Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History  •  So Much More Than New
Read More: Tulips
Jul
5
2016

What is David Culp Growing?
Heirloom Tulips at Brandywine Cottage

What is David Culp Growing? Heirloom Tulips at Brandywine Cottage – www.OldHouseGardens.com

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.”

T. acuminata
‘The Lizard’

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!

Jun
8
2016

2016 Great Plant Picks:
They’re Not Just for Humans

2016 Great Plant Picks: They’re Not Just for Humans – www.OldHouseGardens.com
Tulipa clusiana

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.

“As temperatures warm, bees emerge from their winter slumber looking for nourishment,” Peterson writes, and since “crocus are among the garden’s earliest blooming bulbs,” the GPP list includes several such as C. tommasinianus, ‘Jeanne d’Arc’, ‘King of the Striped’, and ‘Mammoth Yellow’.

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.”

Other Great Plant Picks that we’re offering now for delivery this fall include: extra early-blooming winter aconite, traditional snowdrop, and giant snowdrop, wildflowery Grecian windflower, ‘Gravetye Giant’ snowflake, and sowbread cyclamen, classic ‘Saint Keverne’, ‘Thalia’, and pheasant’s-eye daffodils, and elegant martagon and regal lilies.

Learn more and see the entire list organized into categories such as “Fantastic Foliage,” “Made in the Shade,” and “Plants that Make Scents” at greatplantpicks.org/plantlists/search.

Crocus tommasinianus
‘Thalia’ daffodil
martagon lily
Apr
6
2016

Tour the Instanbul Tulip Festival – from Home

Tour the Instanbul Tulip Festival –  from Home

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.

Tour the Instanbul Tulip Festival –  from Home

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.”

If you can’t get to the Festival in person this spring, treat yourself to a virtual visit at http://howtoistanbul.com/en/istanbul-tulip-festival/5911#prettyPhoto. Click any of the tiny photos at the bottom of the article for a slideshow of many, many more. Enjoy!

Oct
1
2015

JFK’s Tulips – More History and a New Sampler

‘Blue Parrot’ tulip was once grown in the White House Rose Garden! – www.oldhousegardens.com
“For the President’s Garden,” water-color by Bunny Mellon, 1962

We knew that ‘Blue Parrot’ tulips were featured in the redesign of the White House Rose Garden initiated by President Kennedy in 1962 (see “JFK’s Garden”), but thanks to a tip from a friend, we’ve now learned a lot more about that iconic garden – and we’re celebrating with a brand new sampler of five fabulous tulips that bloomed for Kennedy there.

Located just outside the Oval Office, the Rose Garden has a long history, but by Kennedy’s time it was woefully neglected. He re-envisioned it as a flower-filled ceremonial space for welcoming foreign dignitaries, hosting major press conferences, and so on, and he enlisted the remarkable Bunny Mellon to turn his vision into reality.

‘Mariette’, from 1942.

Mellon was a philanthropist, art collector, and avid amateur gardener. Her redesign featured an open lawn surrounded by boxwood-edged flower beds and four great saucer magnolias transplanted from the Tidal Basin. Kennedy was intimately involved in the development of the garden and, having read Thomas Jefferson’s garden diary, urged Mellon to include plants in it that Jefferson grew. “It was truly President Kennedy’s garden,” Mellon said later. “His concern for its growth and well-being was never ending.”

See photos and learn more about the Rose Garden’s long history at the White House Historical Association’s website or – for even more – treat yourself to a copy of the summer 2015 issue of White House History which is devoted to the topic.

And now with our brand-new “Springtime in Camelot” sampler, you can enjoy five of the tulips that bloomed in Kennedy’s garden. We’ll send you three bulbs each of lavender ‘Blue Parrot’, dark maroon ‘Black Parrot’, flamingo-pink ‘Fantasy’, rose-pink ‘Mariette’, and ‘White Triumphator’, all for just $25. No matter what your politics, this beautiful sampler deserves your vote!

Sep
9
2015

Tulips Gone Wild:
Florentines in Yorkshire and Sweden

Tulips Gone Wild: Florentines in Yorkshire and Sweden – www.OldHouseGardens.com
‘Florentine’ tulip, by Pawal Muranski

Although it’s a graceful wildflower with a long history in gardens, the Florentine tulip (T. sylvestris) is also a bit weedy, spreading by underground stolons to produce new plants that can take years to bloom. Two articles in the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society newsletter gave me a deeper appreciation for both its history and its vigor.

Linda Chapman explains that the Florentine is “a tetraploid (having double the number of chromosomes) which may account for its vigor. It is not native to the UK but is naturalized here, though how it arrived is not known. It could have come with the Romans” or much later with “Flemish, Walloon, or French refugees from 1540 onwards.”

When Linda went searching for Florentines where they’d been reported in the past, she found almost none – until she visited a protected “Site of Special Scientific Interest” in Yorkshire. There along the banks of the River Nidd “there were tulips as far as we could see, literally hundreds of them. It was a truly remarkable sight.”

In a second article, Anita Irehoim writes about the Florentine in Sweden. “Olof Rudbeck the Elder (1630-1702) established the first botanical garden in Sweden at Uppsala and grew the ‘yellow tulip from Bologna’” – an early name for the Florentine tulip. (Florence and Bologna are 50 miles apart.) By 1744 it was naturalized in Sweden, and today it’s still foundespecially in grass areas in old gardens and parks but also in forest edges and along [roadside] verges.” Anita says “the best way of getting flowers is to disturb the soil. Dig and turn the soil upside down! It makes some sense since it is . . . a weed of the vineyards.”

