Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History  •  So Much More Than New
September 2014
Sep
24
2014

Learning from You:
Pink Surprise Lilies Beyond Zones 6-7

Learning from You: Pink Surprise Lilies Beyond Zones 6-7 – www.OldHouseGardens.com

Thanks to all of you who responded to our query about growing pink surprise lilies, Lycoris squamigera, outside of the narrow range we’d been recommending for them. You gave us lots of great feedback, and here’s the short version of what we learned.

ZONES – Many readers told us they’ve had long-term success with surprise lilies in zones 5b and 8a, and for the past couple of years we’ve been getting our bulbs from a third-generation bulb farm in 8a, so we’ve now expanded our zone recommendations to include zones 5b-8a(8bWC).

SOIL – Although well-drained soils are usually recommended for surprise lilies, several readers say theirs grow just fine in clay soil. Clay is dense, though, which makes it harder for bulbs to multiply, and it holds water longer which can cause bulbs to rot.

WATER – Many readers say they never water their surprise lilies, and that may be a good thing. Like most bulbs, they do best when they’re relatively dry during their summer dormancy. Since many of us water our gardens then, this could be one reason they’re often found surviving in lawns and “neglected” areas that get less watering – though of course they do need water when they’re not dormant, from fall through the end of spring.

Learning from You: Pink Surprise Lilies Beyond Zones 6-7 – www.OldHouseGardens.com

SUN/SHADE – Full sun seems to suit them best, especially the further north they’re planted. But many of our readers said they do well in partial shade, too, especially if it’s from deciduous trees which leaf out later.

PLANTING DEPTH – Some authorities say to plant them with the neck just under the soil surface, but our expert North Carolina grower recommends planting them so they’re covered with 2-4 inches of soil. Since the bulbs we ship are 3-4 inches tall, that means planting them with the base 5-8 inches deep.

LONG WAIT FOR BLOOM – If you dig them from a neighbor’s yard you probably won’t have this problem, but if you plant dry, dormant bulbs you’ll have to be patient. Although most will put up leaves their first spring, sometimes nothing emerges until the spring after that, and they virtually never bloom until their second or even third year.

Thanks again to everyone who helped us “crowd-source” this article! For the longer version, including quotes from customers growing them everywhere from zone-3 Saskatchewan to zone-9 Florida, see our More About Surprise Lilies page.

Sep
24
2014

“Great Bulbs That Last”

“Great Bulbs That Last” – www.OldHouseGardens.com
Van Sion

That’s the title of an excellent article by Karen Bussolini in last September’s American Gardener. “The best surprise of the first spring in my new home in Connecticut,” Karen writes, “was a mass of shaggy, fragrant daffodils that bloomed like crazy. . . . They were growing all over the neighborhood, but I couldn’t find them in any of my books or catalogs.” It turned out they were ‘Van Sion’, from 1620, and “twenty-five years later, they’re still going strong.” Bussolini asked experts around the country to recommend other “durable bulbs” like that which “come up every spring [and] bloom with no effort on a gardener’s part,” and many of them were heirlooms:

NORTHEAST: In addition to ‘Van Sion’, Bussolini recommends daffodils such as ‘Thalia’, and ‘Ice Follies’, as well as tommies, winter aconite, traditional snowdrops, and Tulipa clusiana.

“Great Bulbs That Last” – www.OldHouseGardens.com
Scilla siberica

SOUTH: Scott Ogden in the humid Gulf South notes that “wild narcissus such as N. jonquilla . . . have naturalized in roadside ditches and Lent lilies (N. pseudonarcissus) are taking over old pastures.” Scott also recommends Byzantine glads, crinums, rain lilies, oxblood lilies, and red spider lilies.

MIDWEST: Jill Sellinger of the zone-5b Chicago Botanic Garden says, “Almost all narcissus will perennialize beautifully here,” and Scilla siberica and Spanish bluebells spread eagerly.

MOUNTAIN WEST: In zone-9 Tucson, Arizona, Scott Calhoun recommends T. clusiana and white rain lilies. In dry, zone-5b Fort Collins, Colorado, Lauren Springer says “only grape hyacinths and foxtail lilies survive . . . without irrigation,” but with one inch of water a month C. chrysanthus, tommies, and Byzantine glads do well, and if you double that in spring so will species tulips such as T. clusiana. “Most alliums are champs,” too, she adds.

