Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History  •  Living Treasure from the Past
May 2018
May
23
2018

Art from the Garden: Manet’s Peonies

As the buds on our peonies here in Ann Arbor swell with promise, I’ve been thinking about the great French artist Edouard Manet, whose ground-breaking works helped to launch Impressionism and changed art as we know it forever.

In 1864-65, just after he exhibited his best-known work, the scandalous Luncheon on the Grass, Manet made several paintings of peonies, including Peonies in a Vase on a Stand, pictured here. According to a 1983 exhibition catalog published by the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais in Paris, these works “painted at the peak of his artistic vitality are allegories of vanity . . . [and] the transience of beauty,” as were many of the magnificent Dutch flower paintings of the 1600s.

“Van Gogh was much struck by this painting,” the catalog continues, “and mentions it at a time when he was himself working on a flower series: ‘Do you remember that one day we saw a very extraordinary Manet at the Hôtel Drouot, some huge pink peonies with their green leaves against a light background? As free in the open air and as much a flower as anything could be, and yet painted in a perfectly solid impasto.’”

Unfortunately, although Van Gogh described the peonies as pink, they look white today because the pigments Manet used have deteriorated over time – a problem which has also afflicted several of Van Gogh’s works including Vase with Pink Roses, now at the National Gallery in Washington, DC.

At the time Manet painted this image, peonies were held “in high esteem, recently introduced into Europe and still considered an item of luxury,” which would have made the painting especially appealing to Manet’s “elegant clientele.” More importantly, though, “Manet simply liked peonies. He grew them in his garden at Gennevilliers, and their exuberance . . . was in perfect harmony with his generous and sensuous brushwork.”

See more of Manet’s peony paintings at Google Images – and then garden like the master himself by ordering your own peonies now for delivery this fall!

Read May’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.

May
17
2018

Perennial Companions for Tulips – and ‘Thalia’

Although “tulips on their own can look spectacular,” writes UK garden designer Kristy Ramage in the April 2017 Gardens Illustrated, “I prefer to grow them more sparsely in combination with perennials, where the emerging leaves and a few early flowers are a foil for the shapely heads of the tulips.”

Kristy especially likes growing tulips “through mounds of soft foliage” such as that of columbines, meadow-rue (Thalictrum), Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium), hardy geraniums, and Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’, “a variety of wild chervil whose “ferny, copper-colored foliage . . . tones with the dark tulips and sets off the light tulips beautifully.” (Sadly for us here in zone-6a Ann Arbor, ‘Ravenswing’ is hardy to zone 7 and warmer only.)

She also highly recommends three of our favorite heirlooms for planting with perennials:

‘Apricot Beauty’ tulip – “Named in 1953, this lightly scented, softest salmon-rose tulip is vintage in more ways than one – imagine silk lingerie from the 1920s and you have this Single Early tulip to a tee.”

‘Columbine’ tulip – “Exquisite and rare, a ‘broken’ tulip of the type that was prized by the English florists’ societies of the early 19th century. It opens to a wide cup, displaying black anthers inside.”

‘Thalia’ daffodil – “I wouldn’t be without ‘Thalia’ somewhere in a garden. The form and color of this daffodil is so good it’s impossible not to be charmed. Introduced in 1916, it has been deservedly popular ever since for inter-planting with other bulbs or planting in drifts in a woodland.”

This spring, before your perennials reach their full-size, why not mark a few spots where a handful of tulips or ‘Thalia’ would look fabulous next spring– and then order now to make sure you’ll get them!


‘Apricot Beauty’
‘Columbine’
‘Thalia’

Read May’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.

May
14
2018

Native Dutchman’s Breeches is
Dicentra Expert’s Favorite

In his UK National Collection of Dicentra, Roger Brook grows 30-40 different kinds of bleeding hearts from all over the world. Although we offer just one – Dicentra cucullaria, Dutchman’s breeches – we were happy to read in the May 2018 issue of The English Garden that it’s Roger’s “current favorite.”

Dutchman’s breeches is “a diminutive, early flowering species from mountainous areas of northeastern United States and Canada,” writes author Val Bourne. “It has been grown in Britain since the early 18th century and was thought to have been sent by the Quaker botanist John Bartram (1699-1777) to Philip Miller at the Chelsea Physic Garden.”

“The exaggerated, heart-shaped flowers led the Menominee Indian tribe of Wisconsin to use this plant as a love charm,” Bourne adds. Another common name for it is “stagger weed, alluding to this plant’s toxic effect on livestock and presumably people” – which is good news for gardeners because it means that it’s deer-and squirrel-proof.

Although in his Yorkshire garden Brook says that “wet winters and slugs” make it “difficult to keep in the ground,” in colder gardens here in the US it’s usually easy to grow. In fact, I once dumped out what I thought was a pot of empty soil in a shady spot in my Ann Arbor garden and every spring since then a little colony of Dutchman’s breeches has been blooming and spreading happily there.

To see what a treat this native gem can be in your garden, order it now for fall delivery.

May
8
2018

When is a Tuber Not a Tuber?

pink sprout growing from crown

Although virtually everybody calls them tubers, we recently learned that dahlia tubers aren’t really tubers. In a letter to American Gardener magazine, University of Nebraska horticulture professor Paul Reid explains:

“Once again I write to chide your authors and editorial staff for misapplication of the word ‘tuber.’ It should never be used for referring to the fleshy underground structures of dahlias, sweet potatoes, and probably not for daylilies. . . . They are not tubers!

“Tubers are underground stems, with nodes, internodes, and buds – the ‘eye’ of the potato tuber, for example. Tuberous roots are simply roots that are modified for food storage, but are decidedly not stem tissue.”

He’s right. Dahlia eyes sprout from the crown which connects the stem to the swollen storage roots. If a root breaks off without a piece of the crown, it can never sprout because it has no eyes.

Don’t worry, though. Even the American Dahlia Society calls them tubers, so it’s okay for you do the same. Informal language is often different from scientific language, and if you start calling your dahlias “tuberous roots” you’ll just annoy your friends.

But facts matter, and now you know.

May
2
2018

Laughing in the Garden with Arlo and Janis

Like many of us, my favorite comic-strip couple got back into the garden for the first time recently.

If you like to laugh, I think you’ll enjoy their six-day adventure – and if you’re not as young as you once were, I think you’ll enjoy it even more.

Check out the first day at www.gocomics.com/arloandjanis/2018/04/16, and then click on the right arrow under the strip to continue the fun.

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