News From and About Us
From America’s Expert Source for Heirloom Flower Bulbs
Here’s a wealth of OHG NEWS from our email Gazette and past catalogs, starting with the most recently published. For other topics, please see our main Newsletter Archives page.
To subscribe to our FREE email newsletter, click here.
The last two days of May here were filled with excitement and dust as we packed up and moved to our new home at a historic farmstead just three miles away.
After 24 years of working out of Scott and Jane’s old house and barn near downtown Ann Arbor, OHG is now headquartered in this even older house 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 as well as providing workspace for slow-food businesses such as Locavorious and The Brinery.
Although most people don’t eat our bulbs, the Hub’s owners – whose nearby Tantre Farm is one of the state’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 will allow us to consolidate our five Ann Arbor micro-farms into one location right outside our office door.
While Vanessa and the crew were settling in at the new place, Scott celebrated his first day of retirement by not shaving, eating pancakes for breakfast, buying a couple of new plants, and – since he’s only 80% retired – working on this newsletter. Life is good! (June 2017)
From Christmas tree ornaments to one of my favorite childhood books, Julia Polentes tells the OHG story in the March-April issue of the American Horticultural Society’s American Gardener. As an avid reader ever since I joined the Society in 1989, it’s a special pleasure to be profiled in “AHS Members Making a Difference.”
Julia starts with me comparing heirloom bulbs to the ornaments on our family Christmas tree which are “pretty to other people, but there’s a deeper beauty for us” because they have “so much more personal meaning.” She talks about my “epiphany” when I realized that historic plants can be found all around us if you know what you’re looking for, and my efforts since 1993 to preserve “the best bulbs of the past in order to enrich gardens today.”
Now that I’m retiring, Julia notes that I’m appreciating more than ever “the far-flung, world-wide village of people who have helped turn this dream into a reality.” As in Stone Soup, one of my favorite books as a kid, what we’ve accomplished together is “way bigger and better than what any of us could have done alone.”
For more, you can check out the entire article at our website. (April 2017)
After Scott retires this May, Old House Gardens is going to need a new place to call home. We’re looking to buy (a) a small house with (b) a couple of acres that’s (c) in Washtenaw County and (d) south or west of Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti, with ideally (e) 800 square feet or more of garage, pole barn, or barn.
We’re working with a realtor, but if you know of something like this that might be available but isn’t on the market yet, please contact us at 734-995-1486 or email@example.com. Thanks! (Feb. 2017)
As you can see in this snapshot, I‘ve been fascinated with flowers for a long time.
When I was seven, my dad helped me plant my first garden, and although I soon learned that weeding is an endless chore, I was thrilled when I harvested my first radishes and I‘ve been gardening ever since.
Eventually my love of plants led me to launch Old House Gardens, and now that I‘m retiring in May, we printed a short history of me and OHG on page 48 of our catalog. Even better is the clickable version we posted online yesterday, with links to the “welcome” letter from our very first catalog, our dramatic 1996 debut in Garden Design, our friends at the Hortus Bulborum, me planting bulbs with Martha Stewart, and more.
I hope you‘ll enjoy it – and then please help us continue the story! (Nov. 2016)
If you love Old House Gardens – or heirlooms, or even just bulbs – here’s a recent blog-post and a radio interview that you may enjoy:
Pull Up a Chair is the very personal and poetic blog of our good customer Barbara Mahany who launched it after nearly 30 years of writing for the Chicago Tribune. In “Bulb Therapy” she talks of “the healing balms of the trowel” and bulbs that “will rise and reach for the light” whispering “‘here’s your reward for believing’ or ‘here’s what you get when you hold onto hope.” Barbara also has some kind words about us and our heirlooms, which she calls “the breathtakingest bulbs on the planet.” Read it all at https://pullupachair.org/2016/09/30/bulb-therapy/ .
Cultivating Place is the public radio program of our long-time customer Jennifer Jewell of northern California. Every week since February, Jennifer has been exploring the central role gardening plays in human culture, much like art, music, and literature. On the first day of fall we had a great time talking about my childhood love of dinosaurs, our first gardens, why I launched OHG, great bulbs saved and lost, and more. It’s a very pleasant half-hour (if I do say so myself), and you can listen to it now at http://mynspr.org/post/heirloom-bulbs-scott-kunst-old-house-gardens-ann-arbor-mi. (Oct. 2016)
I was 30 years old when I started lecturing on landscape history, and 40 when I mailed my first tiny catalog of heirloom bulbs. Now I’ve become an heirloom myself, and next May after we wrap up our 24th year of shipping, I’ll be retiring.
I hate to leave you – and my crew, our growers, and the bulbs themselves. But time rushes on and my wife, who has sacrificed a lot to help me pursue this dream, has been patiently waiting for me to join her in the joys of a hard-earned rest.
But it’s not the end of Old House Gardens! Recognizing that our “Save the Bulbs” mission is unique and important, and loving our customers like I do, my office staff asked if they could buy OHG and keep it going, and I happily agreed.
It won’t be easy, but Kathy, Rita, Vanessa, Mike, and Justin are enormously talented, our shipping and micro-farm crews are awesome, and I’ll be sticking around to help them a bit, so I’m optimistic that they can make it work.
Will there be changes? Yes, and I’m excited to see what they might be. What will never change, though, is OHG’s commitment to preserving the best of the past, to delivering bulbs of the highest quality, and to treating you like a friend.
Old House Gardens would never have made it this far without the support of thousands of gardeners like you. Season after season since 1993 you’ve “crowd-funded” our mission and showered us with kind words and encouragement. Please be as good to the new owners as you have been to me.
Finally, from the bottom of my heart, thank you – and let’s have a wonderful last year together! (Sept. 2016)
Unfortunately we recently discovered that the daffodil we’ve sold for many years as ‘Mrs. Langtry’ is actually some other unknown daffodil.
Our NOT ‘Mrs. Langtry’ (photo on right) came to us from one of Holland’s leading experts on historic bulbs, and as you can see it looks a lot like the TRUE ‘Mrs. Langtry’ (photo on left). It’s definitely a very old daffodil, probably from the late 1800s.
However, the cup of the true ‘Mrs. Langtry’ opens a pale, creamy yellow and then matures to what the official RHS/ADS description calls “yellowish white, with canary yellow at rim.” The cup of the NOT ‘Mrs. Langtry’, on the other hand, starts out a richer yellow and never quite gets to “yellowish white.”
We’ve already contacted everyone who ordered ‘Mrs. Langtry’ and offered a refund. We’ve also posted an EXPANDED version of this article at our website so you can learn more. Please share it and help us spread the word about this mix-up.
And here’s some happier news: Breeder William Backhouse apparently named ‘Mrs. Langtry’ not for Lillie Langtry, the scandalous Victorian actress, but for the wife of one of his gardeners who was also, more importantly, his family’s beloved housekeeper. (Sept. 2016)
You may know David Culp as the best-selling author of The Layered Garden and an acclaimed landscape designer, but to us he’s a customer and fellow fan of heirloom bulbs, especially graceful old daffodils and unusual tulips.
David lives in a 1790s farmhouse known as Brandywine Cottage just outside of Philadelphia. His plantings there are especially beautiful in the spring – as an article by Janet Loughrey in a recent issue of Garden Design made abundantly clear.
Although “renowned for his masterful successive plantings and naturalistic style,” Laughrey writes, David is also “an avid collector of rare and unusual plants, including antique and specialty tulips. ‘I plant my favorite varieties near the house, in the rock or gravel gardens, or along the road, where they can be displayed more prominently and I can enjoy them up close,’ he says. Unusual patterns, colors, and shapes such as these striped, multicolored, or lily forms get top billing.”
