Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History • Living Treasures from the Past
Rethinking (and Raving About) Glads
“How and why does a flower fall out of fashion?” asks Gardenista blogger Michelle Slatalla in what she calls the first of a new series, Rethinking Flowers, devoted to “old garden favorites that deserve a second chance.”
First up – gladiolus! Like many gardeners, Michelle had never grown glads before, but when we sent her a few of our small-flowered and unusual heirlooms (including ‘Atom’ and ‘Boone’, pictured here in her garden), she ended up seeing them in a whole new light.
Glads are “breathtaking,” she writes, and our graceful “heirloom varieties mingle well with other perennials.” In her California garden, for example, Michelle grows them among clumps of lavender whose cool tones perfectly complement the warmer colors of many glads.
For more – including evocative photos from Michelle’s garden and an account of an ultra high-society wedding in 1923 with the bride and her attendants “fairly staggering under the weight of gladiolus” – check out the whole wonderful post at Gardenista.com.
Perennializing vs. Naturalizing: What’s the Difference?
Although the words “naturalize” and “perennialize” are often used interchangeably, their meanings aren’t exactly the same – and it can make a big difference in the garden.
“Perennialize” means the bulbs will behave like perennials, coming back year after year and multiplying under-ground. “Naturalize,” on the other hand, means the bulbs will also multiply by seed, with little or no care, and as a result they usually spread further and faster.
“The experience of one of my neighbors with Siberian squill helped me understand the difference,” wrote Karen Bussolini in the September 2013 issue of The American Gardener.
“For many years, the neighbor divided and replanted clumps of the tiny bulbs in the lawn, trying to create a blooming blue spring carpet. They spread slowly, producing a mass more akin to a bath mat than a carpet, despite having everything they needed – winter cold, good drainage, and dry conditions during dormancy.
“It turns out,” she concluded, “that what they lacked in order to naturalize was enough time for the seed to ripen. Once the family began mowing the lawn later in the season, they seeded abundantly.”
America’s First Peony – and One of Louise Beebe Wilder’s Favorites
The vast majority of the peonies grown today are cultivars of the Asian Paeonia lactiflora, the first of which arrived here from China in the early 1800s causing a sensation.
But long before the lactifloras appeared, the colonists were growing a completely different species, the European P. officinalis, which had been revered as a medicinal herb since ancient times. (Officinalis means “of the [apothecary] shops.”)
Since they bloom a week or two earlier than the lactifloras, the officinalis clan came to be called May-flowering peonies. Double red ‘Rubra Plena’ was the most popular form, especially in the 19th century when it decorated the graves of so many Civil War veterans that it was called the Memorial Day peony.
But times change, and as the Civil War faded in the past and hundreds of exciting new lactiflora peonies were introduced, the old officinalis peonies gradually fell out of fashion.
“Today the May-flowering peony is neglected,” wrote the great American garden writer Louise Beebe Wilder in 1927. Yet “in peaceful old gardens that remain unfretted by changing fashions and modern introductions we are apt to find huge bushes of the old May-flowering peony or “piny” as it is called in country neighborhoods. . . .”
Several officinalis peonies grew in the Maryland garden of Wilder’s childhood. “There was the “old crimson” [‘Rubra Plena’],” she wrote, “which is yet one of my favorite peonies and exhibits almost the richest color that I know. There was a full pink sort that we children called the ‘strawberry-ice-cream peony,’ and there was a loose-petalled white one.” When she later bought an old house and garden in New York, Wilder was “happy to find those sweet and wholesome friends of my childhood growing in the tangled dooryard.”
Ancient, herbal, early-blooming, richly colored, and enduring – why not add P. officinalis‘Rubra Plena’ to your dooryard this fall?
Once a year, Gardens Illustrated asks a horticultural superstar to write an article recommending “100 Plants Every Gardener Should Grow.”
This year they turned to Tom Stuart-Smith, the internationally acclaimed British designer and winner of eight gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show. His wide-ranging list includes trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, annuals, and grasses, along with bulbs – three of which, we’re happy to say, are heirlooms:
Traditional snowdrop (G. nivalis) – “I know there are many excellent cultivars,” Stuart-Smith writes, “but I’m very happy with this. I began at home 25 years ago with a bucketful from my mother’s garden and now there are tens of thousands thanks to regular dividing.”
Pheasant’s-eye narcissus (N. poeticus var. recurvus) – “I saw this familiar pheasant’s eye last spring growing [wild] in the Apennines and my heart missed a beat – and another when I bent to smell the sweet perfume. . . . Very tough and increases gradually even in rough grass.”
‘Black Beauty’ lily – “Magnificent Lilium speciosum hybrid of astounding vigor. Flowers from August to September. Exotic, stylish, and easy.”
The article inspired a wonderful post by our good customer Linda Brazil at her blog Each Little World. In it she mentions that years ago she compiled her own much shorter list of plants she’d never want to be without, and when she looked at it again recently, “I saw that everything on it was still growing in my garden and was a plant I would put on my list again.”
So what plants would be on your list? Would it include snowdrops, pheasant’s-eyes, and ‘Black Beauty’? And if you’re not growing them, why not take an internationally-acclaimed expert’s advice and give them a try?
What is David Culp Growing? Heirloom Tulips at Brandywine Cottage
You may know David Culp as the best-selling author of The Layered Garden and an acclaimed landscape designer, but to us he’s a customer and fellow fan of heirloom bulbs, especially graceful old daffodils and unusual tulips.
David lives in a 1790s farmhouse known as Brandywine Cottage just outside of Philadelphia. His plantings there are especially beautiful in the spring – as a recent article by Janet Loughrey in Garden Design makes abundantly clear.
Although “renowned for his masterful successive plantings and naturalistic style,” Laughrey writes, David is also “an avid collector of rare and unusual plants, including antique and specialty tulips.”
“‘I plant my favorite varieties near the house, in the rock or gravel gardens, or along the road, where they can be displayed more prominently and I can enjoy them up close,’ he says. Unusual patterns, colors, and shapes such as these striped, multicolored, or lily forms get top billing.”
Among the tulips pictured are three of our heirlooms: lily-flowered ‘White Triumphator’ (in the scene above), stiletto-petalled Tulipa acuminata, and ‘The Lizard’, “a highly prized Rembrandt broken form with swirling patterns of rose and creamy yellow.”
Thanks, David, for giving our bulbs such a beautiful home!