Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History  •  So Much More Than New
October 2015
Oct
21
2015

Learning from California:
Gardening with 28% Less Water

Congratulations to our friends in California who, faced with what’s been called the drought of a lifetime, have cut their water use by 28% in the first three months of state-mandated reductions.

drought-resistant Byzantine glads – www.OldHouseGardens.com
drought-resistant Byzantine glads

In September, my wife and I saw the drought first-hand while visiting our son and daughter-in-law in San Francisco. Plants drooped, dead leaves littered the sidewalks, and lawns in the city’s parks sported signs proclaiming “Brown is the New Green.”

It’s no wonder our orders from California are down 25% this fall! But bulbs, ironically, are built for drought. Many have evolved in areas where summers are so dry that to survive they have to hide out underground. Tulips, hyacinths, alliums, Byzantine glads, freesia, and oxblood lilies, among others, actually do better with dry summers – although they need some water in fall through winter to develop roots and more in spring to grow leaves and bloom.

In August the Pacific Horticulture Society newsletter offered some excellent tips for xeric gardening, by editor (and OHG customer) Lorene Edwards Forkner:

“Recently I read some great, if somewhat blithe, advice from garden writer Amy Stewart on tending a low/no water garden:

“1. Plant drought tolerant plants.

“2. Wait and see what dies.

“3. Plant more of what didn’t die.

“You can read the entire piece at The No-Water California Garden.

Lorene also recommended “Adventures in Growing” about an American woman “creating a fertile landscape in Saudi Arabia and winning the hearts and minds of its caretakers,” this advice from “the great minds at Flora Grubb Gardens,” and Jeff Moore on the “Generosity of Succulents.”

“Then hit those fall sales,” she concluded, “for a dose of colorful, graphic, and resilient plants that take dry weather in stride” – including our fall-planted bulbs!

Oct
15
2015

Customer Raves: Hooray for Hyacinths

Customer Raves: Hooray for Hyacinths – www.oldhousegardens.com
‘General Kohler’, 1878

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.”

Customer Raves: Hooray for Hyacinths – www.oldhousegardens.com
‘Lady Derby’, 1875

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.”

See for yourself by ordering a few of our awesome hyacinths or our easy Easter Basket sampler now!

Oct
1
2015

Seasonal Tips: Fall Bulb Care

Seasonal Tips: Fall Bulb Care – www.oldhousegardens.com

Besides planting bulbs, there’s a lot more you can do in the fall to make your garden a healthier and more beautiful place – so here’s some seasonal guidance from our always helpful website:

how to clean up iris and peonies NOW to protect them from borers and mildew,

how to dig and store dahlias, glads, tuberoses, crocosmias, rain lilies, and crinums (but only IF you want to!),

how to plant spring-blooming bulbs in outdoor containers,

how to force bulbs indoors for winter bloom.

For even more, check out the 39 other links at our complete Planting and Care page. Or email or call us. We’re here for you!

Oct
1
2015

Earthworms: The Good, the Bad,
and the Latest Research

Earthworms: The Good, the Bad, and the Latest Research

“Why would anyone want to destroy earthworms?” we asked in our July article “Advice from 1683: Killing Earthworm Pests with Tobacco.” In the 1600s it was to keep unsightly worm castings from blemishing gravel paths, but today there’s a different reason.

“In northern parts of the country, earthworms are not native,” our good customer Robin Schachat of Shaker Heights, Ohio, explains. “It’s now thought that the greatest loss of the duff layer in our native forests is due to earthworm infestations, not to deer browsing.”

Although worms can be beneficial in the disturbed and compacted soils of our backyards, since the last glaciers retreated some 14,000 years ago there have been no native worms in the area once covered by them —north of NYC and the Ohio and Missouri rivers, and in the Rockies and parts of Washington — so in those areas forest ecosystems evolved without worms.

Recent research at the University of Minnesota has shown that “without worms, fallen leaves decompose slowly, creating a spongy layer of organic ‘duff.’ This duff layer is the natural growing environment for native woodland wildflowers. . . . Invading earthworms eat the leaves that create the duff layer and are capable of eliminating it completely. Big trees survive, but many young seedlings perish, along with many ferns and wildflowers.”

Although there are native earthworms in unglaciated parts of the country, if you live further north we encourage you to learn more at the Invasive Earthworms page of the Minnesota DNR and at the Great Lakes Earthworm Watch.

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!

Oct
1
2015

Top Award-Winning Daffodils

The results are in, and here are the top award-winning Historic (pre-1940) daffodils in ADS shows across the country this past spring, with links to the ones we offer:

‘Sweetness’ (23 awards), ‘Beryl’ (17), ‘Dreamlight’ (15), ‘Thalia’ (11), ‘Actaea’ (11), ‘Saint Keverne’ (11), ‘Mrs. Langtry’ (8), ‘Geranium’ (8), ‘Hawera’ (7), ‘April Tears’ (6), ‘Erlicheer’ (6), and ‘Trevithian’ (6).

Order yours now and enjoy an award-winning spring in your own backyard!

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