Among the tulips pictured are three of our heirlooms: lily-flowered ‘White Triumphator’, stiletto-petalled Tulipa acuminata, and ‘The Lizard’, “a highly prized Rembrandt broken form with swirling patterns of rose and creamy yellow.”
Thanks, David, for giving our bulbs such a beautiful home! (Nov. 2016)
“Rather than planting big-box-store flowers this spring, why not raise storied heirloom varieties that yield bragging rights as well as beauty?” So asks Bart Ziegler of the Wall Street Journal in a Feb. 20-21 article titled “Petals with Provenance.”
“Heirloom vegetables have been the rage for more than a decade,” Ziegler continues, “with foodies cooing over zebra-striped tomatoes and blue potatoes. But a lesser-known category of historic plants has its own devoted following: heirloom flowers.”
Illustrated with a big color photo that includes our catalog and even a few of our gladiolus corms, the article quotes experts from Monticello, Old Sturbridge Village, and Longwood Gardens, along with yours truly and our good customer Alicia Guy.
“Cooking-school manager Alicia Guy, who grows antique dahlias at her home outside Seattle, said of doing so, ‘It makes me feel like I have a connection with gardeners from 100 years ago that transcends technological change,’” Ziegler writes. Alicia “likes knowing her great-great grandmother might have cared for the same flowers,” including ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, a “summer showstopper.”
“The bragging rights historic plants give gardeners are well-founded,” Ziegler continues. “You can grow the same tulips planted in the White House Rose Garden when it was redesigned for President John F. Kennedy, in 1962; the variety of tuberoses Louis XIV enjoyed at Versailles; or the diminutive Silver Bells daffodils that author Eudora Welty tended in her Mississippi yard in the 1930s. All are available through Old House Gardens.”
“Raising heirloom plants,” he adds, “yields more than beauty: You ensure their survival. Catalogs from the . . . early 1800s offered hundreds of varieties of hyacinths, said Scott Kunst, founder and owner of Old House Gardens,” while today “most purveyors sell a half-dozen or so.”
The article ends with a call to action that you’ve probably heard from me before: “Heirloom flowers can’t be conserved in a museum like historic documents or antique furniture. ‘The only way to save them is to grow them,’ Mr. Kunst said.” (March 2016)
“Why don’t you do a blog?” Our newsletter has 24,000 subscribers, and our Facebook page has 13,000 likes, but a lot of people kept asking us this — so this morning we launched one!
Instead of being filled with all new information, our blog will be simply an alternative way to enjoy what we’re already delivering in our newsletter. Here’s how they’ll differ:
NEWSLETTER — As you know, we email this once every month or so. It usually includes 3-5 informational articles along with alerts about newly available bulbs, special offers, and sales. Starting with this issue we’re also going to display one photograph in most articles. If you want to see more photos you’ll have to click links — or subscribe to our blog!
BLOG — Once a week, we’ll post one or two of the informational articles from our most recent newsletter, with all photos displayed right in the post. You’ll need to click links, though, to see our alerts about sales and so on, as well as our monthly garden quotation.
Basically the decision comes down to whether you prefer to get weekly, bite-sized bits or a monthly buffet of good stuff to read. The choice is yours, and we hope one of our options will suit you perfectly.
Warm someone you love all winter long with our unique, dream-inspiring gift certificates. We’ve decked them out in red and white for the holidays — and now you can deliver them instantly!
Holiday Colors — Decorated with photos of red and white flowered heirlooms, the brand-new holiday version of our gift certificate is merry and bright. Take a peek here.
Print Your Own — Can’t wait for the mail? Now you can print your own gift certificate and deliver it in person. Or if you need it even quicker . . . .
Email Delivery — Last-minute shoppers rejoice! No matter how late it is, now you can deliver your gift certificate instantly by email. That’s even faster than by flying reindeer. (Dec. 2015)
Every now and then a customer tells us, “Don’t send me any of your ‘Rarest’ bulbs because I’m not a great gardener and I’m afraid I’ll kill them.”
We appreciate that concern, but
(a) even our rarest bulbs are tough and adaptable — they’re survivors, not fragile antiques,
(b) even if they don’t last forever in your garden, when fellow gardeners see them and you talk about how awesome they are, you’re building support for heirlooms, and
(c) as long as people keep buying them, the farmers who grow them for us have a reason to keep growing them.
It’s like heirloom vegetables. As best-selling novelist Barbara Kingsolver explains in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, “You can’t save the whales by eating whales, but paradoxically, you can help save rare, domesticated foods by eating them. They’re kept alive by gardeners who have a taste for them, and farmers who know they’ll be able to sell them.”
So don’t worry about killing our precious heirlooms. It’s actually pretty hard to do, and even if a couple of them die, you’re still helping to preserve them! (Sept. 2015)
On the front you’ll see “red,” white, and blue hyacinths from the 1903 catalog of John Lewis Childs of Floral Park, NY, and on the back there’s a painterly image of dahlias in a blue vase from Childs’ 1888 catalog. Enjoy them both here. (Aug. 2015)
Now it’s easier than ever to pin images from our website to your Pinterest pages. When you hover your cursor over any of our photos or antique images, a “Pin it” button will appear. Click it and you’re done. Have fun! (Aug. 2015)
Grown in gardens since 1600, Madonna lily is still a superstar — or at least our recent photo of it in bloom here with larkspur and poppies prompted so many likes (1,854) and shares (5,246) that almost 400,000 people have seen it so far. Yes, 400,000! And that’s a global fan-base — appreciative comments were posted in Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Finnish, Thai, and Filipino.
Enjoy it yourself at Facebook.com/HeirloomBulbs — and to make sure you see our next big hit there, check “Follow” under the “Liked” button near the top of our page. Thank you, and happy gardening! (July 2015)
We got a nice email last month from a gardener at England’s famous Sissinghurst Castle Garden. “I thought you might like to know that your nursery was mentioned in our Gardeners’ Blog this week,” wrote Helen Champion. “Thank you for creating such an interesting website. I find your in-depth information about heritage bulbs an excellent reference.”
In her post titled “My Top 5 . . . Tulips,” Helen ranks pink ‘Clara Butt’ #1. Introduced in 1889 and named for a world famous singer, “it flowers in the Rose Garden and is reliably perennial, having grown at Sissinghurst for many years,” she writes. “It’s hard to imagine a singer in today’s world putting up with a name like Clara Butt when she could be Madonna, Beyonce, or Lady Gaga but . . . Clara was immensely popular.”
Clara’s tulip was, too, “but fashions move on,” Helen writes, and “by 2007 only one grower produced ‘Clara Butt’ commercially and it is likely that the tulip would have been lost forever were it not for the efforts of Scott Kunst from Old House Gardens in the USA. He bought the remaining stock of ‘Clara Butt’ and sent 100 bulbs to Holland to be propagated. Now the future of this bulb is secure.”
Tulip #3 on Helen’s list is another wonderful old heirloom we offer, ‘Prinses Irene’, which she says has “historically been grown in the copper pot in the Cottage Garden, where the flame colored flowers sit in perfect contrast to the blue-green patina of the copper.”
