Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History  •  Living Treasure from the Past
January 2018
Jan
10
2018

Who’s That Growing in My Garden?
David Howard, the Man Behind the Dahlia

With its dark foliage and apricot-orange flowers, ‘David Howard’ is one of our most popular heirloom dahlias.

But who was David Howard?

Back in the late 1950s he was just a British teenager who had always loved plants. Instead of raising hell he was raising dahlias from seed, and – according to a 2004 article in The Telegraph – “one of these, a seedling from Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, was taken up by a visiting nurseryman, who named it ‘David Howard’.” Introduced in 1960, it became “an instant hit with gardeners and it remains one of the best dark-leaved dahlias around” – so good that it’s won the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Howard went on to launch his own nursery in 1969 with £50 in the bank and a half-acre of rented land. In time it grew to be as successful as his namesake dahlia, and today Howard Nurseries Ltd. - which Howard runs with his daughter Christine, pictured here - is one of England’s largest wholesale perennial growers, annually producing over two million plants of some 1500 varieties at their farm in the beautiful Suffolk countryside.

Although Howard has always championed the best of the new, “it’s not just new varieties that attract his eye,” according to The Telegraph. “One firm favorite is a long-established bearded iris called ‘Rajah’ [introduced in 1942], which has rich burgundy falls shot with gold and butter-yellow upper petals.” Howard introduced it to leading garden designers “who have since used it to great effect in several show gardens. Its appeal has filtered down to garden centers” and it’s now a popular iris throughout the UK.

We don’t offer ‘Rajah’ – yet – but you can order ‘David Howard’ right now for planting this spring. Who knows, it may inspire you or a teenager you love to do what David Howard did and follow your garden dreams.

Read January’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.

Jan
4
2018

The First Concrete Sidewalks –
And How Old is Yours?

What was snow shoveling like before sidewalks were made of concrete – and when people walked everywhere? Were wooden walks slipperier, or harder to shovel? And what about dirt walks?

1905 bronze sidewalk marker,
Bloomington, Illinois
1907 concrete stamp, “laid by Jas. Wigginton,” Glencoe, Illinois
“Granitoid Flagging” marker, Westmoreland Place, St. Louis
1909 concrete stamp with street names, Ypsilanti, Michigan

These are some of the questions I got to thinking about after reading Albert Baxter’s History of the City of Grand Rapids published in 1891.

The earliest sidewalks, Baxter writes, were “usually voluntarily laid,” as needed, by property owners. “Generally they were only such as were absolutely necessary to keep the feet of pedestrians out of the mud, often not more than two or three feet wide, of planks laid lengthwise rather loosely on sleepers.” Eventually the city replaced these with walks made of “two-inch pine or hemlock plank, in general laid crosswise on stringers and well spiked down.” Widths ranged from four to eighteen feet, with “those in the residence districts averaging six feet.”

Although there were a few “handsome and solid walks of dressed stone,” Baxter notes that “the stone for these is brought mostly from other states,” which no doubt made it quite expensive. In fact, the city hall had stone sidewalks on only three of its sides.

Baxter ends by mentioning recent “experiments” with “walks of artificial stone or concrete made of cement, sand, and gravel. These are molded in blocks to suit the locality, usually of lengths corresponding with the width of the walk, and six or eight inches in thickness. The molding is done on the spot, and when dry and hardened they are apparently as solid as granite rock This walk is handsome and gives promise of being durable and permanent as stone, judging from the short trial it has had here of only two or three years.”

So how old are your concrete sidewalks? In my neighborhood the oldest date-stamped slabs date from the 1920s, but the oldest I’ve ever seen date from the first decade of the century, including those pictured here.

We’d love to see the oldest sidewalk date-marks you’ve found. Email us a photo or two and we may publish them in a future article. Happy searching – and shoveling!

Read January’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.

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