“Great Bulbs That Last” – www.OldHouseGardens.com
tommies

WEST COAST: Greg Graves in zone-8a Graham, Washington, recommends ‘Thalia’ and pheasant’s-eye daffodils, tommies, snowdrops, snake’s-head fritillaries, and T. clusiana. In zone-10a Encinitas, dry-climate gardening expert Nan Sterman “relies on slim, elegant” Byzantine glads. And on zone-10b Alcatraz, our good customer Shelagh Fritz says that when the Garden Conservancy started restoring the abandoned gardens there, “as soon as the winter rains began, bulbs started popping up,” including Scilla, grape hyacinths, snowflakes, daffodils, and gladiolus.

For more, read the entire article. And then, as Bussolini recommends, “plant some new bulbs that will yield a huge payoff for many years to come.”

Sep
24
2014

Fragrant Tulips? Yes!

General de Wet, 1904 – www.OldHouseGardens.com
General de Wet, 1904
Orange Favorite, 1930 – www.OldHouseGardens.com
Orange Favorite, 1930
Prinses Irene, 1949 – www.OldHouseGardens.com
Prinses Irene, 1949

“Did you know some tulips have a fragrance?” garden writer Jean Starr asked at her blog petaltalk-jean.com. “I discovered this a few years ago when I was perusing the Old House Gardens catalog. I ordered ‘Prinses Irene’ first, [and now] it’s one of my favorites. Introduced in 1949, its flower is subtle from a distance, but up close, it’s like a Southwestern sunset. Its deep orange petals feature a bold purple freestyle streak at the center and edges that fade a bit to glowing peachy-gold.”

Last fall Jean planted orange ‘Generaal de Wet’, but she says “orange isn’t enough to describe the color of this tulip. It starts out pale – more of a peach than orange, but just as fragrant as ‘Prinses Irene’. As I went in for a sniff I was rewarded by the sight of delicate striations of shades belonging to the peach family. It’s as if a brush laden with coral, salmon, and the palest apricot were drawn in an outward motion from the center of each petal to its edge.”

Jean also planted fragrant ‘Orange Favorite’, but it was still in bud when she wrote her blog. She wrapped up by saying, “It’s rare to find flowers both beautiful and fragrant. Even half a dozen fragrant tulips planted close at hand (or nose) is well worth enjoying in April.” Take a look at all of our fragrant tulips here – and happy sniffing!

Sep
24
2014

Mildew on Your Peonies? Act NOW to Control It

Mildew on Your Peonies? Act NOW to Control It – www.OldHouseGardens.com

Although peonies are rarely bothered by pests or diseases, powdery mildew has become a problem in some areas. We first wrote about it in 2012, and expert Don Hollingsworth recently offered his perspective in the APS Bulletin. Don has been growing peonies since the 1930s but he says “it was not until 2014 that I noticed the striking sight of white mildew” on a few of the hundreds of peonies at his farm in Missouri. He searched the web but found no explanation as to “why powdery mildew is only now taking hold on peonies, while it has long been known to affect other commonly grown ornamental plants.”

To control it, Don says “the first line of defense is to clean up and destroy all infected plant parts at season’s end” to prevent spores from overwintering – and earlier is better than later. Instead of waiting until late fall, cut infected plants to the ground and carefully bag and remove all foliage “before the leaves dry up, which is best accomplished well before frost.” Don also offers a recipe for a preventative spray by the Massachusetts Master Gardeners: “In a quart of water add a few drops of liquid dish soap and a teaspoon of baking soda.” That’s similar to the spray we recommended two years ago: Mix 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of horticultural oil (or vegetable oil) in a gallon of water. Spray weekly throughout the spring, using a new mix every time and avoiding overuse to prevent a build-up of salts in the soil.

Sep
3
2014

Wacky Dahlias: Why Did My ‘Nonette’ Bloom Red?

Wacky Dahlias: Why Did My ‘Nonette’ Bloom Red? – www.OldHouseGardens.com
normal, speckled ‘Nonette’.

Dahlias are incredibly diverse, and most of the time that’s a good thing — but not always. Unlike most living things which have two sets of chromosomes, dahlias are octoploids which means they have eight. This wider range of genetic possibilities is the source of their astonishing diversity, but it also creates more opportunities for things to go awry.

Chimeras — named for a mythological beast that was part lion, goat, and snake — are plants in which cells of two different genetic make-ups exist side by side. Many bi-tone, speckled, and other variegated dahlias are chimeras, and the interaction between their genetically different sections or layers is often unstable. ‘Nonette’, for example, is usually an apricot colored dahlia sprinkled with tiny bits of red. Sometimes, though, its flowers are all apricot or all red. (See photos of this and more at our new Wacky Dahlias page.) Most of the time most flowers of a chimera are normal with only a random few that are different, but sometimes the plant changes completely so that all of its flowers are different, and sometimes only one part of a flower goes wacky.