Going enthusiastically beyond her Top 5, Helen recommends 20 other great tulips such as ‘Greuze’ which is grown today in Sissinghurst’s Purple Border. Read about them all. And thank you, Helen! (June 2015)
We still have some of our 2014-15 catalogs left, and instead of recycling them we’d be happy to send you 10, 25, 50, or more to share with your garden club, Master Gardeners, historical society, neighborhood association, public garden volunteers, museum staff, or any other group you think would appreciate our heirlooms. Email Kathy@oldhousegardens.com with your name and address, the group’s name, and how many catalogs you want, and we’ll mail them right out. Don’t be shy — please help spread the word about our bulbs! (June 2015)
Since 2009 we’ve been proudly supplying all of the bulbs that Colonial Williamsburg plants throughout the 300 acres of its world-famous historic village. If you haven’t seen them blooming there, we highly recommend you add “visit Williamsburg in spring” to your bucket list. It’s really something.
This spring our tulips also graced the cover and a four-page photo spread in Colonial Williamsburg: The Journal of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. “The tulips arrive from Old House Gardens, a supplier of heirloom flower bulbs, during October’s first week,” the article begins. “They are planted anew each season to ensure that the displays in Historic Area gardens are spectacular. More than 20,000 tulips are planted, usually around November 1. More than 14,000 bulbs of other kinds – narcissus, anemones, alliums, hyacinths, and others – go into the ground as well.”
To enjoy the photos, start at the cover (which may load slowly) and then enter 28 in the page-number box at the bottom of the screen. Although we don’t offer most of the tulips in the photos to home gardeners, you can order the stiletto-petalled Tulipa acuminata (on page 31) and all the rest of our fabulous tulips NOW at last fall’s prices – and enjoy a bit of Colonial Williamsburg in your own back yard next spring. (May 2015)
The whole world loves heirloom bulbs. Or at least gardeners in 51 different countries are reading our newsletter. How cool is that?
In addition to 22,983 subscribers here in the US, we also have 87 readers in garden-loving Japan, 61 in nearby Canada, 55 in France (Quelle surprise!), 42 in Great Britain, 35 in the Netherlands, 18 in Mexico, 16 in India, and 11 in Germany – even though we virtually never ship bulbs outside the US.
And that’s just the beginning. We also have 8 readers in Grenada (where the total population is barely over 100,000), 7 in Argentina and Costa Rica, 6 in Italy and Saint Lucia (which is halfway between Puerto Rico and Venezuela, in case you can’t quite place it), 5 in Australia, New Zealand, and Belize, 4 in Switzerland and Turkey, and 3 in Israel, Sweden, and the Czech Republic.
Last but not least, we also have at least one savvy reader in Afghanistan, the Bahamas, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Chile, China, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, Guatemala, Guinea, Hungary, Jamaica, Kenya, Myanmar, Norway, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Russia, Tanzania, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Wherever YOU are reading this today, we’re glad you’re here! (April 2015)
Happy news! Our younger son David Kunst and his long-time sweetheart Emily Selleck of St. Petersburg are getting married in May. Adding to the excitement, the wedding is in St. John, Virgin Islands, and I can’t wait to explore the plants and gardens there. Then in June the newlyweds are moving from Chicago to San Francisco. Although they’ll be a lot farther away from us there, my wife Jane and I keep reminding ourselves how much fun we’ll have visiting them. (April 2015)
When our Facebook page recently reached 10,000 likes, we threw a party! For 10,000 minutes starting on March 16 we offered free bulbs to anyone who’d ordered from us for this spring, and 251 customers happily snapped up almost 900 ‘Atom’ glads, tuberoses, and “surprise me” bulbs. Seven lucky fans won $50 gift certificates, too.
But what about you? If you missed our week-long celebration, it could be that Facebook has stopped showing you some of our posts because they think you’re not that interested. To see all of our future posts, simply go to Facebook.com/HeirloomBulbs and show you’re interested by either (a) making sure you’ve checked “Follow” in the drop-down menu under “Liked” near the top of the page, or (b) liking, commenting on, or sharing one of our posts every now and then.
Our cozy community of heirloom flower-lovers now numbers 10,269, and we’re grateful for every one of you! (April 2015)
Ta-da! Our newly upgraded website debuted last week, and although none of the changes are earth-shaking, we think you’ll find it’s faster, easier to use, and better than ever.
Better Basket — As requested, you’ll now have photos in your basket, so you can see exactly what you’re ordering. Quick Order is there, too, and if you want to take a break while shopping, no problem. Return within 24 hours and everything will still be waiting for you.
Easier Second Orders — We’ll also hold your contact info (but not credit card info) for 24 hours, so it’s faster to place additional orders for a different season, gifts, or whatever.
Zone Assistance — When you first click to order a bulb, we’ll ask for your planting zip code. Then whenever you try to order something that’s not right for your hardiness zone, we’ll warn you. You can also search our site by half-zone now — for example 6a or 6b — to get a more precise list of bulbs for your climate.
Sortability — Click the column headings now in any of our bulb charts and they’ll sort by height, season, date, and so on. You can also sort our store pages by price or date, and choose how many bulbs to display on a page.
And that’s not all, but we’ll let you discover the rest on your own. Many of these improvements were prompted by suggestions from our customers — thank you! Please keep giving us your feedback, especially if you run into a glitch or inconvenience at our new site. We may not be Amazon, but we always want to serve you better. (March 2015)
In the three and a half years since we launched our Facebook page, our happy group of fellow gardeners there has grown to 9726 — and we’re grateful for every one of you! Sometime in the next month or so we expect to welcome our 10,000th “like,” and when we do we’re going to celebrate with discounts, gift certificates, and free bulbs. If you haven’t visited our page yet (or lately), we hope you’ll come take a look and follow us as we look forward to this milestone and, even better, SPRING! (Feb. 2015)
“If you think daylilies are overused and passè, think again!” writes Stephanie Petersen in the “Editor’s Picks” column of the December Garden Gate. She spotlights eleven unusual varieties that reflect the vast diversity of colors, shapes, heights, and bloom-times found in daylilies, and two of them are ours.
Wildflowery ‘Corky’ — “The upper part of the scape and flower buds on ‘Corky’ are burgundy-bronze,” Stephanie writes, and since the color persists when the small, yellow flowers open, “it gives a delightful contrast.” What’s more, ‘Corky’ “looks more like a wildflower” than most daylilies, with its “slender grass-like foliage and . . . massive flush of flowers that stand high above on thin, wiry stems.”
Extra-tall ‘Challenger’ — This robust variety will “provide you with lots of flowers” which “stay open . . . longer than many daylilies,” Stephanie writes. What really sets it apart, though, is its height: “With scapes up to 6 feet tall, the brick-red spider flowers are held high and perfect in the middle or back of the border.”
These and all of our other heirloom daylilies can be ordered now for April delivery — or you could add them to your Christmas list! (Dec. 2014)
Here’s another holiday gift suggestion: a spectacular, 4 x 4-foot photo of purple-flamed ‘Insulinde’ tulip in hyper-detail by our good customer David Leaser. If $4200 is more than you were planning to spend (or ask for), no problem. David offers the same incredible image in other sizes for as little as $100.
With their bee’s-eye view of flowers, David’s photos allow you to appreciate details that you’d miss from even a foot away. As he explained to me in a recent email, “I use a special macro technique I developed that marries Nikon to NASA to achieve extreme detail. I am literally layering dozens of photos in a focus stack so the entire flower is focused from front to back, and you can see nearly microscopic detail.”
David’s photos can be found in museums and galleries around the globe, and a collection of eight of his favorites — including ‘Insulinde’ and ‘Estella Rijnveld’ — recently won the Grand Prize for nature photography at the prestigious Moscow International Foto Awards competition.
