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September 21, 2016

“I think the true gardener is the reverent servant of nature, not her truculent, wife-beating master.”

– Reginald Farrer, English plant explorer, 1880-1920

Save 10-25% on 58 Treasures

Don’t Be Afraid of Hyacinths

True vs. “Weeny” Byzantine Glads

$63,000 Antique Flower Pot

Forcing Crocus like Paperwhites

Thanks to “Saint Heirloom”

. . . which means NOW is a great time to order a big boxful of spring beauty!

. . . and you can still ADD to existing fall orders through Friday, Sept. 30,

. . . which is also the deadline for our 5% thank-you DISCOUNT for returning customers.

So woo-hoo – and don’t delay!

When I first ordered bulbs for this fall, I thought this was going to be the last year for Old House Gardens – so I ordered more than usual. A LOT more.

Then my staff decided to keep OHG going – which is awesome! – but it also means that the deluge of “last chance” orders I expected never materialized, so now we have too many bulbs. WAY too many.

Can you help? To make it easier for you to enjoy these amazing beauties, we’ve slashed the prices on 58 of them in our “Oops, I Guess It’s Not Our Last Year” Sale.

Save 10-25% now on:

23 DAFFODILS, including apricot ‘Louise de Coligny’, tiny white ‘Xit’, and lively little ‘Bantam’;

16 TULIPS, including fragrant ‘Generaal de Wet’, lavender-flamed ‘Columbine’, and coffee-brown ‘James Wild’;

8 HYACINTHS, including double ‘Chestnut Flower’ and all 3 of our Roman hyacinths;

8 DIVERSE, including fall-blooming cyclamen and wildflowery Grecian windflower;

2 CROCUS including pink ‘Roseus’;

and 1 awesome LILY, ‘White Henryi’.

So what are you waiting for? Save money AND treat yourself to a big box full of spring beauty by ordering now!

As we celebrate my last year here at OHG, we’re going to be recycling a few nuggets from the past such as this sidebar from our 1995 catalog:

Hyacinths are the most endangered of historic garden bulbs, in part because too many gardeners still stereotype them as “formal” and “stiff.” May I suggest looking at them as “quaint” instead? As the great Philadelphia plantsman John C. Wister wrote in his classic Bulbs for Home Gardens of 1930:

“Few flowers have suffered more unjustly at the hands of the American gardening public – unjustly because they have been banned from countless gardens for no fault of their own, but on account of the revulsion of taste against the circles, half-moons, crescents, stars, and other atrocities that were cut in lawns in bygone days and filled with hyacinths.

“Big or little, white, pink, blue, or yellow, the hyacinth is a lovely flower when used with discretion or restraint. To condemn it for the bad company it kept generations ago is . . . narrow-minded . . . .

“Don’t be afraid of hyacinths. Try them and see how many different garden positions suit them. . . . But don’t be without this early and delightfully fragrant flower.”

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One of the bulbs I’m most proud of helping to preserve and share with gardeners across the country is our true, American-grown, zone-6 hardy Byzantine gladiolus. It’s both spectacular and very hard to find, as our good customer Sharon Beasley of Newcastle, Oklahoma, pointed out recently on Facebook:

“My most exciting purchase is your Byzantine glads. I saw them in a garden years ago and bought some back then [from another source] that turned out to be the weeny ones. They are cute, but once you have seen the real thing, they don’t seem wonderful at all. I finally ordered some from you last fall and got the real beauties. They bloomed this spring and I am so happy I ordered them.

“I don’t think I’ve seen another catalog that carries the big ones. I think the price gives away whether they are the weeny ones or the real thing. Thank you!”

Since Byzantines are FALL-planted only, now is the time to order yours and make yourself happy like Sharon!

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Here’s a flower pot I’d definitely like to have sitting on my favorite plant stand. Arguably “the finest American ceramic flowerpot known,” it recently sold at auction for $63,250.

It’s a salt-glazed stoneware pot just over seven inches tall that was made in Baltimore in the 1820s. What makes it so special is its age (most flower pots from 1820 were broken and lost long ago), its excellent condition (even its saucer has survived), and its unusually elaborate decoration – “an incised and cobalt-highlighted design of birds perched on the stems of a flowering plant” – which raises it to the level of folk art.

