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August 9, 2017

“Gardening is about poetry and fantasy. It is as much an activity of the imagination as of the hands.”

– by “Centipede,” in The Guardian, April 7, 1892

What’s New This Year?

Magnificent, Immortal Peonies

Transylvanian Tuberose Festival

Alexander Hamilton: Bulb Gardener

Beware: Garden Thieves

It’s the first catalog of the NEW Old House Gardens – and the proof we looked at yesterday looks great! (See a larger version of the cover at our Facebook page.)

If all goes well it will be printed and mailed early next week. But since bulk-mail can be slow, it could be three weeks before it reaches you, so . . . .

To start with our FALL-planted bulbs, go to .

To search by color, zone, fragrance, animal-resistance, bloom-time, or ten other criteria, go to .

To see everything that’s NEW or back . . . .

We’re offering 19 bulbs for the very first time this year, and 32 bulbs that weren’t available last year are back again.

6 peonies are new for FALL planting, including double Gold Medal-winning ‘Miss America’ and lavender-tinted ‘Auten’s Pride’, while 4 others are back, including one of my favorite pinks, ‘James R. Mann’.

7 daffodils have returned, including extra-rare ‘Croesus’ (pictured) and quaint little ‘Henry Irving’ which we haven’t offered in over a decade, while sparkling ‘Polar Ice’ is new.

7 tulips are back, including the great ‘Philippe de Comines’ (pictured) and luminous ‘Elsie Eloff’, along with our fabulous Brown Sugar Sampler.

5 iris are new for SPRING planting, including peachy-pink ‘Edward of Windsor’, jewel-toned ‘Senlac’ (pictured), and “landmark” ‘Pinnacle’, while 6 others are back.

4 dahlias are first-time offerings, including Sissinghurst-grown ‘Requiem’ and butterscotch ‘Golden Scepter’ from 1926, while bee-friendly ‘G.F. Hemerik’ has returned from a long hiatus.

5 daylilies are in our line-up again, including wine-dark ‘Black Friar’, and 2 are brand-new: perky ‘Baggette’ and copper-tinted ‘Salmon Sheen’.

There’s more – including “pear-shaped pearl” ‘Atkinsii’ snowdrop (pictured) – but you get the idea. See them all at

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If “a display of great big gorgeous flowers is what you are after,” writes Eleanor Perenyi in her timeless classic Green Thoughts (1981), “herbaceous peonies are my choice.”

Why? Unlike tree peonies, “herbaceous peonies stand straight and tall, don’t hide their heads, and are magnificent for cutting. They aren’t temperamental, deciding, for inscrutable reasons, to withhold their bloom for a year. They are almost immortal, even when hopelessly neglected in the backyards of old farms.” And although “all peonies suffer when a heavy rain hits them,” all they need is “a good shake to revive.”

As for fragrance, “peony scents vary greatly,” Perenyi notes, “from one so like a rose I couldn’t, in the dark, tell the difference, to an acrid sweetness not unlike the lilac’s. The doubles smell better than the singles and the herbaceous better than the tree peonies – to me.”

We’re offering more peonies than ever this fall, including four for the first time and four web-only. The only downside to this abundance is that ‘Shawnee Chief’ (pictured) ended up all alone on the second page at our website. Don’t miss it – it’s superb.

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Tourists poured into the Romanian village of Hoghilag this past weekend for the annual Tuberose Festival.

“Just as France has the lavender fields, Romania has the fields of tuberoses,” explains festival director Claudia-Romana Rista. “With a tradition of over 100 years in growing tuberoses, Hoghilag is called today the Land of Tuberoses.”

Located in the historic Transylvania Highlands, “the largest eco-touristic destination in Romania,” Hoghilag’s tuberose fields produce upwards of 150,000 bloom-stalks per acre. Some are sold as cut-flowers, but most are harvested for use in perfumes where, according to, “no note is more surprisingly carnal, creamier, or contradicting.”

Festival activities include perfume workshops, flower cooking and jewelry-making classes, films, concerts, traditional foods, and a bicycle tour of the tuberose fields. Learn more at and the Hoghilag Facebook page – and to enjoy your own Backyard Tuberose Festival, order a few bulbs now for spring planting!

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At a Sotheby’s auction earlier this year, hundreds of Alexander Hamilton’s papers were sold for just over $2.5 million. The 77 lots offered included “outstanding examples of his political writings, love letters to his future wife, and Hamilton’s appointment as aide-de-camp to General George Washington,” according to an excellent article in the Southern Garden History Society’s Magnolia.

The auction lot I wanted sold for $40,000, double its pre-sale estimate. In it were two pages of notes Hamilton wrote for the gardener at Hamilton Grange, his beloved estate in upper Manhattan, including a sketch he drew for an impressively large flower bed.

Although Hamilton directs his gardener to plant potatoes, get raspberry plants from a neighbor, and repair fences, many of his notes deal with ornamental plants, including American natives. “A few dogwood trees, not large, scattered along the margin of the grove would be very pleasant,” he writes, and “wild roses around the outside of the flower garden with [mountain] laurel at foot.”

Best of all is his plan for a large bed of flower bulbs. “I should be glad if space could be prepared in the center of the flower garden for planting a few tulips, lilies, hyacinths, and [blank],” he writes. “The space should be a circle of which the diameter is eighteen feet: and there should be nine (9) of each sort of flowers.”

Hamilton’s sketch shows twelve clusters of flowers arranged around the outside of the circle. At the 12:00 position are lilies (probably Madonna lilies which had long been the most popular), then tulips, a cluster that’s not labeled, hyacinths, another unlabeled cluster, lilies, tulips, lilies, hyacinths, unlabeled, hyacinths, and tulips.

The unlabeled bulbs are especially intriguing. (What historian doesn’t want to know more about the past?) My best guess is that Hamilton had a specific bulb in mind but didn’t know or couldn’t remember its name – otherwise why not just fill those spots with more tulips, hyacinths, or lilies? And what did he intend for the center of this large bed, and for later in the season when the tulips, hyacinths, and early-summer-blooming Madonna lilies were done?

Although we may never know the answers to those burning questions, we do know this: Alexander Hamilton – immigrant, self-made man, revolutionary leader, financial mastermind, and Founding Father – was a gardener and bulb-lover just like us.

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One of our long-time customers – who asked to remain anonymous – emailed us this sad report after reading our article “The Queen of Garden Antiques” in last month’s newsletter:

“While collecting garden antiques is a wonderful adventure, there is a sad downside. Our garden was burgled last summer with more than 20 garden ornaments taken, many of them antiques.

“Someone had obviously cased the garden and knew what to take. They even went into my greenhouse and potting shed in search of portable items. Alas, I had a photograph of only one of the stolen pieces, taken for a garden tour brochure. Lesson learned. Everything will now be photographed and kept in a file along with all of the receipts, which I do have safely stored.

“Since then I have had a welder bolt some of my smaller urns in place, and though I refuse to consider security cameras, I have hung up signs up that say ‘Smile, you are on camera.’ We keep our six antique iron gates locked, along with the greenhouse and potting shed, and I am like a little old lady walking around with my ring of keys. Not a pleasant way to have to live.

“Forty-plus years of collecting, gone. And I will not be able to – or even want to – start replacing many of these lost treasures. They took a pair of cast-iron tulip urns, for example, that I loved. I saw a similar pair (pictured) offered recently for $4200. Mine were a bit smaller, but when I bought them years ago I probably spent less than $100 each.”

My condolences, friend! And here’s hoping that your heartbreaking story will be a wake-up call for the rest of us.

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