I’d been waiting for the fall issue of the reborn Garden Design magazine ever since one of my favorite writers, Jenny Andrews, interviewed me this past summer for an article about less-familiar but amazing bulbs. When it arrived last week I was happy to see that six of her “18 Stunning and Offbeat Bulbs” are heirlooms we offer: hardy Byzantine gladiolus (which Jenny says “has kept its graceful, wild look, in contrast to its frou-frou cousins”), Tulipa clusiana (a “perennial tulip” that “requires fewer chilling hours to bloom” than most), red spider lily (with “its sparklers of coral-red . . . in the golden glow of early autumn”, Formosa lily (which, alas, we can’t supply this fall due to crop failure), and two of our spring-planted glads: ‘Boone’ (“a treasured plant I’ve carried with me as I’ve moved”) and ‘Atom’ (“a small glad with giant impact”). To see them all, subscribe at gardendesign.com. (late Sept. 2014)
Margaret Roach’s AWayToGarden.com was named “Best Overall Blog” at last year’s first-ever Garden Bloggers conference. If you’re not already a devoted reader, why not take a look at Margaret’s recent talk with me about having bulbs in bloom from snow to iris season. We started with winter aconites (with a great photo of them in Margaret’s garden) and other small, mostly animal-resistant beauties including Turkish glory-of-the-snow (Margaret’s favorite). I did my best to talk her into hyacinths (today’s un-coolest bulb, but awesome), and we touched on fragrant daffodils, tulips, and the very animal-resistant snowflake.
Although it’s not in the written version, if you listen to the podcast of our talk you’ll hear why Margaret says the voles, chipmunks, and rabbits in her garden “never got the memo” about Crocus tommasinianus being animal-resistant. One fall she planted 4000 for a Martha Stewart Living photo shoot but only four survived to bloom in the spring — a painful reminder that animal-resistance ranges from “extremely” to “moderately,” and if they’re hungry enough animals will eat just about anything. (Sept. 2014)
Good news! We’re saving money with the post office’s Priority Mail Regional Rate boxes, and we’re passing the savings on to you. Justin, our awesome new VP for IT, did a state-by-state analysis of all of last year’s orders, comparing what we charged and what we paid for shipping them, and as a result we’ve reduced most of our rates. Customers in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, and Wisconsin, for example, will now pay a dollar less for any order under $200, and just 5% on larger orders. Customers in 37 other states will save $.50 to $1.50 on most orders, and those in Alaska and Hawaii will save a lot more. The only rates we’ve had to increase are those for orders under $80 to Colorado, California, Oregon, and Washington — sorry, friends! — and at least we managed to keep those to a dollar or less.
We hope this makes sense and seems fair. We may not be Amazon, but we don’t think anyone should pay more than it actually costs for the convenience of home delivery. (Aug. 2014)
The daffodils gracing our new cover first appeared on the Sutton and Sons bulb catalog of 1890. Founded in Reading, England, in 1806, Suttons went on to become one of the world’s largest and best-known seed companies, and it’s still flourishing today. We first saw its 1890 cover image on a Christmas card from our friend Alan Shipp of the UK National Hyacinth Collection. “I thought you’d like this,” he wrote, and we did. Months later when we still hadn’t found an image from an American catalog cover that we liked as well, we asked Suttons for permission to use it. Happily they agreed, and we’re grateful for their generosity! They emailed us a scan of the original, and Mike and I went to work on it in Photoshop. You can read what we did and see the transformation here. We hope you enjoy it. (Aug. 2014)
The new Historic Ann Arbor: An Architectural Guide includes histories of some 375 structures, ranging from cobblestone farmhouses to U of M’s iconic football stadium — and there in the middle of it all is our old house. “This wonderful example of the Queen Anne style was built in 1889 by Louis and Lydia Betz,” the write-up begins, and it goes on to note our “double front gables with sunburst designs” and “the wonderful Arts and Crafts-style stone porch” added in the early 1900s. “The home has been lovingly maintained,” the final paragraph reads, “by Scott Kunst and Jane Raymond, who run the internationally famous Old House Gardens from here. . . . Their adaptive reuse of the barn as a business space received an award from the Historic District Commission in 2011.”
Thanks to authors Susan Weinberg and Patrick McCauley for this fascinating and thoroughly researched book that helps us look beyond the outer beauty of so many of Ann Arbor’s historic buildings to see the people and events that shaped them. I’ve been using it to plot new walks with Toby, and we’re both having a lot of fun. For your own copy, visit nicolasbooks.com/book/9780991346608. (Aug. 2014)
We’re sorry for any inconvenience it causes, but we recently cancelled our fax line. The number of orders we receive by fax had dropped to roughly one per month, so when a power surge (or aliens) blew out the fax modem in our copier, we reconsidered the $50/month we were paying AT&T for that line and decided it was time to do without this once essential technology. (Aug. 2014)
As we told you last month, our Ann Arbor micro-farms are featured in the Summer 2014 issue of Country Gardens magazine which is hitting newsstands this week. What we didn’t know then, since we hadn’t seen the entire magazine yet, is that editor James Baggett had some very kind words to say about us in his editor’s letter at the front of the magazine:
“We talk a lot about farmer’s markets,” he writes, “and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), urban gardens and handcrafted food. Something that doesn’t get talked about all that much is the changing face of the American farmer. It turns out there are some pretty wonderful folks out there taking up the reins with skill and intelligence. Their enthusiasm is infectious. My friend Scott Kunst is one of those people. Twenty years ago, he started selling heirloom bulbs out of his 1889 Queen Anne home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (He named his new venture, appropriately enough, Old House Gardens.) But a few years ago, Scott and his crew realized they needed to grow some of the bulbs in their mail-order catalog. . . . So Scott starting turning neglected lots around town into microfarms, where today old-fashioned varieties of bearded iris and daylilies bloom their heads off in empty backyards and alongside railroad tracks. Not only do these microfarms beautify the streets of Ann Arbor, they also provide nectar and cover for wildlife. Check out our story . . . and join our celebration of this new generation of sustainable farmers. . . .” (May 2014)
Boy, are we excited! The upcoming issue of Country Gardens magazine features a wonderful article about us and our urban micro-farms. It starts with a big, gorgeous bouquet of our iris, daylilies, peonies, and Byzantine glads, and other photos show us sitting on our old-house porch (with Toby squirming to get off my lap) and weeding our micro-fields. The text by Anne Raver tells the story of how we’ve turned neglected spaces in our downtown neighborhood into a patchwork farm for heirloom bulbs. Country Gardens’ editor James Baggett — who lives in a charming early-1900s bungalow in Des Moines &mdash is a long-time supporter of OHG, and we had a lot of fun with him and his crew when they visited us here last year for the photo shoot. (Thanks, James, Karla, and all!)
See the bouquet at our website, and then look for “Saving Heirloom Bulbs” in the Summer 2014 issue of Country Gardens, in mailboxes and on newsstands in early May — or subscribe here for just $10 a year! (late April 2014)
One of our most enthusiastic customers is potter Frances Palmer of Connecticut whose hand-made tableware and vases are regularly featured in national magazines such as House Beautiful, Vogue, and Martha Stewart Living. It’s not her pottery, though, that’s featured in the May issue of Living but her beautiful vegetable garden — which, we’re proud to say, includes several of our dahlias. Look closely and you’ll see ‘Wisconsin Red’, ‘Old Gold’, and ‘Madame Stappers’ growing there, and another photo shows ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ and ‘Nellie Broomhead’ tucked into a couple of Frances’s tiny vases. Best of all, though, is a full-page shot that includes a large, informal bouquet with ‘Deuil du Roi Albert’ and ‘Princesse de Suede’ front and center. See that bouquet at our Frances Palmer page, and view the entire article at Frances’s website. (late April 2014)
I’m excited to be lecturing this spring at two of the country’s most historic estates – and I hope you’ll come see me at both. On Saturday, April 26, I’ll be at Winterthur in Wilmington, Delaware, talking about “Heirloom Bulbs” with a special emphasis on the daffodils planted there in the early 1900s. Impressive drifts of many of these now-rare daffodils survive in the estate’s 60-acre naturalistic landscape, and while I’m there I’ll be helping Winterthur’s staff identify as many of them as possible. Learn more at winterthur.org/?p=862.