As a gardener, I immediately tried to identify the flowers depicted on the pot. They may be purely imaginary, but I think the ones described as daisies may actually be auricula primroses which were much more fashionable in the 1820s. The other, splayed-petal flowers have delicately fringed tips and so may represent pinks, while I’d say the “hanging cluster-shaped blossoms” are simply buds.

Hopefully the pot will end up on display in a museum – and if it’s ever reproduced, I’ll be first in line to buy one. See additional photos and learn more here.

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Here’s a cool idea I stumbled upon recently in a 1957 book called Bulb Growing for Everyone.

I’d seen images like this one in catalogs from the late 1800s and early 1900s, but since all sorts of implausible things are pictured in catalogs old and new, I never gave it much thought. But the well-known Dutch bulb-grower Johan Frederik Christiaan Dix explains how it’s done:

“The receptacles in which we place [crocus] must not be so deep as those required for other bulbs, and they require far more attention insofar that a more gradual transition from a dark, cool place to a light, heated room is necessary.

“They should not be taken out into the light until the noses are fully two inches long and . . . they must on no account be brought into a hot temperature, otherwise the bulbs will shrivel up. So keep them cool until the buds rise from among the leaves. This is the moment to bring them into the room or onto a warm windowsill.

“Most crocuses cannot be expected to flower before the end of January. . . . There is one exception, however, the crocus ‘Vanguard’ which begins to flower as early as New Year’s Day, and even at Christmas.”

We plan to give it a try – with ‘Vanguard’, of course. We’ll start the bulbs as soon as possible because they need months to root and grow, and we’ll store them in the refrigerator to make sure they stay below 48° but above freezing. If you try it, too, please let us know how it goes!

If you’d rather force something easier – from fragrant hyacinths to snake’s-head fritillaries – see our complete how-to at

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Thanks to all of you who’ve emailed, called, or added a note to your order wishing me a happy retirement and thanking me for sharing our special bulbs with you. You’ve brought tears to my eyes and comfort to my heart.

Our long-time friend and supporter Betsy Ginsburg went above and beyond in a post at her blog The Gardener’s Apprentice. She titles it “Saint Heirloom” – although my staff and family will tell you I am far from a saint. Even if you can’t enjoy it as much as I do, Betsy is a superb writer who’s always well worth reading.

Don’t miss the paragraph that starts “I heard about Old House Gardens early on” in which Betsy talks about the “inspiration and solace” she’s found in “the ivory petals of the elegant ‘Beersheba’ daffodil or the tender apricot trumpets” of her “favorite, ‘Mrs. Backhouse’,” and how in the face of tragedy our heirlooms have helped by reminding her of “eternal things – beauty, love, endurance and the endless cycle of the seasons.”

Read it here, and if you like it, type “bulb” or “history” in the search box to find other jewel-like posts to enjoy.

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Every week when we post a current newsletter article to our blog, we also add a few of the best articles from our archives – such as these we posted just this morning:

Tulsa Garden Writer Swoons for “Spicy” ‘Madame Sophie’ (July 2014)

Double Hyacinths Go from Rejects to Super-Stars (Sept. 2010)

Hyacinth History 101 (April 2008)

How to Love Gardening in Winter (March 2011)

Collecting Antique Hyacinth Vases (Dec. 2005)

Or see ALL of our hyacinth posts here.

With close to 15,000 likes, it’s one of the most popular Facebook pages for garden bulbs as well as garden history. (Thank you, all!) See what you’ve been missing at

Early September’s articles included Scott is retiring, ‘Mrs. Langtry’ is not ‘Mrs. Langtry’, favorite bulbs of top UK designers, our tiger lilies at Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, and “Confessions of an Unreformed Bulbaholic.”

You can read all of our back-issues at – and we’re gradually adding the best of them to our blog!

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Please help us “Save the Bulbs!” by forwarding our newsletter to a kindred spirit, garden, museum, or group. Or if a friend sent you this issue, SUBSCRIBE here!

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