunning in combination with Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), ‘Thalia’ is reliably elegant and breath-taking year after year.”
Thrillist, the popular website that describes itself as “obsessed with helping guys live fun lives,” recently posted a “Definitive and Final Ranking of All 50 States” – and we’re proud to say that Michigan topped the list!
According to Thrillist, “Far too much of the Michigan narrative centers on Detroit and its many issues. The Motor City’s become a scrappily rising underdog you can’t help but root for, but Michigan’s greatest strengths lie in the state as a whole.
“Did you know Michigan has more coastline than any state other than Alaska? Did you know it has such an embarrassment of beer riches that you can easily hit Bell’s and Founders in the same afternoon? Did you know the UP is so remote and uniquely beautiful that it almost feels like a secret 51st state where they inexplicably love British meat pies?”
‘Black Beauty’ is Blogger’s “Top Draw for Butterflies”
In a recent post at her award-winning blog The Garden Diaries, Clair Jones writes that the “top draw for butterflies” in her Maryland garden is the gorgeous, easy-to-grow ‘Black Beauty’ lily. She even includes a short video of a half-dozen tiger swallowtails blissfully sipping nectar from the lily’s deep raspberry-colored flowers.
Clair’s post also introduced me to “butterflying,” which she defines as observing and photographing these beautiful pollinators. Along with helpful tips for attracting and taking digital photos of them, she offers some fascinating facts about butterflies. For example, did you know that butterflies taste things with their feet?
August is a great month for butterflying, with many of the 765 species in North American active then. To enjoy more of them in your garden, read Clair’s tips – and maybe plant a few ‘Black Beauty’ lilies this fall.
“How and why does a flower fall out of fashion?” asks Gardenista blogger Michelle Slatalla in what she calls the first of a new series, Rethinking Flowers, devoted to “old garden favorites that deserve a second chance.”
First up – gladiolus! Like many gardeners, Michelle had never grown glads before, but when we sent her a few of our small-flowered and unusual heirlooms (including ‘Atom’ and ‘Boone’, pictured here in her garden), she ended up seeing them in a whole new light.
Glads are “breathtaking,” she writes, and our graceful “heirloom varieties mingle well with other perennials.” In her California garden, for example, Michelle grows them among clumps of lavender whose cool tones perfectly complement the warmer colors of many glads.
For more – including evocative photos from Michelle’s garden and an account of an ultra high-society wedding in 1923 with the bride and her attendants “fairly staggering under the weight of gladiolus” – check out the whole wonderful post at Gardenista.com.
Once a year, Gardens Illustrated asks a horticultural superstar to write an article recommending “100 Plants Every Gardener Should Grow.”
This year they turned to Tom Stuart-Smith, the internationally acclaimed British designer and winner of eight gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show. His wide-ranging list includes trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, annuals, and grasses, along with bulbs – three of which, we’re happy to say, are heirlooms:
Traditional snowdrop (G. nivalis) – “I know there are many excellent cultivars,” Stuart-Smith writes, “but I’m very happy with this. I began at home 25 years ago with a bucketful from my mother’s garden and now there are tens of thousands thanks to regular dividing.”
Pheasant’s-eye narcissus (N. poeticus var. recurvus) – “I saw this familiar pheasant’s eye last spring growing [wild] in the Apennines and my heart missed a beat – and another when I bent to smell the sweet perfume. . . . Very tough and increases gradually even in rough grass.”
‘Black Beauty’ lily – “Magnificent Lilium speciosum hybrid of astounding vigor. Flowers from August to September. Exotic, stylish, and easy.”
The article inspired a wonderful post by our good customer Linda Brazil at her blog Each Little World. In it she mentions that years ago she compiled her own much shorter list of plants she’d never want to be without, and when she looked at it again recently, “I saw that everything on it was still growing in my garden and was a plant I would put on my list again.”
So what plants would be on your list? Would it include snowdrops, pheasant’s-eyes, and ‘Black Beauty’? And if you’re not growing them, why not take an internationally-acclaimed expert’s advice and give them a try?
What is David Culp Growing? Heirloom Tulips at Brandywine Cottage
You may know David Culp as the best-selling author of The Layered Garden and an acclaimed landscape designer, but to us he’s a customer and fellow fan of heirloom bulbs, especially graceful old daffodils and unusual tulips.
David lives in a 1790s farmhouse known as Brandywine Cottage just outside of Philadelphia. His plantings there are especially beautiful in the spring – as a recent article by Janet Loughrey in Garden Design makes abundantly clear.
Although “renowned for his masterful successive plantings and naturalistic style,” Laughrey writes, David is also “an avid collector of rare and unusual plants, including antique and specialty tulips.”
