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May 16, 2018

“Many things grow in the garden that were never sown there.”

– Thomas Fuller, 1608-1661, English preacher, historian, and author

Perennial Companions for Tulips

Manet’s Peony Paintings

Preserving Plants at Home – Together

Despite the bitter cold that forced a week-long delay, our first spring shipping season here at our new place in the country was a good one. We sold a lot of bulbs, and by May 11 every order was out the door. We managed to keep the wildlife from devouring our flowers, and the cold made the early ones last and last.

We hope your spring has been wonderful, too – and, as always, thank you!

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Now there are more reasons than ever to get an early start on your fall order – while spring is still fresh in your mind and before more of our rarest beauties sell out. As of yesterday you can now choose:

5 more “brown” tulips, including ‘Feu Ardent’ and the great ‘James Wild’,

5 more broken tulips, including ‘Black and White’ and sunrise-feathered ‘The Lizard’,

15 more web-only tulips, including tiny ‘Duc van Tol Rose’ and the fragrant beauty that launched OHG, ‘Prince of Austria’,

and last but not least, the rose-scented ‘Philippe Rivoire’ peony.

Remember that (a) supplies of all of these treasures are limited and (b) you can always add to your order later, so why not get it started NOW?

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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!

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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!

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“I belong to that great fraternity whose members garden for love,” the eminent Southern garden writer Elizabeth Lawrence wrote in 1981. “They are called Brothers of the Spade” – a term first used in the 1700s by the great British plant collector Peter Collinson.

“Some own estates, some are directors of botanic gardens, and some have only small back yards,” Lawrence continued, but all are “amateurs in the true sense of the word – they garden for love.” (The Latin root of amateur is amare, to love.)

Together these garden lovers “keep in cultivation many a valuable plant that would otherwise be lost. Among them they preserve a reservoir of plants that could never be collected in any one place, even an institution, for the preservation of plants depends upon individual efforts, and it is only in private gardens, in lonely farm yards, and around deserted houses that certain plants no longer in the trade are found.”

Are you gardening for love? Are you nurturing plants in your garden that have all but disappeared everywhere else? If so, you’re one of us, and we’re proud to be gardening alongside you in the immortal Fellowship of the Spade!

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Late April’s articles included Florida’s “gladiolus capital of the world,” an expert’s favorite Dicentra, tubers that aren’t really tubers, gardening in the comics, and more. You can read all of our back-issues at oldhousegardens.com/NewsletterArchives – and we’re adding the best articles to our blog!

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