Then on Saturday, May 31, I’ll be at Mount Vernon speaking about “Flower Bulbs in the 18th Century: What Would George Have Grown, and Why?” My talk is part of Mount Vernon’s first Triennial Garden Symposium, a three-day conference of lectures on topics ranging from historic greenhouses and heirloom vegetables to garden archaeology and the restoration of Thomas Jefferson’s landscape at Poplar Forest. Learn more at mountvernon.org/gardens/symposium. (April 2014)
Last fall we included a small packet of heirloom poppy or larkspur seeds – collected from our garden – in every order we shipped. Hopefully you followed our instructions and planted them as soon as they arrived so they’d get the cold period they need to sprout this spring. Keep an eye out for their tiny seedlings, and if you’re not sure what they look like, check out the photos at our Larkspur and Poppies page where you’ll also find complete growing instructions. Hopefully they’ll bloom gloriously for you, and if they do, please send us a photo. We’d love to see how they turn out, and we’re hoping to post a few photos at our website for other gardeners to enjoy. (April 2014)
If you’re not reading Margaret Roach’s A Way to Garden, you’re missing something special. Margaret’s combination of what she calls “horticultural how-to and woo-woo” have made hers one of the most popular garden blogs. And Margaret appreciates the pleasures of the past. In 2007 she left her job as Editorial Director of Martha Stewart Living and moved to an old farmhouse in rural New York that she’s been restoring and filling with all sorts of beautiful things, from antique typewriters to pressed seaweed. (Take a peek at apartmenttherapy.com.)
So naturally I was thrilled when Margaret asked me to talk with her recently about heirloom bulbs, especially dahlias. You can listen to the podcast of our 24-minute chat anytime you want, or read the condensed version of it at her blog. She starts by calling me “Mr. Heirloom Bulb himself” — which I’m pretty sure she meant as a compliment — and then asks me to explain my “anthropological passion for these exceptional plants,” how my definition of heirlooms has changed over the past 30 years, why I like growing dahlias, and more. In the course of our talk I learned that she “particularly loves” dark-leaved dahlias such as ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ and that her favorite antique iris is ‘Gracchus’.
There’s a lot of excellent how-to at Margaret’s blog, and unusual plants, and recipes, and even frogs, but her greatest strength, I’d say, is that she enjoys exploring the deeper connections and meaning in gardening, nature, and life. One recent example is her heart-felt remembrance of Jack, the cat who walked out of the woods and into her life on 9/11. If you’re an animal lover, especially, you won’t want to miss it. (March 2014)
Ever since 1996 when we offered our first three dahlias, we’ve had the good fortune to have Nick Gitts and his family at Swan Island Dahlias growing most of our tubers for us. But a couple of years ago Nick called with some bad news. In order to devote more of their limited acreage to growing cut-flowers for the Portland farmers market where sales were booming, the Gitts would no longer be growing tubers for anyone else, including us. Needless to say, we were stunned. Happily, after talking it over Nick agreed to continue growing about a third of our treasures, and after a long search we found two other growers to entrust with the rest of them: Peter Komen in the Netherlands and Sun Moon Farm in New Hampshire.
Sun Moon Farm is a small CSA (community supported agriculture) farm run by husband and wife Craig and Megan Jensen. Although it’s only a couple of years old, the land it’s on has been continuously farmed since the late 1700s, and until recently it was home to The Meeting School, a small Quaker boarding school that made farming a cornerstone of its experiential learning. When the school closed in 2011, five young faculty members — including Craig and Megan — stayed on and eventually bought the property, closing on it just last month.
We met Craig and Megan through her mother Ann Lyzenga, a former OHG crew member who’s an avid gardener and dahlia-lover. Dahlia-growing runs in Craig’s family, too, Ann told us, and the couple were already growing a field full of dahlias to include in their weekly CSA shares. We talked, they came to visit, we hit it off, and most importantly we were convinced that they knew what they were doing and our dahlias would be in good hands at Sun Moon Farm.
Of course even the best laid plans sometimes go awry, and farming is never easy, but the first harvest of our tubers this fall was a pretty good one, and with record cold sweeping much of the country this winter we were glad to hear that Craig and Megan had added extra insulation and a milk-house heater to the tuber-storage room in the basement of their magnificent old barn.
See some great photos and learn more about Sun Moon Farm here. (Jan. 2014)
Our Facebook page boomed in 2013, with almost 4000 new fans joining us there to bring our total “likes” this morning to 6487. Thank you ALL for caring about what we’re doing and for helping us spread the word about the joys — and the importance — of heirloom bulbs. And if you haven’t yet, please come learn and share with us in this low-key but enthusiastic community of gardeners just like you. (Jan. 2014)
Call us ahead of our time, or trend-setting seers. Pantone’s recently announced Color of the Year for 2014 is a bright pinky-purple that they call “Vibrant Orchid” but that you may recognize as our once signature color. In fact, all nine of our first catalog covers, from 1993 to 2001, were printed on a paper known as Planetary Purple which was very similar to Radiant Orchid. We saw it as a lush, quirky, high-energy color that reflected how we felt about our bulbs and our company. Today we still use it at our website to highlight important things such as our Web-Only bulbs, and we continue to call it OHG Purple.
To add a bit of Radiant Orchid to your garden, try our spring-planted ‘Nellie Broomhead’ dahlia (now with an improved photo online), ‘Fidelio’ gladiolus, and ‘Caprice’ iris, and for fall planting there’s the incomparable Byzantine glad (at 10% off this past fall’s price through Dec. 31!). To find other possibilities, use the “Color & Foliage” choices in our easy, awesome Advanced Search. (Dec. 2013)
Every month for the past eight years, we’ve chosen a garden-related quotation to put at the top of our email newsletter. Now, at the prompting of readers like you, we’ve posted all 100 of them in a new section of our Newsletter Archives called Garden Quotations. It’s a wide-ranging assortment, from funny to inspiring, Theophrastus to Barbara Kingsolver, and we hope you’ll enjoy them all.
We’re always looking for more, too, so if you have any favorites you’d like to share with us, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks! (Dec. 2013)
Thanksgiving may be my favorite holiday. My wife Jane is an amazing cook, and she and I work together for days to prepare a feast for our family (including my mom’s cornbread and sausage stuffing). This year our rat terrier Toby will be joining us for the first time, and though he won’t get any food from the table, I know he’ll enjoy having all the extra people and dogs in the house.
In other happy news, for the first time since the economy tanked in 2008, our sales this fall were up by more than 10%. Although I’m sure some of that is due to the strengthening economy — which in itself is good news — I know most of it is because of our many wonderful friends like you. Whether you’re new to us or you’ve been a loyal customer for years, thanks for choosing our bulbs and our mission, thanks for spreading the word about us, and thanks for sharing our joy in gardening with flowers that — like old family recipes — have been enjoyed and passed down gratefully for generations. (Nov. 2013)
No matter how busy the season is, our good customer Kristina always wants to give her loved ones “just the right gifts.” At UbuntuFuture.com, her website for socially-conscious, entrepreneurial women, she recently blogged about her Top 5 Favorite People and Eco-friendly Holiday Gifts — and we’re proud to say our bulbs and gift certificates made the list!