“‘I plant my favorite varieties near the house, in the rock or gravel gardens, or along the road, where they can be displayed more prominently and I can enjoy them up close,’ he says. Unusual patterns, colors, and shapes such as these striped, multicolored, or lily forms get top billing.”
Among the tulips pictured are three of our heirlooms: lily-flowered ‘White Triumphator’ (in the scene above), stiletto-petalled Tulipa acuminata, and ‘The Lizard’, “a highly prized Rembrandt broken form with swirling patterns of rose and creamy yellow.”
Thanks, David, for giving our bulbs such a beautiful home!
2016 Great Plant Picks: They’re Not Just for Humans
Every year since 2001, Seattle’s Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden has released an annual list of Great Plant Picks. Although especially well-suited to gardens in the Pacific Northwest, many of these plants are also outstanding choices for gardens across the country.
Butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds are the focus of this year’s GPP list, and Rick Peterson provides an excellent introduction to it in Pacific Horticulture.
A few species tulips are also recommended, including T. clusiana and T. sylvestris which will have bees “bustling around the garden with satisfaction” and, in the right spot, will “reliably return year after year.”
Just in time for peony season, the website of the American Peony Society has added a finder’s guide to 77 peony-rich public gardens in 30 states from Maine to California.
The gardens range from well-known sites to fascinating smaller gardens such as Sisson’s Peony Gardens in Wisconsin and the Shacksboro Schoolhouse Museum in New York with its collection of nearly 200 heritage varieties. Some sites make it surprisingly hard to find information about their peonies, but if a search for “peony” or “paeonia” returns no results, you can always call the garden and talk to a human being.
The guide also lists 28 peony gardens in other countries, including many in China where peonies have been revered for centuries. Altogether there’s a total of 105 gardens waiting for you to explore at americanpeonysociety.org/links/peony-gardens.
“Bulbs want to grow.” That’s what we say here at Old House Gardens whenever we hear a story like this one sent to us recently by our good customer Anita Bischoff of Kings Park, NY:
“In January, I found one ‘Marie’ hyacinth bulb lying in my garage. I must have dropped it when I planted the other 24 last fall. I put it in a glass forcing vase and then into my wine fridge. When green sprouted from the top, I put it on a windowsill.
“It looked beautiful as it was growing and it bloomed just in time to win a FIRST prize at the Smithtown Garden Club meeting last week – so all was not lost for the leftover. Happy Easter!”
The spectacular bulb plantings at Holland’s Keukenhof Gardens are internationally famous, but have you ever heard of the Instanbul Tulip Festival – where four times as many bulbs will burst into bloom this month?
“Istanbul sparkles in April,” wrote Frazer Henderson in a recent newsletter of the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society. “Brilliant splashes of color decorate public parks, streets, road verges, and traffic islands . . . as millions of tulips exuberantly announce the arrival of spring. Started in 2005, the city’s Tulip Festival seeks to revive the flower’s popularity and celebrate its contribution to Turkish culture. This year over 30 million bulbs – all propagated in Turkey – were planted.
One highlight of last year’s Festival was the world’s largest floral carpet blooming in front of Hagia Sophia, the spectacular Ottoman cathedral built in 543. “Over 500,000 bulbs in . . . deep purple, red, bright yellow, and burnt orange were planted in a highly geometric design covering 1262 square meters. . . . A babel of exaltations . . . confirmed the carpet’s awesomeness.”
Staff Picks: Vanessa’s 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.”
Blog-Goddess Reports “Virtually 100% Success” with Our Winter Aconites
Always the first bulb to bloom here in our garden, winter aconites are thrilling, cheery, and carefree — so why aren’t more people growing them?
Although their tiny tubers can be hard to get established, our good friend Margaret Roach writes this week at her wildly popular A Way to Garden blog, “Good news: Buying waxed tubers from a vendor like Old House Gardens helps. I had virtually 100 percent success with their waxed tubers — a dramatic difference from any other time I’d tried to establish a new colony.”
“Rather than planting big-box-store flowers this spring, why not raise storied heirloom varieties that yield bragging rights as well as beauty?” So asks Bart Ziegler of the Wall Street Journal in a Feb. 20-21 article titled “Petals with Provenance.”
“Heirloom vegetables have been the rage for more than a decade,” Ziegler continues, “with foodies cooing over zebra-striped tomatoes and blue potatoes. But a lesser-known category of historic plants has its own devoted following: heirloom flowers.”
Illustrated with a big color photo that includes our catalog and even a few of our gladiolus corms, the article quotes experts from Monticello, Old Sturbridge Village, and Longwood Gardens, along with yours truly and our good customer Alicia Guy.
“Cooking-school manager Alicia Guy, who grows antique dahlias at her home outside Seattle, said of doing so, ‘It makes me feel like I have a connection with gardeners from 100 years ago that transcends technological change,’” Ziegler writes. Alicia “likes knowing her great-great grandmother might have cared for the same flowers,” including ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, a “summer showstopper.”
