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June 14, 2018

“Weather means more when you have a garden. There’s nothing like listening to a shower and thinking how it is soaking in around your green beans.”

– Marcelene Cox, American humorist, author of “Ask Any Woman,” a column in the Ladies’ Home Journal from 1942-1959

How’s that for an ambitious statement? Or should I say an inspiring statement?

Our friends at the Pacific Horticulture Society recently adopted a new motto – “People Connecting with the Power of Gardens” – which encourages us to see gardening as more than pretty flowers and endless weeding. As they explain it, “We believe most of the world’s ills can be solved in a garden, if we nurture landscape literacy and cultivate relationships. It is the whole ecosystem that counts, and people are very much a part of that ecosystem.”

Indeed we are! Thanks, PHS, for reminding us all that what we learn in our gardens and the joy we find there can make the world a better place – if we share it over the garden fence with our neighbors near and far.

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It’s lily season! The martagons are blooming here in our Ann Arbor gardens, along with the last of our iris and masses of peonies. Coral lilies will be next, and then regal lilies, Madonna lilies, and on and on well into August.

To help you decide which of these dramatic flowers to add to your garden, here’s what Swiss lily expert and nurseryman Pontus Wallsten had to say about eight of ours in the January 2018 issue of Gardens Illustrated.

In order of bloom-time:

Coral lily – “This little gem has a spicy fragrance.” (Spring-shipped.)

Regal lily – “By the wall of my house is a small clump of bulbs that have flowered faithfully for the past nine years, filling the summer air with the sweet scent of jasmine, and requiring no particular effort on my part. RHS AGM.”

‘African Queen’ – “Fragrant, vivid-orange flowers in July. Very vigorous and long-lived, it is happy in any well-drained, humus-rich spot in full sun or afternoon shade. RHS AGM.”

‘Golden Splendor’ (pictured) – “A vigorous, fragrant trumpet hybrid. The yellow flowers have a darker, purple reverse, and are held on strong stems. Bulbs will eventually reach the size of a small melon. RHS AGM.”

‘Pink Perfection’ – “A superb trumpet hybrid that produces big, highly fragrant flowers in July. It is very disease-resistant and will thrive in any well-drained spot in full sun or afternoon shade with very little care. RHS AGM”

Henry’s lily – “A vigorous and long-lived species, producing 40 flowers or more, July to August. Best in part shade as color can fade in full sun. Stems can arch towards light, so may need staking. RHS AGM” (Spring-shipped.)

Gold-band lily – “Produces some of the largest, most fragrant flowers of any lily.” (Best in acid soils.)

‘Black Beauty’ (pictured) – “An almost indestructible hybrid with sturdy, bamboo-like stems that can hold more than 50 dark-purple flowers with a green-and-black center. Each peduncle usually produces a secondary bud that opens once the first has finished so flowering lasts for almost two months.”

We hope this helps. Order now for delivery at planting time – and next summer you’ll be raving about them yourself!

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Two of the most unusual tulips we offer are the peppermint-striped T. clusiana, and stiletto-petalled T. acuminata – both of which have been grown and loved by a couple of unusually creative Southern gardeners.

In his 1993 classic The Well-Placed Weed, the celebrated Atlanta-area garden designer Ryan Gainey featured a masterfully harmonious planting combination: T. acuminata alongside American columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) in an informal cottage garden display where the red-and-yellow colors and wispy shapes of the two flowers echo one another perfectly.

A half-century earlier, the great American author Eudora Welty wrote to a friend from her home in Jackson, Mississippi (as quoted in One Writer’s Garden), “Species tulips are hard to get now, but I love them best. You know, the little wild tulips that still have lightness and grace and perfume and the clear delicate colors that I guess all original flowers had. One is clusiana, that you know, the white and red striped tulip with violet blotch. . . . They are all small and sort of bow in the wind and flare up.”

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Appreciation continues to grow for artist and iris breeder Cedric Morris whose peachy-pink ‘Edward of Windsor’ sold out early for us this past spring.

In London, two exhibits of Morris’s work are drawing crowds. His landscape paintings are featured at the Philip Mould Gallery in “Cedric Morris: Beyond the Garden Wall,” while his flower paintings are showcased at the Garden Museum in “Cedric Morris: Artist Plantsman.” The Garden Museum exhibit was accompanied in season by a display of Morris’s iris organized by the celebrated garden designer Dan Pearson.

Prices for Morris’s paintings are also skyrocketing – up 1,500% since 2014 according to a recent article in the London Telegraph. Last fall a couple of his landscapes from David Bowie’s personal art collection sold for over $65,000 each, but that’s small change compared to the prices being fetched by his flower paintings “which have raced ahead, like tulip mania.” The record was set last August by July Flowers and Wood Warblers (pictured here) which a London gallery bought for $223,000 – and which is now being offered for just under $400,000.

Although Morris’s paintings may be beyond the reach of most of us, his ‘Edward of Windsor’ iris is much more affordable. For an email alert when it’s for sale again July 1 (along with the rest of our spring-planted bulbs), simply click the link now in our description of it online.

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Daffodils, tulips, and most other bulbs multiply naturally underground by producing offsets or daughter bulbs. Roman hyacinths do, too, but – after centuries of breeding – traditional garden hyacinths reproduce so slowly this way that bulb growers long ago developed ways to speed up the process. The techniques described below by Liberty Hyde Bailey in his 1896 Nursery Manual would have been familiar to bulb-growers a century earlier and are still standard practice in the Netherlands today.

Bailey starts by explaining that “bulbels are often produced by an injury to the bulb. Growth of stem and leaves is more or less checked and the energy is directed to the formation of minute bulbs.” It’s the bulb’s natural reaction to injury that growers take advantage of in multiplying hyacinths.

“The favorite method is to make two or three deep transverse cuts into the base of the bulb [image 1]. The strongest bulbs should be chosen, and the operation is performed in spring or early summer, when the bulb is taken up.”

In another method, “the bulbs are hollowed out from the underside for half or more of their depth [image 2]. This operation is sometimes performed later in the season than the other, and precaution should be exercised that the bulbs do not become too moist, else they will rot. . . .

“The mutilated bulbs are stored during summer, and are planted in fall or spring. The wounded bulbs produce very little foliage, but at the end of the first season the bulbels will have formed. The bulbels are then separated and planted by themselves in prepared beds.

“Several years are required for the bulbels to mature into flowering bulbs. Some of the strongest ones may produce flowering bulbs in three years, but some of them, especially those obtained from the hollowed bulbs, will not mature short of six years.”

Could you do this at home? Of course – and now’s the time for it. If you do, please share your story (and photos) with us. Good luck, and have fun!

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May’s articles included Manet’s peony paintings, perennial companions for tulips, preserving plants in your own backyard, 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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