For years now, Kristina has been giving our bulbs to her grandmother Mimi who’s an avid gardener. Mimi “enjoys having ‘different’ flowers in her gardens,” and she loves that we’re “working tirelessly to preserve endangered antique flowers.” Our American-grown and bee-friendly bulbs win points from Kristina, and she calls our customer service “top notch,” but she says her favorite reason for giving our bulbs year after year is that “the flowers are just breath-taking.” And if “you’re not sure what your favorite gardener would like,” she adds, “you can always order a gift certificate.” Thanks, Kristina and Mimi, and Happy Holidays! (Nov. 2013)
Mike and I just rearranged our Newsletter Archives a bit to make it easier for you to find what you want there. Our “Garden Tips” archive was way too long, so we split out a new “Weather and Hardiness” archive in addition to the “Animals and Other Pests” archive that we made in September. We also pulled articles out of “Other Interesting Stuff” to make a separate archive for “Bulb Poetry and Laughter.” Enjoy! (Nov. 2013)
The past is always present, as an email from our good customer Susan Wineberg reminded us recently. “I just bought this letter from 1839 on eBay. It’s on foolscap!” she began. Although I knew foolscap was some kind of old paper, I had to look it up online to learn that it refers to a size, 8.5” x 13.5”, which was the traditional standard before the 20th century.
The letter was written by nurseryman Samuel B. Noble who in 1839 was selling plants — including many of the same bulbs we sell today — just a few blocks down the street from us here in Ann Arbor. “I have an establishment . . . in its infancy,” he writes to a fellow nurseryman in Detroit, “and my supply of fruit [trees] except apples is quite limited. My supply of hardy shrubbery and ornamental trees is also small, as well as bulbous roots.”
Noble goes on to list thirteen ornamental plants that he’s seeking for his nursery in this small Midwestern city that just fifteen years earlier had been nothing but wilderness. Seven are bulbs: 100 tulips, 100 hyacinths (once even more popular than tulips), “50 to 100 dahlias of choice varieties, double assorted” (a reflection of the already booming popularity of dahlias which were first grown in US gardens just a few decades earlier), 25 tiger lilies (also relatively new, having arrived from China in 1804), 25 anemones (probably A. coronaria), 25 ranunculus, and 25 crown imperials — but no daffodils, whose heyday was yet to come.
Completing the list of ornamentals are 120 roses, 40 scented-leaf geraniums, 25 each of three shrubs — snowballs, honeysuckle, and double flowering almond — and 10 each of horse chestnut and mountain ash trees as well as “Lonicera flexuoso” (probably the now invasive Hall’s Japanese honeysuckle).
Since he’s writing in March, Noble also asks his Detroit colleague “what time may we expect the Lake to be open” — that is, ice-free — so the dahlias and so on can be delivered with “as little delay as possible,” apparently from the extensive wholesale nurseries near Buffalo, at the far end of Lake Erie.
Noble’s nursery was the first of a series of nurseries and greenhouses that for over 100 years occupied a stretch of low-lying land just five blocks north of OHG’s world headquarters. Today most of the land is a large city park with some magnificent old native oaks and a creek that’s been partially “daylighted.” This past summer, I spent many happy hours walking our new dog Toby there, even before I knew anything about its history — which I’ve since learned includes a Native American trail still visible in 1929 and a flower-filled grade-school garden in the early 1900s.
Just outside the park’s eastern entrance, Noble’s small Greek Revival house still stands today, and as Toby and I meander through the park now I keep looking for plants that might have survived from the days of this pioneering colleague’s nursery. Although I haven’t found anything yet, we’ll keep walking and looking and enjoying — each in our own way — things we can’t actually see.
(See photos here of the park and Noble’s house today, along with an old postcard of the school garden.) (Nov. 2013)
When she heard we were giving away larkspur (or poppy) seeds in every order this fall (learn more here), our good customer Coleen Perilloux Landry of Metairie, Louisiana, posted this at our Facebook page: “Several months after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, I went into an area that had 20 feet of water on it for many days. The house was totally ruined and still a disaster, but the yard was full of larkspur in bloom.” If it can thrive there, imagine how beautiful it could be in your garden! (late Oct. 2013)
A recent order from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for 100 ‘Van Sion’ daffodils and 25 ‘Duc van Tol’ tulips piqued our interest. Were they for something special, we asked, and the BBG’s Margarita Poulsen replied:
“In 2014 Brooklyn Botanic Garden will be celebrating the centennial of its Children’s Garden. This garden is one of the oldest children’s gardens in the world and was started by Ellen Eddy Shaw. In my research I found a book written by Ms. Shaw, The Library of Work and Play: Gardening and Farming, in which she recommends planting these two specific bulbs, so I thought it would be a good way to commemorate this special occasion. I was elated to find them both at Old House Gardens. Thank you!”
Learn more here about the Children’s Garden and its long and fascinating history. (late Oct. 2013)
In mid-September, I had the great pleasure of standing in front of a ballroom full of enthusiastic gardeners to accept the Garden Club of America’s Zone X Historic Preservation Commendation. This prestigious award is presented annually to an individual in Zone X (Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio) for “outstanding achievement in historic preservation or restoration.” The award noted my work as a landscape historian — researching, helping to restore, and lecturing about historic gardens — as well as my work with historic flower bulbs. Thanks to Jane Hopkins, Ginger Knudson, and the Country Garden Club of Perrysburg, Ohio, for nominating me, and as I said in my very brief acceptance speech: I couldn’t have done any of this alone. Thanks to all of you whose support makes everything we do here possible! (Oct. 2013)
In “Ask the Expert: All About Bulbs,” a recent post at Gardenista.com, Michelle Slatalla turned to us for advice on how to plan a small spring bulb garden. She writes:
“In Chicago, where I grew up, tulips were pretty much the only thing that kept us going through the winter. You can survive snow, and you can survive ice, and you can even survive the razor winds that blow in from the lake to rub your face raw, if you know that one day you will look out a window and see a clump of tulips, their swan necks improbably supporting the weight of their fat flowers.
“But it can be daunting, in the autumn, to figure out how precisely to make tulips happen. Which varieties to plant? What about crocuses? In the mild climate of Northern California where I live now, should I plant daffodils instead? And how do I gracefully make room in the garden for flowers that bloom briefly before saddling me with sad, withering foliage that I’m not supposed to cut back for weeks?
“For advice, I phoned bulb grower Scott Kunst of Old House Gardens. . . . ‘I don’t know where to start,’ I said to him. ‘Start small,’ he suggested. Here’s how.” Read more here. (Oct. 2013)
To support the good work of five non-profits in the Ann Arbor area whose missions are closely aligned with ours, we’re now offering a 10% discount to all members of Cobblestone Farm, Kempf House, Washtenaw County Historical Society, Legacy Land Conservancy, and Matthaei Botanical Gardens. If you’re currently a member of any of these worthy groups, simply mention it when you order. (Online use the Special Requests box at the end of our order form). If not, we hope you’ll consider joining! Help them enrich the lives of all of us in and around Ann Arbor by promoting and preserving nature, farmland, and local history. (Aug. 2013)
One of our favorite garden magazines, Fine Gardening, just published an article they invited Scott to write about our true Byzantine glads. It’s in the August issue, on newstands NOW, or you can read it here. In celebration, we’ve reduced prices on these graceful, hardy, heirloom glads by 5% — for a limited time only. We’re betting we’ll sell out of them earlier than ever this year, so you might want to order yours now! (June 2013)
Big news! A couple of weeks ago my wife and I adopted a little rescue dog named Toby. As you may remember, we lost Charlie, our beloved cat and VP for Naps, to diabetes last fall. (Thank you, friends, for all of your sympathy notes. They’ve been very comforting.) Although nobody could ever take Charlie’s place in our hearts, as spring approached Jane and I felt ready to start looking for another pet. We’d never had a dog before, but our two grown sons have small dogs that we love and — as every parent knows — kids lead you into all sorts of joyful new adventures.