“The bragging rights historic plants give gardeners are well-founded,” Ziegler continues. “You can grow the same tulips planted in the White House Rose Garden when it was redesigned for President John F. Kennedy, in 1962; the variety of tuberoses Louis XIV enjoyed at Versailles; or the diminutive Silver Bells daffodils that author Eudora Welty tended in her Mississippi yard in the 1930s. All are available through Old House Gardens.”
“Raising heirloom plants,” he adds, “yields more than beauty: You ensure their survival. Catalogs from the . . . early 1800s offered hundreds of varieties of hyacinths, said Scott Kunst, founder and owner of Old House Gardens,” while today “most purveyors sell a half-dozen or so.”
The article ends with a call to action that you’ve probably heard from me before: “Heirloom flowers can’t be conserved in a museum like historic documents or antique furniture. ‘The only way to save them is to grow them,’ Mr. Kunst said.”
You can read the entire article here. (And thank you, Bart and the Journal, for shining a light on the flowers we love!)
Although it’s not a bulb, the 2016 Plant of the Year of the Perennial Plant Association is an heirloom – and extraordinary.
‘Honorine Jobert’ is one of the oldest Japanese anemones, dating back to 1858. According to William Robinson in The English Flower Garden (1893), it “originated at Verdun sur Meuse in the garden of M. Jobert. From a large tuft of [normally pink] A. japonica, a stem arose with pure white flowers.” Jobert named it for his daughter, and it’s been gracing gardens ever since.
A big clump of ‘Honorine Jobert’ flourishes by the front sidewalk of one of the old houses in our neighborhood, and every fall my wife and I make multiple pilgrimages to it (with Toby, of course) so we can gaze at its exquisite flowers.
A vigorous perennial, ‘Honorine Jobert’ does best in zones 4b-7b, in light shade and alkaline soils that never dry out completely. It can be slow to get established, but once it does it spreads eagerly, it’s deer-resistant, makes a fine cut-flower, and will light up your fall garden. Learn more from our friend Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, and look for it online or in local garden centers this spring.
Speaking of lilies, here’s an unexpected way to enjoy them up close, from our good customer Kathryn Hubler of Falls Church, Virginia:
“I thought you’d enjoy this photo of the gold-band lilies we received from you last year blooming in our living room. We’ve discovered we like to grow them in pots so we can enjoy their beautiful blooms and scent indoors. A pot of them is now a necessity, so we ordered fresh bulbs from you this year and will rotate the old ones into the garden.
“I grow the lilies outside, protecting the pot in the winter, and then when the first bud opens I bring them inside by our sunny, south facing window. I started doing this by accident one year when I brought the pot indoors to protect the flowers during a big rain storm. They last longer indoors, they’re never damaged by deer, slugs, or earwigs, and their fragrance is divine!”
Two of the most influential gardeners of the 20th century, Gertrude Jekyll and Vita Sackville-West, would probably approve of Kathryn’s technique. Both recommended growing fragrant lilies in pots and then moving them onto the terrace, near doorways, or alongside garden benches when they came into bloom, as they did in their own famous gardens.
Kathryn planted her lilies in the fall which gave them plenty of time to develop a good root system before they had to start growing above ground. Spring-planted lilies may be more of a challenge in pots, but we plan to try gold-band and ‘Uchida’ ourselves this spring, and we’ll let you know how they do.
For tips on growing all sorts of bulbs in containers, see our Bulbs in Pots page. Have fun, and send us your photos!
Lost . . . and Found? Gaye’s “Tiny Little Cream-Colored Daffodils”
We love it when our customers use the “Special Requests and Feedback” section of our online order form. That’s where Gaye Ingram of Ruston, Louisiana, made this plea:
“If possible, I would like to order ten moschatus, even though the limit is five. I’ve missed it every year by ordering late. Saw it decades ago and fell in love with it. I’m well past retirement age and would like to see a wee colony in my lifetime. Thank you for considering my request.”
Being soft-hearted souls, we said yes, and when she replied, Gaye told us this story:
“Thank you! I’ve pursued that particular bulb (or what I believe is that bulb) since 1968. Not even 25 years old but with degrees almost in hand, my husband and I arrived in Ruston that year to teach literature (me) and history at Louisiana Tech. We found a sweet little 1930s house on a shady street that had belonged to the mother of the chair of the Interior Design department. We felt like grown-ups!
“In spring, tiny little cream-colored daffodils with nodding heads sprang up on the lawn. I’d grown up in Central Louisiana among people whose yards and gardens were filled with passalong plants and bulbs, but I’d never seen such a demure spring bulb. I marked them and vowed to dig one or two in the fall.
