Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History • Living Treasures from the Past
Bulbs in Winter: Tips for Forcing, Tips for Storing
FORCING is fun, and end-of-season bulbs are often deeply discounted at local garden centers – so why not try blooming a few indoors this winter? Some are easy enough for children, while others require more finesse. For inspiration and tips, see our Forcing Bulbs How-To page and our Forcing Bulbs newsletter archives.
STORING tender bulbs like dahlias, glads, and tuberoses is even easier (although please remember that it’s also fine to just let them go). For our expert advice, see the “Winter Care” sections throughout our spring-planted Planting and Care page.
Iris by an Artist: The Living Masterpieces of Cedric Morris
Is it too early to think about spring planting?
Not if you want to snag a rhizome or two of ‘Edward of Windsor’, one of the most intriguing iris we’ve ever offered. Some call it soft pink, others pale orange, but either way it’s a light, dreamy pastel color with a surprisingly bright tangerine beard.
Unusual colors are one of the hallmarks of iris bred by British artist Cedric Morris (1889-1982) whose paintings hang today in museums around the world. Morris painted in what has been called “a distinctive and often rather primitive post-Impressionist style,” and for more than 40 years students flocked to the art school he conducted at his home, Benton End, in the English countryside.
Morris developed extensive gardens there, said to be inspired by Monet’s at Giverny, and in the early 1940s he began breeding iris. He eventually registered 45 of the best with the American Iris Society, often with names such as ‘Benton Rubeo’ (named for his pet macaw) and ‘Benton Cordelia’ (winner of the British Dykes Medal in 1955).
Unfortunately almost all of these had disappeared from commerce by the time Sissinghurst’s head gardener Sarah Cook discovered a long-lost label for ‘Benton Nigel’ in the gardens there. After taking early retirement in 2004, Sarah launched a quest to rediscover all of Morris’s iris, and today she’s nurturing some 25 of them as holder of Plant Heritage’s National Collection of Cedric Morris Iris.
Learn more about Morris and his iris here (although please note that the photo labeled ‘Edward of Windsor’ is NOT that iris), view dozens of his paintings here (you may need to be patient as the images load), and if you like what you see, why not order now to enjoy a bit of his incredible floral art in your own backyard!
For example, you’ve probably noticed that seed pods can form on your tulips, lilies, and other bulbs if you don’t deadhead them after flowering – but how do those seeds end up as bulbs six or eight inches underground, without a gardener to plant them there?
The fascinating answer involves contractile roots, blue light, and – for tulips – the evolutionary pressure of marmots.
One caution, though: In an accompanying article, Larry recommends planting tulips a foot deep and says Darwin Hybrid and Viridiflora tulips often return best – but that’s not been our experience. For our tips on how to get your tulips to return and bloom year after year, visit oldhousegardens.com/HowToFall#Tulipa.
A few days after his team won the World Series this fall, Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander (former star of our hometown Detroit Tigers) married super-model Kate Upton in an intimate ceremony in Tuscany – and ‘Café au Lait’ dahlia was there!
At least we think that’s what’s decorating the aisle in this photo the happy couple posted on Instagram. The shape is right, the soft, dreamy color is right, and ‘Café au Lait’ is very much in vogue for weddings. (Although some blooms pictured have open centers, this is common late in the season when there’s less sunlight for petal production.)
To add some All Star/super-model romance to your garden, order ‘Café au Lait’ now for spring delivery!
Workers repaving a street in Grand Rapids, Michigan, this past August were surprised by what they found buried under the layers of old asphalt – wooden paving bricks from over a century ago, many of which were still in perfect shape.
In his 1891 History of the City of Grand Rapids, Albert Baxter explains that “a change in Grand Rapids pavements from cobblestone to wood was made in 1874. The first wood pavements were made of blocks cut from four-inch pine planks set on end upon a gravel bed, . . . making a wood roadway six inches in depth.” Unfortunately the pine decayed after five or six years, so “the next advance was in the use of cedar blocks.” Cedar is naturally rot-resistant, and “the cedar block has proved much the more durable, and is the popular pavement to this day.”
I learned a lot more about the evolution of the city’s streets in Baxter’s book – and the early history of paving in your city was probably similar to it.
“Naturally the first wagon roads to the village,” he writes, followed “paths which the Indians had trod and were correspondingly crooked.” In 1835 the first right-angled streets were laid out and cleared but otherwise unimproved except for “little plank or log bridges across streams and mud holes.”
Further improvements “involved a vast amount of labor and expense.” Although Grand Rapids isn’t especially hilly, some high spots were cut down by as much as 40 feet and the resulting fill dirt used to raise low-lying streets by up to 15 feet – all without the help of mechanized equipment.
The next advance was paving, with Canal Street “macadamized” in 1847. This relatively new process involved layers of crushed stone that, with use, would bind into a solid surface. Unfortunately the mud under Canal Street proved to be too much for the macadam which was soon riddled with “mire holes.”
Next the city tried a few sections of wooden plank road, a “passably good pavement,” before turning to cobblestone in 1856. “Cobble stone well laid on a solid even bed is a good pavement, indefinitely durable,” Baxter writes, but it is “very noisy and hard upon the horses’ feet.”
“During the war period,” he continues, “not much progress was made in paving,” but starting in 1866 some streets were paved with “round stone” – which, as best as I can figure, consisted of smooth, uncrushed stones. (If you know more, please let me know.)
Wooden blocks came next, and “after this little if any stone pavement was laid except along street borders and gutters” – although Baxter does mention recent “experiments” with a brand-new paving material for sidewalks known as “artificial stone or concrete.”
If you’ve read this far, you might enjoy the entire Chapter 50 of Baxter’s History, “Village Roads and City Streets.” As you can probably tell, I found it fascinating.
Heirloom Gardener Spotlights the “Noah of Hyacinths”
Our good friend Alan Shipp and his ark of hyacinths are featured in the fall 2017 issue of Heirloom Gardener magazine.
Editor Rebecca Martin tells the inspiring story of how Alan, a third-generation vegetable farmer, became the world’s leading expert on historic hyacinths and guardian of some 250 rare varieties.
Nine of Alan’s treasures are pictured in the article, and if some of the photos look familiar it’s because you’ve seen them at our website.
As Rebecca writes, shortly after Alan sold his first hyacinths he started exporting bulbs to “Scott Kunst, founder of Old House Gardens, who’s also passionate about saving old cultivars. OldHouseGardens.comis a Michigan mail-order company specializing in heirloom flower bulbs, and the exclusive U.S. dealer for Alan’s hyacinths. ‘There’s nothing like a phone call from Alan, out of the blue, telling me about some exciting new hyacinth he’s found,’ Scott says. ‘It’s like the sun suddenly bursting out of the clouds on a beautiful spring day. He’s truly an inspiration and a world treasure.’”