Welcome to Old House Gardens!
We’re proud to be America’s only mail-order source devoted entirely to heirloom bulbs, many available nowhere else, and an international leader in the preservation of these fabulous relics.
Our Mission: Save the Bulbs!
We search the world for great old bulbs that are at risk, we research their histories, we recruit small farmers to grow them (and grow a few ourselves in our Ann Arbor micro-farms), and then we share them with gardeners across America through our mail-order catalog and website. We strive to deliver the very best quality bulbs and to serve our customers so well that they count us as partners and friends.
Our Humble Beginnings
It all started with the ‘Prince of Austria’. Our founder, landscape historian Scott Kunst, had been collecting antique plants for years, and this red-orange tulip was one of his favorites. Dating to 1860, it’s both impressively perennial and deliciously fragrant. When the last North American source dropped it, Scott was dismayed — and motivated. “It was just too great a tulip to let it go extinct,” he says. So in 1993 he mailed his first catalog — three sheets of paper photocopied at Kinko’s — to 500 people. “Strangers sent me hundreds of dollars in the mail,” he still marvels, and Old House Gardens - Heirloom Bulbs was born.
We’re still tiny, but we’ve grown a lot since then. When Scott and Jane’s house in Ann Arbor’s Old West Side historic district got to be too cramped, we renovated the upstairs of their barn-like garage (winning a local preservation award in the process) and moved out there.
As we grew, we also needed more space to propagate bulbs we couldn’t get anywhere else. When we couldn’t find a small farm to move to, we decided to expand our efforts to convert vacant lots and other under-used land in our neighborhood into growing space. Before long, we had dug up, added tons of compost, and planted five urban micro-farms within a few blocks of our office, helping to green the planet while saving more bulbs and growing our business.
Passing the Torch
In 2016 when Scott sadly told his crew he was planning to retire in a year, they came back to him with a proposal to buy the business and keep OHG going. Woo-hoo!
In May 2017 we packed up and moved a few miles away to a historic farmstead at the Washtenaw Food Hub. Located just north of town, the Hub supports small farmers by distributing their crops to local grocery stores, restaurants, and institutions, and by providing workspace for a variety of slow-food and native landscape businesses.
Although people don’t usually eat our bulbs, the Hub’s owners – whose nearby Tantre Farm is one of Michigan’s oldest certified organic farms – see our mission as a good fit for theirs, and we’re excited to be a part of the Hub community. Maybe best of all, moving to the Hub allows us to consolidate our neighborhood micro-farms into one location right outside our office door.
Vanessa Elms, our former VP for Bulbs, is OHG’s enthusiastic new owner, while Scott is helping out as Expert Emeritus and Ambassador for Heirlooms.
Bulbs from America’s Small Farmers
If you order from a catalog based in, say, Virginia, Connecticut, or Wisconsin, you may think you’re getting bulbs grown in those states. But no! Nearly 99% of all bulbs from most other US bulb catalogs are imported from the Netherlands.
Which makes us a bit unique, because virtually all of our peonies, iris, daylilies, and dahlias, 50% of our glads and dahlias, and a third or more of our daffodils and “diverse” come to us from 14 small growers in 10 states. We love working with these men and women in Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and Canada who are as passionate about bulbs, quality, and preservation as we are.
We do get a lot of great bulbs from growers in the Netherlands and England, but by working with American growers, too, we’re able to offer you fresher bulbs, better adapted to US conditions, of varieties you can’t get anywhere else – and together we’re supporting America’s family farms. It may be more complicated and expensive this way, but we think it’s worth it!
Our Incredible Crew
Some of the best people in the world work at Old House Gardens.
Vanessa Elms is our Proud Owner (a Michigan State horticulture grad and foster mom to Shiba Inu dogs).
Rita Bailey is our Operations Manager (Fancy and crafty, everyone should have a mom like Rita.)
Justin Hunt is our IT Guru (He can build or fix anything and is a great dad to his family).