“Then we moved to another place, and built a new house. I searched ever after for those quiet creamy bulbs. Went back to the place where we’d lived, but the owners had seen no bulbs. Without care and probably having their leaves mowed in late spring, they’d given up the ghost.
“The next time I saw them was in Celia’s grandmother’s garden. [Ed. note: Our good friend Celia Jones owns a small farm near Shreveport where her grandmother once grew acres of daffodils.] Celia had only a few, and knew only a local name for them. Sometime later, when I discovered Old House Gardens, I talked with Scott, but back then you didn’t offer them and he couldn’t be sure about their exact identity. More recently, whenever you did offer moschatus I ordered too late. (One has to discipline herself to order bulbs when it is 95 degrees with 80% humidity, as it is here today!)”
We sent Gaye’s bulbs to her last week, but we’re still not sure whether our Dutch-grown moschatus – or the very similar ‘Colleen Bawn’ – is exactly the same as the once widely-grown heirloom she’s seeking. Daffodils are enormously varied, and the differences don’t always show up in photos. For example, the Dutch-grown N. jonquilla of mainstream catalogs looks very much like the heirloom N. jonquilla ‘Early Louisiana’ that we offer, but the Dutch jonquils bloom weeks later and never thrive as well in Southern heat. (Learn more.)
But we’re hopeful that Gaye now has the sweet little daffodil she fell in love with almost 50 years ago – and if you happen to be growing the beloved Southern heirloom known as goose-neck, swan’s neck, or silver bells, we’d love to hear from you!
Although once the most popular bulb of all, hyacinths are rarely found in most gardens today. If you’re not growing them, you’re missing something special – as these fans will tell you:
Writing in Horticulture magazine, our good friend Marty Ross of zone-6a Kansas City, MO, tells of planting hyacinths “here and there in groups of three or five, almost like wildflowers. The soft pink ‘Lady Derby’, which has been around since 1875, is one of the prettiest, and it has persisted in my garden for years. I grow it among epimediums, hardy begonias, and a splashy variegated hosta; they hide the hyacinth foliage when it flops over in late spring.”
Double ‘General Kohler’ “keeps on multiplying,” our long-time customer Donna Mack writes us from zone-5b Elgin, Illinois. “Every year I have more, and the bulbs are huge. I think you’re right that they like being dry in summer. I have them planted among ornamental grasses – they’re lovely there when the grasses are cut down in spring – and that area has a low priority when it comes to watering. You should see them! Every spring more and more appear. This past spring, I must have had half a dozen new ones.”
And in Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets, Debra Prinzing of zone-8b Seattle recommends making small, multi-colored bouquets of nothing but hyacinths. “A singular sensation – for the eye as well as the nose – hyacinths are so stunning that it’s hard to justify pairing them with any other flower. In fact, you really only need one hyacinth bulb, cupped in a special forcing glass, to experience the arrival of spring on your windowsill. . . . When I brought home a mixed bunch from the farmers’ market, they filled my car with a heady perfume.”
Grown in gardens since 1600, Madonna lily is still a superstar – or at least our recent photo of it in bloom here with larkspur and poppies prompted so many likes (1,854) and shares (5,246) that almost 400,000 people have seen it so far. Yes, 400,000!
And that’s a global fan-base – appreciative comments were posted in Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Finnish, Thai, and Filipino.
To make sure you see our next big Facebook hit, visit us at Facebook.com/HeirloomBulbs and click “Follow” under the “Liked” button near the top of our page. Thank you, and happy gardening!
We got a nice email last month from a gardener at England’s famous Sissinghurst Castle Garden. “I thought you might like to know that your nursery was mentioned in our Gardeners’ Blog this week,” wrote Helen Champion. “Thank you for creating such an interesting website. I find your in-depth information about heritage bulbs an excellent reference.”
In her post titled “My Top 5 . . . Tulips,” Helen ranks pink ‘Clara Butt’ #1. Introduced in 1889 and named for a world famous singer, “it flowers in the Rose Garden and is reliably perennial, having grown at Sissinghurst for many years,” she writes. “It’s hard to imagine a singer in today’s world putting up with a name like Clara Butt when she could be Madonna, Beyonce, or Lady Gaga but . . . Clara was immensely popular.”
Clara’s tulip was, too, “but fashions move on,” Helen writes, and “by 2007 only one grower produced ‘Clara Butt’ commercially and it is likely that the tulip would have been lost forever were it not for the efforts of Scott Kunst from Old House Gardens in the USA. He bought the remaining stock of ‘Clara Butt’ and sent 100 bulbs to Holland to be propagated. Now the future of this bulb is secure.”
Tulip #3 on Helen’s list is another wonderful old heirloom we offer, ‘Prinses Irene’, which she says has “historically been grown in the copper pot in the Cottage Garden, where the flame colored flowers sit in perfect contrast to the blue-green patina of the copper.”
