Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History • Living Treasures from the Past
Bulb Protection from the Dollar Store
Although some bulbs are rarely bothered by animals (see our complete list here), others are quite tasty.
“Trying to garden in the mountains of Colorado is no easy task. Some plants may be deer or rabbit resistant, but voles and pocket gophers don’t care what kind of roots they eat.
“To protect plant roots from these burrowing critters, I buy wire baskets from the dollar store and sink them into the ground, leaving an inch or two above the soil to prevent voles from coming in over the top. I then plant the root-ball inside the basket, backfilling with soil to the appropriate level. The basket rim can be hidden with mulch if your plant doesn’t cover it.
“Wire baskets can also be turned upside down and secured with U-shaped pins to protect new seedlings from rabbits and chipmunks.”
Revamped SGHS Website Offers Historic Plant and Garden Riches
You don’t have to be a Southerner to appreciate the Southern Garden History Society, and a recent makeover has made its website better than ever.
The site is now filled with photos and antique images, and it’s user-friendly on all devices. Back issues of its excellent journal Magnolia are now searchable, and there’s an events calendar, dozens of book reviews, and links to historic sites and organizations.
Maybe best of all is the “Plant Lists” section, a fully searchable PDF of 50 Southern plant lists spanning two centuries, from a 1734 list of plants in the correspondence of John Custis of Williamsburg to a 1922-41 list of plants Beatrix Farrand specified for Dumbarton Oaks (including winter aconite, trillium, and lemon lily).
One of my favorite lists is a 1786 newspaper advertisement for Philadelphia’s “Peter Crouwells and Co., Gardeners and Florists” announcing that “they have for sale here” – in Alexandria, Virginia – “an extensive variety of the most rare bulbous flowers, roots and seed,” including 600 hyacinths, 400 tulips, 40 double narcissus, and 26 jonquils. “Those ladies and gentlemen who want any of the above articles,” the ad continues, “will please to apply immediately at his lodgings at Mr. John Gretter’s, King Street, as he intends to set off for Baltimore in a few days.”
Can Landscape Cloth Turn ALL Glads into Perennials?
Here in zone-6a Michigan we leave our Byzantine, ‘Boone’ (pictured), and ‘Carolina Primrose’ glads in the ground every winter and they come back and bloom the next year just like any other perennial.
But wouldn’t it be great if ALL glads were that hardy? A recent article in the NAGC journal Glad World makes me think that might just be possible.
In his always excellent “Talk Radio” column, Cliff Hartline says that glad grower Bert Blanton “is noted for NOT digging his glads yearly,” even though he lives in zone-6b Missouri. Bert used to protect his glads in winter with a thick mulch of straw, but he says it “always blew around and I was constantly replacing it.”
So three years ago he tried landscape cloth instead, and it worked so well that he’s been using it ever since.
“I plant my rows six feet apart,” he says, “and cover my aisles and rows with landscape cloth, putting the seams right over the rows.” He pegs it down with wire landscape-cloth pins (also called sod staples), and then rolls it back in the spring.
The only problem? After three years of no digging, “I now have jillions of flowers,” Bert says. “I have about 20 spikes to a foot, and the rows have expanded themselves to 15 inches wide. I am getting so many spikes, it is more than I can sell at the Farmers Market or give away. My spikes are larger than anyone else’s, so I sell them for $2.00 each.”
We’re going to experiment with Bert’s technique this winter, even though our gardens are half a zone colder than his. If you try it, too, please let us know how it works for you and we’ll share our results here.
If you love Old House Gardens – or heirlooms, or even just bulbs – here’s a recent blog-post and a radio interview that I hope you’ll enjoy:
Pull Up a Chair is the very personal and poetic blog of our good customer Barbara Mahany who launched it after nearly 30 years of writing for the Chicago Tribune. In “Bulb Therapy” she talks of “the healing balms of the trowel” and bulbs that “will rise and reach for the light” whispering “‘here’s your reward for believing’ or ‘here’s what you get when you hold onto hope.”
Cultivating Place is the public radio program of our long-time customer Jennifer Jewell of northern California. Every week since February, Jennifer has been exploring the central role gardening plays in human culture, much like art, music, and literature.
As we celebrate my last year here at OHG, we’re going to be recycling a few nuggets from the past such as this sidebar from our 1995 catalog:
Hyacinths are the most endangered of historic garden bulbs, in part because too many gardeners still stereotype them as “formal” and “stiff.” May I suggest looking at them as “quaint” instead? As the great Philadelphia plantsman John C. Wister wrote in his classic Bulbs for Home Gardens of 1930:
“Few flowers have suffered more unjustly at the hands of the American gardening public – unjustly because they have been banned from countless gardens for no fault of their own, but on account of the revulsion of taste against the circles, half-moons, crescents, stars, and other atrocities that were cut in lawns in bygone days and filled with hyacinths.
“Big or little, white, pink, blue, or yellow, the hyacinth is a lovely flower when used with discretion or restraint. To condemn it for the bad company it kept generations ago is . . . narrow-minded . . . .
“Don’t be afraid of hyacinths. Try them and see how many different garden positions suit them. . . . But don’t be without this early and delightfully fragrant flower.”
Thanks to all of you who’ve emailed, called, or added a note to your order wishing me a happy retirement and thanking me for sharing our special bulbs with you. You’ve brought tears to my eyes and comfort to my heart.
Our long-time friend and supporter Betsy Ginsburg went above and beyond in a post at her wonderful blog The Gardener’s Apprentice. She titles it “Saint Heirloom” – although my staff and family will tell you I am far from a saint. Even if you can’t enjoy it as much as I do, Betsy is a great writer and always well worth reading.
Don’t miss the paragraph that starts “I heard about Old House Gardens early on” in which Betsy talks about the “inspiration and solace” she’s found in “the ivory petals of the elegant ‘Beersheba’ daffodil or the tender apricot trumpets” of her “favorite, ‘Mrs. Backhouse’,” and how in the face of tragedy our heirlooms have helped by reminding her of “eternal things – beauty, love, endurance and the endless cycle of the seasons.”
Read it all here, and if you like it, type “bulb” or “history” in Betsy’s search box to find other jewel-like posts to enjoy.