We visited our local humane society, searched Petfinder.com, and a few weeks later we met Toby. He’d been picked up as a stray, adopted by a young couple, and then returned to the pound when they discovered they couldn’t leave him home alone all day. Then he got lucky when Lori of Top Dog Animal Rescue Group took him into her home. After a month with Lori and her family he was ready to find a new home — and that’s when we got lucky.
Toby is a rat terrier, and though that may sound alarming, rat terriers make great family pets. They’re smart, energetic but not hyper, and as Jane and I can attest, they love to cuddle on the couch with their humans. They’re historic, too! Teddy Roosevelt’s pet rat terrier helped rid the White House of rats in the early 1900s, and up through the 1930s they were a popular dog on farms. Toby is about a year and a half old, weighs a healthy 22 pounds, and is a very sweet, friendly dog who’s feeling more secure with us every day. Jane and I are getting advice from every dog-owner we know, watching re-runs of The Dog Whisperer, and doing our best to be good pack leaders for him — and we couldn’t be happier. See a few photos here of the little dog who now owns our hearts. (May 2013)
“Back in Style: Power Flowers” — that’s the title of this short but wonderful article by Adrienne Gaffney in the April edition of WSJ: The Wall Street Journal Magazine:
“Historical provenance can enhance the appeal of everything from lace frocks to French wine — and now, vintage flower bulbs, varieties of which trace back to the 17th century. Not unlike the ‘tulip mania’ that gripped Golden Age Holland, centuries-old varieties of heritage flowers like hyacinths and daylilies have become status symbols for discerning gardeners. ‘The virtue in planting vintage bulbs is in the wide range of forms, shapes, and colors, not to mention the scent and uniqueness of varieties,’ says garden designer Madison Cox [who’s been called “the most important garden designer you’ve never heard of”]. For Scott Kunst, who runs Old House Gardens — an A-list destination for heirloom selections that ships throughout the U.S. — the appeal is indicative of a larger phenomenon: ‘It’s part of a worldview that says, What we have isn’t limitless.’” (March 2013)
Spring is stirring in our Ann Arbor micro-farms, and next week Josh and Doug will be out there in the cold digging up iris and daylilies to send to you. Although we regularly post photos from our micro-farms at our Facebook page, there’s been so much interest in these once-gritty, now-flourishing bits of land that we decided to do a whole page about them at our website — and we invite you to take a look! (March 2013)
The annual rankings are in at GardenWatchdog.com, and once again your reviews have made us the top-rated bulb company in America! Thank you!
We’re ranked #1 for heirloom bulbs, #1 for all spring-blooming bulbs and — although the Watchdog limits its “Top 5” awards to just two categories per company — we’re also ranked #1 for all summer-blooming bulbs. Since 1994, 37,000 gardeners have posted 71,000 reviews at the Watchdog. There are a lot of fine bulb merchants among the 4000-plus companies reviewed, so ending up on top of the pile is a very big honor.
We’re not resting on our laurels, of course, so please keep telling us how we can serve you even better in 2013. And if you’d like to post a few words about us at the Watchdog, our “Rate Us at Garden Watchdog” page will walk you through the three simple steps. (Feb. 2013)
The sweetest cat in the world and the best-loved member of the OHG crew, Charlie is no longer with us. After a six-year struggle with diabetes, it finally got to be too much for him. Just before Thanksgiving, my wife Jane and I made the heart-breaking decision to put him to sleep. We buried him under the big old lilac in our backyard and marked the spot with snowdrops.
Charlie came into our lives sixteen years ago when our older son — despite our protests that we already had a cat — brought him over from his college apartment “just for a visit.” Charlie was small enough to fit in one hand and such a friendly little guy that he won our hearts. After his second visit, he never went back. Although some people say cats are aloof, Charlie was a very social creature. He loved hanging out with people, sprawling on our desks as we worked in the office, hopping up on the arm of my chair whenever I sat down to read at night, or lounging on Jane’s lap as we watched TV.
When we launched our website in 1998 we needed a public email address, and the standard “info” was way too impersonal. Someone suggested Charlie’s name, and since he embodied the friendly kind of relationship we like to have with our customers, that’s what we used. Of course that ended up being confusing, with customers replying to “Dear Charlie” no matter who signed the email to them, so we put his photo in the catalog — and soon he had all sorts of new friends. Nurturing plants and loving pets seem to go hand in hand, and I’ll always be grateful to those of you who added little notes to your orders such as “Pet Charlie for me.”
Charlie retired from OHG two years ago when we moved out back to our new office-in-the-barn, choosing instead to stay in the house where he could curl up and nap in his cozy bed by the radiator with one paw over his eyes, or stretch out on the back of the couch and watch out the window for hours. In my mind’s eye, I think I’ll always see him there, peacefully watching the world unfold in all its mundane glory and looking for whatever good thing might be coming his way next. (Dec. 2012)
I’ve been collecting antique nursery catalogs since the 1980s, and we have hundreds of them here that we use to research bulbs and create our catalog. Unfortunately the one I wanted most was missing — until we asked our newsletter readers for help last month.
As you may remember, we had accidentally recycled the last of our 1998, 2000, and 2001 catalogs. Although we’d recently regained two of them, our 2000 catalog was still missing. But now it’s back home! And so many customers offered us copies of our once-missing catalogs that we’re sending the Cherokee Garden Library of the Atlanta History Center the three they need to complete their full set, too. (See all 20 of our catalogs.)
“I like preserving things,” Scott Pearson of Columbus, Ohio, emailed us, echoing the sentiments of many who responded to our plea. “That’s one of the many reasons I order bulbs from you. And also why I still have a copy of this catalog after three moves. If you need it, let me know.” Jennifer Jewell of Chico, California, wrote that although she couldn’t send us any catalogs, she knew where we might find one: “You must be missing your 1998 catalog because my mother kept it on her nightstand and took it with her when she passed away that year.”
Many thanks to Scott and Jennifer as well as to Elizabeth Baier, Suzanne Lewis, Rebecca Rogers, Sylvia Sykora, Joe Hamm, and Susan Wineberg who also offered us catalogs, and Rimmer De Vries who walked into our office with a whole box of them that he’d been saving. (Did I miss anyone?) Annetta Kushner of Annapolis, Maryland, was the first to offer us our 2000 catalog, winning the $50 gift certificate we’d offered for it. “It pays to be a squirrel and save my valuable catalogues,” she replied — and promptly spent the money on more bulbs to plant this fall. (Oct. 2012)
I got hooked on garden history in 1979 when I bought my first old house and discovered tiger lilies and a single white peony struggling to survive in its tiny, overgrown yard. I knew the house dated to the mid-1800s, but how old were those plants? This was before Google and Amazon, and I didn’t know where to turn for answers, but happily I stumbled upon a book that soon became my bible: Landscapes and Gardens for Historic Buildings by Rudy and Joy Favretti.