Going enthusiastically beyond her Top 5, Helen recommends 20 other great tulips such as ‘Greuze’ which is grown today in Sissinghurst’s Purple Border. Read about them all. And thank you, Helen!
“Can you tell me what this flower is?” We get asked that a lot, and if it’s a daffodil, the answer is most often ‘Van Sion’, a 400-year-old double that’s so tough it can often be found growing deep in the woods where a house disappeared ages ago.
Two of our customers loved ‘Van Sion’ long before we helped them identify it. Christiane Shems of zone-5b Yarmouth, Maine, ordered 25 ‘Van Sion’ last fall, explaining:
“The first time I saw this old beauty was in my parents’ yard in France. It was love at first sight, and they smelled so good. I took some bulbs back with me to the US. That was years ago and I am still enjoying them every spring. I had been looking for more since then but without luck. Nobody knew what I was talking about, until I found you. My parents have both passed away since, and these bulbs are so much more dear to me now. Thank you!”
Then in February, Marilyn Gist of zone-7b Raleigh, North Carolina, emailed to say:
“There is a daffodil that grows in a part of my yard down by the lake where it can be quite soggy, especially in winter or after a tropical storm. They were here when I moved here in 1987, and they spread and naturalize all over the place. They are very early blooming – the first one opened January 31 this year, which has been on the cold side for us. They grow in part shade in very dry areas, and they also grow in full sun right at the edge of the lake where it’s quite wet, all in my red clay soil. Amazing, don’t you think?
“Not knowing what they were, I always called mine the Phyllis Diller daffodils, after her wild-looking hairstyle. I searched various bulb catalogs for them, but never found a match. Thank you so much for the newsletter article that helped me identify them as ‘Van Sion’!”
Dahlia Accolades: 5 RHS Award Winners, 3 Maine Survivors
Of the more than 75,000 plants available to gardeners today, less than 10% have been honored by the Royal Horticultural Society with its prestigious Award of Garden Merit. These exceptional plants have proven their worth as “the best for all-around garden value.”
Another impressive accolade comes from our good customer Judith Mitchell of Waldoboro, Maine. “I got my first dahlias from you while it was still pretty chilly here in zone 5b,” she writes, “so I very carefully put my tubers aside to wait for warmer weather. Well, you can probably guess what happened – that’s right, I couldn’t find them. In fact, it was well into July when I almost literally stumbled upon them out in the shed.
“Ay-yi-yi, I thought. I immediately planted them with many apologies to the little guys, thinking, of course, that all was lost, I’d get nothing, and it was my own damned fault.
“BUT!!! Lo and behold, they soon sprouted, leaves unfurled, and – much to my rapturous delight – buds appeared! I heaped praise and encouragement on them, and at this late writing [Oct. 17], all have bloomed except for ‘Atropurpurea’, which does have two little buds although they probably won’t mature before frost. ‘Union Jack’ is lovely, and ‘Little Beeswings’ is sheer delight – the most adorable, perfect, and floriferous little dahlia in my dahlia-rich garden. Many thanks for all your marvelous flowers!”
With chocolate buds that open into a seemingly endless profusion of small yellow flowers, ‘Corky’ is one of my favorites daylilies — and I’m not the only one who feels that way. When he owned Loomis Creek Nursery in upstate New York, Portland-based garden designer Bob Hyland sold just a handful of daylilies, including ‘Corky’ which he called a “must-have” plant. His criteria for selecting daylilies were simple, he said:
“1. Great bud count for extended bloom time.
“2. Smaller flower size (2-4” diameter) to fit the look of naturalistic border designs.
“3. Strong flower colors with saturated hues and tint.
“4. Tall, sturdy flower stems (36” and taller) that punctuate borders with aerial theatrics.”
“‘Corky’ scores a perfect 10 in our evaluation system,” Bob wrote. “Its flared, bright lemon yellow, 3-inch flowers are accented by bronzy-brown color bars on the outside of petals. Wiry, purplish flower stems rise 3 feet above the narrow, strappy foliage, and each stem is well-branched with a 40+ bud count, sending wave after wave of flowers your way.”
To see for yourself what Bob and I are so enthusiastic about, order ‘Corky’ now for April delivery. But don’t delay — we have fewer than 60 plants left!
“I am hoping that ‘Mrs. I. De ver Warner’ is the dahlia that my papaw and mamaw grew for many years,” Roger Flatford wrote us when he ordered last spring. I hoped so, too, but I knew that was a very long shot. Tens of thousands of dahlias have been introduced, many look a lot alike, and very few have been preserved. But in late summer we got a happy surprise:
“I can’t say thank you enough for ‘Mrs. I. De ver Warner’ dahlia!” Roger Flatford wrote. “This dahlia grew at my mamaw and papaw’s house in [zone-7a] Heiskell, Tennessee, coming back for them for 30 or 40 years, even through some hard winters. I’m 52 and I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t there. Every summer it would reward us with the most beautiful lavender blooms. We never knew its name but we always loved to see it bloom.