We’re honored to work with many wonderful people who help us during our busy shipping seasons. Our 2021 crew includes: Laura, Amelia, Sue, Ava, Emily, Travis, Zakiah, Annie, Sarah, Darlene, Melissa, Kim and Liam
Scott Kunst has been gardening since he was seven, and he traces his passion for the past to his childhood love of dinosaurs. Exploring the yard of the first old house he bought led to an epiphany: “I found a single white peony and some tiger lilies, and suddenly I realized that it wasn’t just my yard. Gardeners before me had loved it, too.”
Wanting to know more, he ended up getting a masters degree in historic preservation and in 1983 he started helping museum sites and home-owners research and restore their grounds. An avid collector of heirloom plants, Scott launched Old House Gardens - Heirloom Bulbs in 1993.
Scott has taught landscape history at Eastern Michigan University, spearheaded the drive to add historic daffodils to every show of the American Daffodil Society, written articles for numerous magazines, and planted heirloom bulbs on national TV with Martha Stewart.
Our Incredible Customers
We love our customers! Most of them garden in backyards, old and new, that are probably a lot like yours, in all 50 states. Others garden at famous historic and public gardens such as Monticello, Old World Wisconsin, the Denver Botanic Garden, and Alcatraz. Some have never planted bulbs before; many are expert gardeners looking for something a little different. They send us suggestions, complaints (we want to know!), planting tips, bulb stories, photos, old catalogs, books on loan, Christmas cards, boxes of chocolate, and tons of moral support. It’s this far-flung, close-knit village that has made Old House Gardens more than just a dream — and we never forget that.
A Few Highlights from Our Journey
1993: We mail our first catalog, offering 30 bulbs.
1994: Sales triple. We add our first employee.
1995: Garden Design features two full-page photos of our tulips.
1996: Giddy with optimism, Scott leaves teaching for full-time bulb selling.
1997: The leading consumer magazine gives our bulbs their highest rating.
1998: A local high school student helps us launch our website.
1999: Charlie the cat comes to work as our VP for Enjoying Life.
2000: Mount Vernon, the Smithsonian, Mepkin Abbey, and the Denver Botanic Garden grow our bulbs.
2001: The Phipps Conservatory honors us with their annual Flora Award.
2002: Horticulture makes Scott’s ‘Tulips with a Past’ its January cover article, and he plants our bulbs with Martha Stewart on national TV.
2003: Our new email newsletter gains rave reviews and thousands of subscribers.
2004: We offer nearly 50 extra-rare tulips from the Hortus Bulborum, and Scott lectures at the Williamsburg Garden Symposium.
2005: Customer reviews rank us in the top 1% at GardenWatchdog.com, and Traditional Home offers a special collection of our dahlias.
2006: Scott helps judge the New England Flower Show, and we’re featured in Multichannel Merchant, the bible of catalogers.
2007: Gardeners love our easy new Advanced Bulb Search, and Scott lectures at the San Francisco Garden Show and Horticulture’s fall symposia.
2008: We expand our “Save the Bulbs” ark to include heirloom iris, peonies, and daylilies.
2009: Colonial Williamsburg asks us to supply all the bulbs for their historic gardens, and Garden Gate names our website “Top 10.”
2010: GardenWatchdog.com ranks us the #1 source for ALL spring-blooming bulbs, and we plant our fourth urban micro-farm.
2011: After 17 years in Scott and Jane’s house, we move into our new “green” office in the historic barn/garage out back.
2012: Scott plants tuberoses, glads, and dahlias with Martha Stewart, and we kick off our 20th year as America’s premier source for heirloom bulbs.
2014: Scott lectures at Mount Vernon (where many of our bulbs are grown) and Country Gardens publishes a wonderful article about our micro-farms.
2017: Vanessa and crew move Old House Gardens to the Washtenaw Food Hub.
For more OHG history and our catalog covers, see “Our First 20 Years.”