Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History  •  Living Treasure from the Past
April 2018
Apr
27
2018

When Fort Meyers was
the Gladiolus Capital of the World

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Once upon a time, sunny Fort Myers, Florida, was not just a popular vacation destination, it was also the gladiolus-growing capital of the world, with local farms shipping some 500 million stems a year to florists throughout the US and overseas.

It all started in 1935 when two successive winter freezes in central Florida drove gladiolus growers further south to the Iona area just outside of Fort Myers. Within a decade, 30 growers were cultivating some 2500 acres of glads there.

Gladiolus at the time were hugely popular. Not only were they showy and easy to grow but their long vase life made them the perfect cut-flower. Every year gladiolus societies across the country displayed thousands of spikes in shows that drew tens of thousands of visitors. (See a 1921 glad show here.)

‘Dauntless’, 1940

Harvesting the Fort Myers glads started in November and continued into June. According to one grower’s son, “The glads were cut before they bloomed, so a visit to the gladiolus farm was a view of acres and acres of green stalks with workers walking through the fields and cutting stalks with buds soon to bloom. The goal was for the stalks to bloom in the hands of the florist.”

‘Fidelio’, 1959

Bundled and packed in hampers, the glads were shipped by air and then delivered by a patchwork of local truckers, all in an era before UPS and FedEx. Sometimes they traveled in the climate-controlled trucks of Purolater Courier whose main business was delivering celluloid film reels – which could burst into flames if they got too warm – to movie theaters.

Even in the Fort Myers area, growers sometimes needed to protect their crops from frost. At first they burned old tires to create heat and a protective blanket of smoke. (Don’t try that at home!) Later they turned to oil-fired heaters along with crop dusters to circulate the air over the fields.

Nothing lasts forever, though, and by the 1970s most glads sold in the US were being flown in from overseas where both land and labor were cheaper. One by one the Fort Myers growers sold their fields to developers, and by 1980 the area’s reign as the gladiolus capital of the world was just a memory.

To learn more, read the recent article in the Fort Myers News-Press.

To make your yard the gladiolus capital of your neighborhood, order now for spring-planting!

Apr
18
2018

Gardening at the Sink
with Peony-Scented Dish Soap

Have you ever been excited about dish soap? As head dish-washer at our house, that’s exactly how I felt when I saw peony-scented dish soap at the supermarket recently.

With a vintage vibe and environmentally-friendly ingredients, Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day household products have a gained a national following. The company’s founder named the company for her mother, saying she was inspired to make cleaning products that “smell nice, like my mom’s garden.”

Scents include basil, lavender, and honeysuckle, along with more unusual “limited edition” fragrances such as rhubarb, sunflower, and – the one I plan to try next – radish.

So does the peony-scented soap really smell like peonies? Not to my nose, but it does smell wonderfully flowery and fresh, and I like it a lot. See their full line-up – from air freshener to hand lotion – and find a source near you at MrsMeyers.com.

Apr
11
2018

Searching for the
Lost Daffodils of Reverend Engleheart

You may not know it, but if you love ‘Beersheba’, ‘Lucifer’, or ‘White Lady’, you’re a fan of the Reverend George Engleheart.

One of the greatest daffodil breeders of all time, Engleheart introduced some 700 named varieties starting in 1889. Although most of these have been lost over the years, a brand new National Collection in England is hoping to find and preserve as many as they can.

Engleheart was the vicar of a small country church when he first started breeding daffodils in the 1880s. Once a minor garden flower, daffodils at the time were on the rise, championed as perennial, graceful, and old-fashioned – heirloom, that is! – in contrast to the new, brightly colored exotics that filled Victorian carpet beds.

Engleheart was so devoted to his daffodils that it’s said parishioners would sometimes find a note tacked to the church door reading, “No service today, working with daffodils.” His place in daffodil history was assured in 1898 when he sold three bulbs of his vividly orange-cupped ‘Will Scarlett’ for the equivalent today of over $12,000.

‘Will Scarlett’, 1898

The new National Collection holds just 34 of Engleheart’s 700 daffodils, with another four located but not yet in their hands. To help them find more, the Collection’s Anne Tweddle asked us to spread the word about their project, so that’s what we’re doing.

Of the 34 they grow, we’re offering six for delivery this fall – ‘Bath’s Flame’, ‘Beersheba’, ‘Cassandra’, ‘Firebrand’, ‘Lucifer’, and ‘White Lady’ – and in the past we’ve offered six others that we’ll offer again once our stocks increase – ‘Albatross’, ‘Argent’, ‘Brilliancy’, ‘Horace’, ‘Seagull’, and ‘Will Scarlett’.

For more about Engleheart and the Collection, including a full list of their cultivars and photos of most, go to suffolkplants.org.uk/national-collections/narcissus. For a complete list of his 700 introductions, enter Engleheart in the Hybridizer box at daffseek.org. And if you know where the Collection can find any they don’t already have, Anne would be very happy to hear from you at anne@tweddle1.co.uk.


‘Beersheba’, 1923
‘Firebrand’, 1897
‘White Lady’, 1897
Apr
6
2018

Rita’s Easy Way to Get
Your Dahlias Eyed Up and Sprouting

You don’t have to start your dahlias indoors, but it can be fun – and reassuring you’re new to dahlias. Here’s how our long-time office manager Rita Bailey does it.

Success! Your sprouted
dahlia is now ready to move
to a sunny window.

First of all, if you don’t see any eyes on your tubers when they arrive, don’t worry. This is perfectly normal. And if you do see eyes, you can skip right to step 4.

1. Start a month or even six weeks before your area’s last frost date. Find yours by zip code at almanac.com/gardening/frostdates.

2. For each tuber you’ll need some potting soil, a zip-lock bag, and a clear plastic deli container. Any size is okay as long as the tuber fits, Rita says, since it won’t spend much time in either.

Getting started – a tuber eyes up in a ziplock bag.

3. Put some moist (but not soggy) potting soil in the bag, lay your tuber on it, and close the bag most of the way. Set it someplace warm (room temperature is fine) and bright (but not in direct sun), and keep an eye on it.

4. Within a week or two you’ll see eyes – little purplish or pale bumps like the eyes of a potato – emerging from the crown just below the old stem. Poke a drainage hole in the bottom of the deli container, fill it with damp potting soil, set it on a saucer (or in a shorter deli container, as in the photo above), and plant your eyed-up tuber with the crown covered by about an inch of soil.

Making progress – tiny white feeder roots appear.

5. Keep it warm. Within a week or so, small white roots will begin to show at the sides of the container. Enjoy that sign of progress as you wait for the first sprout to emerge above the soil which, according to Rita, sometimes takes as long as two more weeks.

6. Once you see a sprout, give it as much light as possible and gently shake the container once or twice day to help strengthen the new growth.

7. As your last-frost date approaches, get your dahlia acclimated to outdoor conditions by hardening it off. This means setting it outside for a short period of time every day. Start with an hour or so in a sheltered spot and gradually increase the time and exposure until your plant is tough enough to spend all day in full sun.

8. When it’s hardened off and the last-frost date is past, gently remove it from the container and plant it outside, burying the tuber a little deeper than it was in the container. Water it well and enjoy!

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