“My papaw kept a beautiful yard, and I inherited the flower gene from him. After he died in 1980 I tried to keep his flowers growing for my mamaw. Over the years, though, most all were lost except for the lavender dahlia and two old peonies and a little iris that just kept multiplying. Then one year the dahlia didn’t come back. I was really sad to see it gone.
“A few years later my mamaw passed away at 93. That summer I spent a lot of time at the little white house on the hill, remembering how much fun we had visiting there when I was a kid. Then I started looking everywhere I could think of, hoping to find the lavender dahlia. I bought several that looked right, but when they bloomed they were never the one.
“This past spring I saw two dahlias at your website that I thought maybe, just maybe were it, so I purchased them both. A couple of weeks ago I went out to the garden and there it was, Papaw’s Lavender Dahlia. What a reward! I know Mamaw and Papaw are smiling down from heaven.
“Next spring, I’m going to plant another one at the little white house on the hill in memory of my mamaw and papaw, Goldie and Roma Graham. Thank you, Old House Gardens, for finding and preserving the beautiful ‘Mrs. I. De ver Warner’.”
You’re welcome, Roger! Interestingly enough, that unusually hardy dahlia came to us from Joyce Dowell who got it from her grandmother in Scottsville, Kentucky – which, as the crow flies, is just 100 miles away from where your grandparents lived.
The Bishop in Winter: Resurrection of a Lost Tuber
Is it a miracle? Maybe not, but we think you’ll find this recent testimonial from Tulsa garden writer Russell Studebaker inspiring.
“This spring I ordered some of your dahlias, but somehow I forgot to plant the ‘Bishop of Llandaff‘ – and only rediscovered him in late summer. Since the Bishop was still plump, as most real life bishops are, and wee red sprouts were showing, he was reverently planted in a gallon container on August 17.
“He grew and is now about a foot tall. Before our first frost in November I moved him inside in front of two large south windows where he’s been residing happily ever since. Although I don’t expect him to flower this winter, I’m giving him some time to build up his strength before I give him a rest. Then I’ll look forward to his grand, proper, and belated appearance in the garden next summer.
“You’ve got good stock – and perhaps the Bishop has good connections with the heavenly father.”
Here’s another holiday gift suggestion: a spectacular, 4 x 4-foot photo of purple-flamed ‘Insulinde’ tulip in hyper-detail by our good customer David Leaser. If $4200 is more than you were planning to spend (or ask for), no problem. David offers the same incredible image in other sizes for as little as $100.
With their bee’s-eye view of flowers, David’s photos allow you to appreciate details that you’d miss from even a foot away. As he explained to me in a recent email, “I use a special macro technique I developed that marries Nikon to NASA to achieve extreme detail. I am literally layering dozens of photos in a focus stack so the entire flower is focused from front to back, and you can see nearly microscopic detail.”
David’s photos can be found in museums and galleries around the globe, and a collection of eight of his favorites – including ‘Insulinde’ and ‘Estella Rijnveld’ – recently won the Grand Prize for nature photography at the prestigious Moscow International Foto Awards competition.
“If you think daylilies are overused and passè, think again!” writes Stephanie Petersen in the “Editor’s Picks” column of the December Garden Gate. She spotlights eleven unusual varieties that reflect the vast diversity of colors, shapes, heights, and bloom-times found in daylilies, and two of them are ours.
Wildflowery ‘Corky’ – “The upper part of the scape and flower buds on ‘Corky’ are burgundy-bronze,” Stephanie writes, and since the color persists when the small, yellow flowers open, “it gives a delightful contrast.” What’s more, ‘Corky’ “looks more like a wildflower” than most daylilies, with its “slender grass-like foliage and . . . massive flush of flowers that stand high above on thin, wiry stems.”
Extra-tall ‘Challenger’ – This robust variety will “provide you with lots of flowers” which “stay open . . . longer than many daylilies,” Stephanie writes. What really sets it apart, though, is its height: “With scapes up to 6 feet tall, the brick-red spider flowers are held high and perfect in the middle or back of the border.”
These and all of our other heirloom daylilies can be ordered now for April delivery – or you could add them to your Christmas list!
“Well, here’s a cool thing,” our good customer Nancy McDonald emailed us last March. Nancy gardens in zone-5a Grand Marais, Michigan, a mile from Lake Superior, where the annual snowfall averages over 11 feet (yes, 11 feet!).