Wacky Dahlias: ‘Little Beeswings’ (sectorial chimera) – www.OldHouseGardens.com
wacky ‘Little Beeswings’

Growing conditions can make a difference, too. Flower colors often change as the weather cools and sunlight diminishes in the fall, and stressful conditions — too much heat or not enough water, sunlight, or nutrients — can sometimes make double flowers bloom with fewer petals.

Most of these changes are only temporary (and often entertaining), but if you have a dahlia that bloomed all wrong this year, please let us know so we can send you a refund, credit, or replacement. And if you have a photo of one of our dahlias gone wacky in your garden, we’d love to see it!

Sep
3
2014

“Best” Blogger Chats with Scott
about Bulbs from Snow to Iris Season

“Best” Blogger Chats with Scott about Bulbs from Snow to Iris Season – www.OldHouseGardens.com
‘Gravetye Giant’ snowflake

Margaret Roach’s AWayToGarden.com was named “Best Overall Blog” at last year’s first-ever Garden Bloggers conference. If you’re not already a devoted reader, why not take a look at Margaret’s recent talk with me about having bulbs in bloom from snow to iris season.

We started with winter aconites (with a great photo of them in Margaret’s garden) and other small, mostly animal-resistant beauties including Turkish glory-of-the-snow (Margaret’s favorite). I did my best to talk her into hyacinths (today’s un-coolest bulb, but awesome), and we touched on fragrant daffodils, tulips, and the very animal-resistant snowflake.

Although it’s not in the written version, if you listen to the podcast of our talk you’ll hear why Margaret says the voles, chipmunks, and rabbits in her garden “never got the memo” about Crocus tommasinianus being animal-resistant. One fall she planted 4000 for a Martha Stewart Living photo shoot but only four survived to bloom in the spring — a painful reminder that animal-resistance ranges from “extremely” to “moderately,” and if they’re hungry enough animals will eat just about anything.

Sep
3
2014

Fragrance in Peonies – Including the Fern-Leaf?

Fragrance in Peonies – Including the Fern-Leaf? – www.OldHouseGardens.com

“Peonies play a significant part in the omnium gatherum of June odors,” Louise Beebe Wilder wrote in her 1932 classic The Fragrant Path. “Peonies do not, of course, all smell alike, and many of them have practically no smell at all. Few of the single kinds are markedly sweet-scented, nor are [most of the red ones]. The purest and most delicious quality of scent is found in the various pale pink varieties [such as ‘Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt’ and deeper-pink ‘Edulis Superba’] and in the white and blush-colored kinds [such as ‘Elsa Sass’].

Beebe also claimed that Paeonia tenuifolia, the fern-leaf peony is fragrant. This surprised me because I’ve grown it for years and never noticed that – so if you’ve sniffed it, please let us know what you found.” Several Paeonia species have fragrant flowers,” she wrote, “among them the little red flowered P. tenuifolia, from the Ukraine called the Adonis peony because of the similarity of its feathery foliage to that of the Adonis. It is a charming little species, suitable for and in harmony with the rock garden as well as for border life. It is the first of its race to bloom and after the flowering is past and seed has matured, the plant dies to the ground and is seen no more until the following spring. So mark well its dwelling that you may not injure it in digging about.”

Sep
3
2014

Rogue Voles Teach
Cornell Scientist about Animal-Resistant Bulbs

Au revoir, vole!

When voles ate bulbs intended for a study on deer-resistance, Cornell University’s Bill Miller made the best of it. In the fall, Miller had potted up the bulbs and put them into cold storage. Unfortunately in spring he discovered that “during the winter, prairie voles had taken up residence in the stacks of crates and had eaten more than 35% of the bulbs. We found two large nests of voles, and the youngsters were quite happy, well fed, and growing fast from their nutritious meals. . . . Of course we were not happy with this, but we used it as an opportunity to learn some things about vole feeding and flower bulbs.” The voles’ favorite bulbs included tulips, crocus, Anemone blanda, and Chionodoxa luciliae, but they avoided those listed below. Deer would, too, Miller points out, since deer and voles are known to have similar tastes.

Hyacinths – “Bulbs were not attacked and shoots were perfect when uncovered. . . . From this we can conclude that hyacinths are pretty immune to attack from voles, and my own experience suggests that deer usually leave hyacinths alone.”

Daffodils – “Voles dug in about 10% of the pots but did not damage the bulb or emerging shoots” – and most gardeners know that daffodils are reliably deer-resistant.

Other bulbs that “experienced little or no damage” included snowdrops, snowflakes, cyclamen, trout lilies, and crown imperial. Others that were “injured but not destroyed” included alliums such as Allium sphaerocephalum (10% damage), winter aconite, and Siberian squill.

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