Olof Rudbeck’s son was also a botanist, and “one of his best known students was Carl Linnaeus, the man who devised our system of plant nomenclature.” Today Linnaeus’s summer house is a museum and “sanctuary for surviving Linnaean plants. Of the 900 varieties he may have had in the garden, only about 40 remain today – one of which is T. sylvestris.”

Aug
5
2015

JFK’s Garden and ‘Blue Parrot’ Tulips

JFK’s Garden and ‘Blue Parrot’ Tulips – www.oldhousegardens.com

‘Blue Parrot’ — one of the seven tulips we’re offering for the first time this fall — once played a leading role in the White House Rose Garden. According to a 1963 LIFE magazine article titled “JFK’s New Garden,” the “once rundown” space outside the Oval Office was bulldozed and replanted as a “traditional 18th-century garden” with a lawn for presidential receptions.

“And the master gardener is none other than urban oriented J.F.K. himself,” the article continues. “While Jackie toils at renovation in the White House, the President happily shows visitors around the great outdoors of the flower beds. ‘Isn’t this garden terrific?’ he glows. ‘And you know, you’re only allowed to stand in one spot on the grass for two minutes.’”

The garden was designed by Bunny (Mrs. Paul) Mellon, a good friend of the First Lady who went on to spend the rest of her long life — she died last year at the age of 103 — gardening, designing gardens, and collecting rare garden books at her Virginia estate, Oak Spring Farms.

The article includes color photos and a partial plan of the garden where “visitors now parade amid a panoply of Blue Parrots, santolina, Oriental Splendor, Queen of Sheba, Yellow Cheerfulness, periwinkle, and Shot Silk nourished by seven gardeners working diligently under the President’s very eye.” See it all here.

Jun
11
2015

Sissinghurst Gardener Blogs about Top Tulips & Us

Sissinghurst Gardener Blogs about Top Tulips & Us

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!

Mar
4
2015

Old Masters Remixed:
The Floral Still Lifes of Bas Meeuws

Old Masters Remixed: The Floral Art of Bas Meeuws
Untitled #73, 2012, basmeeuws.com

If you’d love to own one of those sumptuous flower paintings from Rembrandt’s era filled with striped tulips, cabbage roses, and other exquisite blooms, but their multi-million dollar price tag is beyond your budget, take a look at the astonishing art of Dutch photographer Bas Meeuws.

With his digital camera and hours of painstaking work in Photoshop, Meeuws creates images that both mimic the centuries-old masterpieces and yet are strikingly new. Like the original artists, he starts by creating images of individual flowers — and insects, snails, and so on — and then later draws from this digital stockpile to assemble his bouquets. By the time he’s done composing, manipulating shadows, erasing cut lines, and so on, he may spend as much as 60 to 100 hours on a single work.

Meeuws’ bouquets feature many of the spectacular broken tulips we offer from the Hortus Bulborum. When the original paintings were created in the 1600s, these tulips — and many of the other flowers depicted in them — were so new and rare that it was actually cheaper to buy a painting of them than the flowers themselves. In his photographs, Meeuws says he tries to evoke the feelings that “people looking at the picture then would have had, the awe that they must have felt for all the expensive and exotic flowers.” Take a look and I think you’ll agree that he’s accomplished that remarkably well.

Dec
2
2014

Photos of Our Tulips Win Moscow Grand Prize

Photos of Our Tulips Win Moscow Grand Prize – www.OldHouseGardens.com

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.

See his photos of ‘Insulinde’, ‘Estella Rijnveld’, and ‘Bridesmaid’, and learn more at DavidLeaser.com.

Oct
16
2014

Organic Bulbs: Dutch Farmers Growing Greener

Organic Bulbs: Dutch Farmers Growing Greener

I was surprised to see tulips instead of something edible on the cover of this month’s Organic Gardening. Inside, our friend Marty Ross explores the growing movement to adopt greener practices in the Dutch bulb fields – with several comments from our long-time Dutch friend and supplier Carlos van der Veek.

“Tulips represent 50% of the billions of flower bulbs grown every year in the Netherlands,” Marty writes. “At present, only a small percentage of them are grown organically. . . . But in Holland, attitudes and practices have begun to change.” Wilbrord Braakman, a leader in the movement, “has been growing bulbs organically for about 25 years. In the best years, his harvest exceeds that of conventional growing methods, he says. Braakman also teaches classes for growers who are interested in limiting their use of pesticides and in improving their soil.”

“Conventional growers are following the organic trend with considerable interest,” Marty adds, quoting our friend Carlos van der Veek. “‘I have open eyes to use as few chemicals as possible,’ and most growers feel the same way, Van der Veek says. The growers who follow completely organic practices ‘are true pioneers, and hopefully they will find ways of better growing which can be used by the whole industry.’”

As Braakman says at the end of the article, “We, the farmers, have it in our hands.” Read the whole article here.

Sep
24
2014

Fragrant Tulips? Yes!

General de Wet, 1904 – www.OldHouseGardens.com
General de Wet, 1904
Orange Favorite, 1930 – www.OldHouseGardens.com
Orange Favorite, 1930
Prinses Irene, 1949 – www.OldHouseGardens.com
Prinses Irene, 1949

“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!

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