“Three days ago my snowdrops were covered with more than a foot of snow. Two days ago the snow melted. Yesterday they had little green and white spears sticking up. Today the stems are long enough that the buds are starting to hang over. If it’s warm enough tomorrow, I bet some of them will open. That’s zero to sixty in only three days. Incredible!”
That’s the title of an excellent article by Karen Bussolini in last September’s American Gardener. “The best surprise of the first spring in my new home in Connecticut,” Karen writes, “was a mass of shaggy, fragrant daffodils that bloomed like crazy. . . . They were growing all over the neighborhood, but I couldn’t find them in any of my books or catalogs.” It turned out they were ‘Van Sion’, from 1620, and “twenty-five years later, they’re still going strong.” Bussolini asked experts around the country to recommend other “durable bulbs” like that which “come up every spring [and] bloom with no effort on a gardener’s part,” and many of them were heirlooms:
MOUNTAIN WEST: In zone-9 Tucson, Arizona, Scott Calhoun recommends T. clusiana and white rain lilies. In dry, zone-5b Fort Collins, Colorado, Lauren Springer says “only grape hyacinths and foxtail lilies survive . . . without irrigation,” but with one inch of water a month C. chrysanthus, tommies, and Byzantine glads do well, and if you double that in spring so will species tulips such as T. clusiana. “Most alliums are champs,” too, she adds.
“Did you know some tulips have a fragrance?” garden writer Jean Starr asked at her blog petaltalk-jean.com. “I discovered this a few years ago when I was perusing the Old House Gardens catalog. I ordered ‘Prinses Irene’ first, [and now] it’s one of my favorites. Introduced in 1949, its flower is subtle from a distance, but up close, it’s like a Southwestern sunset. Its deep orange petals feature a bold purple freestyle streak at the center and edges that fade a bit to glowing peachy-gold.”
Last fall Jean planted orange ‘Generaal de Wet’, but she says “orange isn’t enough to describe the color of this tulip. It starts out pale – more of a peach than orange, but just as fragrant as ‘Prinses Irene’. As I went in for a sniff I was rewarded by the sight of delicate striations of shades belonging to the peach family. It’s as if a brush laden with coral, salmon, and the palest apricot were drawn in an outward motion from the center of each petal to its edge.”
Jean also planted fragrant ‘Orange Favorite’, but it was still in bud when she wrote her blog. She wrapped up by saying, “It’s rare to find flowers both beautiful and fragrant. Even half a dozen fragrant tulips planted close at hand (or nose) is well worth enjoying in April.” Take a look at all of our fragrant tulips here – and happy sniffing!
Tulsa Garden Writer Swoons for “Spicy” ‘Madame Sophie’
Our good friend and long-time Tulsa garden writer Russell Studebaker emailed us a few months ago, agitated about a certain double white hyacinth we offer:
“I want to tell you how ticked off I was when I tried to order ‘Madame Sophie’ again from you last fall and you were sold out!
“I LOVE THAT HYACINTH. It has the most spicy and wonderful fragrance of any of the hyacinths that I have grown, and its flowers persisted and lasted so long for me. I cannot image why it has become so endangered and hard to find.
“Since you were sold out so early, I had to go on my search engine and after a great while I did get some out of England, at a premium price. But what the heck, things of beauty and quality are worth the extra cost. Please order more for this fall, and try to find additional growers for that superb hyacinth.”
Some might say it’s wrong to love a plant that much, but we’ve been there, and we understand. Could ‘Madame Sophie’ inspire such passion in your garden-heart? To find out, all you have to do is order a few for planting this fall.
A hand-written letter arrived here earlier this spring from our good customer Carolyn Brown of Creola, Alabama, and it was so joyful and inspiring, we wanted to share it with you:
“How I wish you could see your beauties in my colonial garden,” Carolyn writes. “My breath catches as I gaze upon the beauty. Why so few people here in the South have bulbs, I’ll never understand. As the daffies sway in the wind I’m reminded of Wordsworth’s poem” Daffodils. “How excellent a description it is.
“In your eighties, each day is more joyful than the day before, and the daffodils are prettier each day. I do hope God has daffies in heaven and I can plant acres and acres of them.
“My husband, Bob, has always said vintage roses are his favorite flower. He has around 150 this year. However he said my bulbs are getting to be his favorite, and they are far less work. In fact, he urged me to make this order. I try your smallest amount first and see how they do here, and then I go for a larger amount. I’m going to start on hyacinths next.
“Give your little dog a pat and a rub for me. Keep up your good work, and save as many bulbs as you can. And thank you all for giving an 80+ gal a wonderful life and joy with the beautiful — as my husband calls them – ‘daffy-down-dillies.’
