Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History  •  So Much More Than New
March 2014
Mar
7
2014

French vs. English Jonquils:
Did “Early Louisiana” Get its Start in New Orleans?

French vs. English Jonquils: Did “Early Louisiana” Get its Start in New Orleans? – www.OldHouseGardens.com

Our heirloom “Early Louisiana” jonquils are a wonderfully fragrant, unusually vigorous form of N. jonquilla that blooms weeks earlier than the ones sold by mainstream sources – but why? An intriguing answer to that question was offered in the March 2012 Daffodil Journal by the late Carl Amason, a founder of the Arkansas Daffodil Society and a great mentor for me when I first got interested in old daffodils 30 years ago.

Carl lived on the old family homestead in southern Arkansas, and four very old daffodils flourished there: Buttercups (his name for the original trumpet daffodil, aka Lent lily), Butter and Eggs, Twin Sisters, and jonquils – which he described as “a strain of Narcissus jonquilla which was vigorous, prolific to self sow,” and had a fragrance that would “make a statement, especially by moonlight on a warm night.”

But, he wrote, “I was frequently asked why some jonquil plantings were much earlier and more vigorous than others.” At first he “assumed that the more vigorous . . . were growing in established places with good soil and more sun.” Later he realized “there were two or more distinct strains of N. jonquilla, and that was the primary reason for the differences.”

The earlier-blooming strain was what he “came to call the French jonquil, to distinguish it from the English jonquil that bloomed a month later.” This strong-growing French strain “has become naturalized in north Louisiana, south Arkansas, and east Texas,” he wrote, but it’s not as common further east where the less vigorous strain “that came with the English speaking peoples from Virginia and the Carolinas” predominates. “Evidently,” he concluded, “the New Orleans settlers brought the earlier French strain upriver to Arkansas and east Texas.”

Native to Spain and Portugal, N. jonquilla has been naturalized in the nearby south of France for a very long time. Like many wild plants, it’s a highly variable species, and it’s reasonable to believe that centuries ago earlier-blooming strains were favored by gardeners along the sunny Mediterranean in France, while later-blooming strains were preferred in the more northerly British Isles – and the bulb fields of the Netherlands – where spring comes later and early flowers would be more likely to be damaged by late frosts. Carl’s French/English dichotomy also helps to explain why virtually all modern hybrid jonquils are later blooming. As he wrote, “The English strain was what the hybridizers, mostly British, used in their work because it was only natural for them to use what was readily available.”

“This is all speculation on my part,” he added, but his conclusions make sense to me. Today the English strain is widely offered by mainstream bulb-sellers, but if you want the vigorous, early-blooming, richly fragrant, heirloom French strain – grown for us in east Texas – we’d be glad to help you out!

Mar
7
2014

Blog of the Month:
Margaret Roach Talks Heirlooms with Scott

Blog of the Month: Margaret Roach Talks Heirlooms with Scott – www.OldHouseGardens.com

If you’re not reading Margaret Roach’s A Way to Garden, you’re missing something special. Margaret’s combination of what she calls “horticultural how-to and woo-woo” have made hers one of the most popular garden blogs.

And Margaret appreciates the pleasures of the past. In 2007 she left her job as Editorial Director of Martha Stewart Living and moved to an old farmhouse in rural New York that she’s been restoring and filling with all sorts of beautiful things, from antique typewriters to pressed seaweed. (Take a peek at apartmenttherapy.com.)

So naturally I was thrilled when Margaret asked me to talk with her recently about heirloom bulbs, especially dahlias. You can listen to the podcast of our 24-minute chat anytime you want, or read the condensed version of it at her blog.

She starts by calling me “Mr. Heirloom Bulb himself” – which I’m pretty sure she meant as a compliment – and then asks me to explain my “anthropological passion for these exceptional plants,” how my definition of heirlooms has changed over the past 30 years, why I like growing dahlias, and more. In the course of our talk I learned that she “particularly loves” dark-leaved dahlias such as ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ and that her favorite antique iris is ‘Gracchus’.

Margaret’s pantry/garden room.

There’s a lot of excellent how-to at Margaret’s blog, and unusual plants, and recipes, and even frogs, but her greatest strength, I’d say, is that she enjoys exploring the deeper connections and meaning in gardening, nature, and life. One recent example is her heart-felt remembrance of Jack, the cat who walked out of the woods and into her life on 9/11. If you’re an animal lover, especially, you won’t want to miss it.

Mar
7
2014

Bulbs in Pots: Our New Page
of Tips for Tuberoses, Rain Lilies, and More

Bulbs in Pots: Our New Page of Tips for Tuberoses, Rain Lilies, and More – www.OldHouseGardens.com

Every summer we decorate our front porch with pots of fragrant tuberoses and little pink rain lilies, while out in the back yard we tuck pots of glads in among the perennials to provide exclamation points of color.

You can, too! Most spring-planted bulbs are easy to grow in containers, and you’ll find everything you need to know at our newly expanded “Bulbs in Pots” page.

Read it now and get ready for a summer filled with beauty, fragrance, and fun.

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