Another Glad Convert: From Childhood Trauma to Summer Smiles
“In my garden? No way.” That’s what our good customer Susan Stauber of Beacon, NY, had to say about glads — until she took a chance on our small-flowered, best-selling ‘Atom’. She writes:
“I grew up in a part of the country where the huge hybrid gladiolus were grown in fields. Great for funeral arrangements and corporate office lobbies, but in my garden? No way.
“But there was something tantalizing about those little ‘Atom’ glads of yours. So I bought a few. And when they bloomed — wow! They made me chuckle every time I saw them.
“So last year, I bought a few more ‘Atom’ and some ‘Lucky Star’. This time I planted them in groups here and there, and I planted the groups at different times so I was smiling at blooms all summer long. (I even dug and stored them successfully last fall.)
“I never could have predicted that I’d be ordering more gladiolus for this year, but I am – ‘Boone’ and ‘Starface’. I can’t wait for the ground to finally defrost so I can plant them. It is possible to recover from childhood traumas.
“P.S. Everyone who walks by wants to know what those wonderful red flowers are. They can’t believe they’re gladiolus!”
“Pack a Vertical Punch” with Unfloppable ‘Autumn Minaret’ Daylily
In the current issue of Fine Gardening magazine, garden designer Troy Marden of Nashville praises one of our most distinctive daylilies in his excellent article “Pack a Vertical Punch.”
“Visitors to my garden always ask about ‘Autumn Minaret’ daylily,” Troy writes, “partly because of its late season of bloom in July, August, and early September [and even later further north] but mostly because of its towering height.
“Its foliage remains in a neat and tidy mound only 2 feet tall and wide, but its bloom stalks rise above almost everything else in the garden, standing at least 6 feet tall. Strong and sturdy, these stalks remain firmly upright and do not flop, bearing a seemingly endless succession of golden flowers for almost two months.”
When our good customer Jane Baldwin of zone-6a Moreland Hills, Ohio, found herself with surplus bulbs late one fall, she improvised an easy solution that ended up delighting her.
“A couple of years ago,” she writes, “I got caught by early snow so I planted the last of my daffodils in baskets. It looked fabulous and I highly recommend this to anyone, even if you’re not in the same predicament. In fact, it’s how I’m planting most of the daffs I ordered from you this fall.
“The baskets were just ones I found in the garage when we moved in. [If you don’t have any in your garage, thrift shops often sell them for a dollar or two.] They were nothing fancy, older and seasoned by years of use, approximately 6 inches deep and 1-3 feet across. I put a few inches of good potting soil in them and then planted the bulbs right smack against one another with their tips just barely covered by the soil. Smaller-flowered varieties such as ‘Thalia’ and ‘Niveth’ went in the smaller baskets and bigger ones such as ‘Beersheeba’ and ‘Carlton’ in the bigger baskets.
“I put them in our attached garage so they would get the necessary cold, and made sure that mice couldn’t get to them. I watered them at first but eventually the soil froze. At the end of winter when it started to thaw, I brought the baskets out on the patio to a sunny spot where they bloomed to perfection. Even though there were only 2-3 inches of soil under the bulbs and they were planted right next to each other, they performed just fine and looked exquisite in the baskets for a good long time. It was really very easy, and even our chipmunks and squirrels left them alone out there.
“At the end of spring I took the bulbs out of the baskets and kept them dry over the summer in the garage. Now they are planted on a hillside along my driveway where they continue to bloom beautifully – and every fall I plant more in baskets.”
Christopher Lloyd grew thousands of plants in his world-famous gardens at Great Dixter, and he evaluated them all with the discriminating eye of an artist. For choosing daylilies that look great in your garden — not just in a catalog close-up — he offered this advice in Christopher Lloyd’s Garden Flowers:
“Don’t be carried away by a single bloom seen out of context....
“While being dazzled by large blooms, remember that small-flowered Hemerocallis are the most prolific. Furthermore, their individual flowers tend to die off discreetly, whereas large-flowered kinds really need dead-heading every morning, to prevent the colony from becoming slovenly....
“As with so many ‘improved’ plants, enlarged flowers are often matched by an increase in leaf size and coarseness. Watch out for this. Then again, the naked flowering stem should present its blooms well above the foliage, this being the graceful effect that gives the flowers style....”
Anne Raver of The New York Times is always worth reading, and we especially liked her recent column “Striking Lilies, Ready for Revival.”
She quotes Scott extensively and writes that Old House Gardens “sold me my first ‘Black Beauty’ bulbs years ago, and they have bloomed from mid-July to early August without fail ever since, in ever-widening clumps.”
She also credits us with introducing her to ‘White Henryi’, “the classic trumpet lily” of ivory and amber, and praises another half-dozen of our heirlooms including the wild Lilium superbum whose “iridescent green throats . . . guide their pollinators – fritillaries and swallowtails – to the nectar inside.”
Read it all – and find out what Scott was talking about when he told her “Don’t print that!”