Rudy established the nation’s first landscape architecture program devoted to historic landscapes, at the University of Connecticut, and helped recreate scores of historic landscapes including those of Monticello, Mount Vernon, Bartram’s Garden, and Old Sturbridge Village. I sent him a copy of my first catalog in 1993, and he’s ordered bulbs and sent me encouraging notes ever since. Recently he wrote:
“Your latest catalog is beautiful! I spent hours going over it. And congratulations for your 20th anniversary. . . . In your last note you said, ‘You’ve always been an inspiration to me, from the beginning.’ Yes, we’ve had a good and long relationship. But you know that inspiration thing works both ways. Teachers are spurred on by inspired ‘students,’ and you certainly were inspired and courageous to leave teaching school to start a little business whose success you were not sure of then. And now look! . . . Bravo! Here’s hoping for many, many more good and profitable years — at least another 20 — I’ll be 100 then!” (Sept. 2012)
I’m a Dunder-Mifflin kind of guy — one who will always love books, magazines, and newspapers printed on actual paper — but gradually I’ve been discovering and enjoying a lot of excellent garden writing on the internet, too. Here are a few recent favorites:
Betsy Ginsburg at GardenersApprentice.com blogs about her quest for “holy grail” plants such as our “Double Yellow” hyacinth in “Hyacinth Discovery” and tells the story of our ‘Frances Willard’ peony and the women behind it in “A Peony’s Tale.”
Gail Eichelberger at ClayandLimestone.com blogs about red spider lilies and the old daffodils she found at her place in Tennessee in “It’s Late Summer and a Gardener’s Thoughts Turn to Fall-Planted Bulbs.”
Michelle Slatalla at Gardenista.com blogs about our daffodils in “5 Quick Fixes: The Rarified Daffodil” (and calls me “blessedly fanatical” — which I’m taking as a compliment).
And last but far from least, Elizabeth Licata of GardenRant.com recently turned me on to Leaf, a terrific online garden magazine. In its autumn issue you’ll find Elizabeth’s article on “Artful Forcing”, a piece about John Shipton, the grower in Wales who we get our true English bluebells from, and even a short article about the growing popularity of artisanal American corn whiskey. (Sept. 2012)
A few years ago we were stunned to discover that the box containing the last few copies of our 1998, 2000, and 2001 catalogs had been accidentally recycled. For a company devoted to preserving garden history, the loss of these relics of our own history was truly painful.
But now there’s some good news — and a plea. Renee Jensen of Minnesota’s Andersen Horticultural Library sent us a duplicate copy of our 2001 catalog from their vast collection (see article below), and Scott’s sister Marcy Kunst of Boise, Idaho, sent us a copy of our 1998 catalog that she’d been saving. Thank you, Marcy and Renee!
Sadly, we’re still missing our 2000-01 catalog and if by some chance you still have a copy of it, we’d do just about anything to get it back. (How does a $50 Old House Gardens gift card sound, for example?)
To view all 20 of our catalog covers along with a short history of OHG, go to oldhousegardens.com//OurFirst20Years. (Sept. 2012)
As part of our year-long celebration of our 20th anniversary year, we’ve posted all 20 of our catalog covers online — except for the one we lost when we accidentally recycled the last few copies of that year’s catalog. Although our first nine covers were all purple, and our first full-color covers are a bit embarrassing to us today, we hope you’ll enjoy this 20-year retrospective. We’ve included a few year-by-year highlights, too, and even if you don’t see your name mentioned in this very brief history, if you’ve helped in any way to make our first twenty years of “Save the Bulbs!” a reality and a joy — THANK YOU! (August 2012)
We mailed our 20th annual catalog a few weeks ago — woo-hoo! — and we’re so excited we’ll be celebrating all year long. We never could have made it this far without the love and support of thousands of our “friends and partners” — customers, growers, garden writers, our incredible OHG crew, and more. Thank you all! As a token of our appreciation and a souvenir of this milestone year, we’ve turned our new catalog cover into a beautiful little refrigerator magnet and, while supplies last, if you order from us this year we’ll send you one for free! (August 2012)
Urban micro-farming — that’s how we’re multiplying some of our rarest bulbs now, in scraps of formerly empty land here in the Old West Side neighborhood of downtown Ann Arbor.
Thanks to the big-hearted generosity of Bob Knight and his family, we recently added our fifth micro-farm, on the appropriately named Spring Street. Rows of heirloom iris now flourish in a vacant lot where weeds once struggled, and the neighbors have enjoyed watching the transformation wrought by a dump-truck load of compost and days of hard work under a hot sun.
We’re posting micro-farm up-dates at our Facebook page. Come take a look! (2011-12 catalog)
Inside/Out is a terrific program of the Detroit Institute of the Arts that brings reproductions of masterpieces from the DIA to the streets and parks of metro Detroit. Among the 80 works scattered about this year is one of our favorites, Monet’s Gladioli, which shows Monet’s wife in their home garden admiring a big bed of one of his favorite flowers. It’s on display at the Taylor Conservatory and Botanical Gardens where, to celebrate National Public Gardens Day, they’ll be giving away hundreds of our best-selling glad, ‘Atom’ — which looks a lot like Monet’s glads — at their spring Plant Sale on May 12. We’re proud to be partnering with the DIA and the Taylor Conservatory to celebrate heirloom art with heirloom flowers! Learn more here. (April 2012)
Last week I was thrilled to plant dahlias, tuberoses, and ‘Atom’ gladiolus on national TV with Martha Stewart. Thanks to Martha (who really is amazing), her incredibly nice and talented staff, and all of you who watched, told your friends about the show, and emailed me with encouragement and praise. I was touched! Thanks also to all of you who ordered in response to the email alert we sent before the show. A small token of appreciation will be included when we ship your order. Thanks to the many, MANY people who have ordered since then. And welcome friends of Martha!
If you missed the show, you can watch it online here. You can also enjoy the bulbs Martha and I planted in your own garden — and save 10% — with our special, spring-planted Martha Stewart Sampler. As Martha herself might say, it’s a good thing! (March 2012)
A blockbuster exhibition this summer at the New York Botanical Garden will showcase Monet’s garden at Giverny — and our heirloom dahlias! The multi-faceted event runs from May 19 through October 21 and will include paintings, photographs, films, concerts, lectures, poetry readings, a special app, and spectacular plantings.
“We are recreating Monet’s garden at Giverny,” the NYBG’s Marc Hachadourian emailed us, “and the exhibition director thought that it would be great to have a large heirloom dahlia element as a part of the show’s continual display this summer. Naturally I am turning to you to see if you could help supply us with the dahlias from your extensive and wonderful list of plant material.” We were thrilled to help, and five tubers each of 25 of our oldest dahlias will soon be on their way to the NYBG.
Monet loved dahlias almost as much as he loved waterlilies, and several of our heirlooms are old enough that he actually could have grown them at Giverny, including ‘Nellie Broomhead’ and ‘Stolz von Berlin’. Learn more about Monet and dahlias here and more about the NYBG exhibition here. (March 2012)
“We are open air museum in Belgium and we like to plant this year some historical cultivars of dahlia.” So began the email from Jef Van Meulder, Curator of Living Plants at the Bokrijk Open-Air Museum in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern part of Belgium. Much like Old Sturbridge Village or Greenfield Village, Bokrijk features over 100 restored buildings with authentic furnishings and costumed interpreters — and, this summer, nine of our authentic historic dahlias ranging from ‘Tommy Keith’ of 1892 to ‘Tsuki Yori no Shisha’ of 1957. (March 2012)
Although he makes the rest of us answer his email, no one here is better loved than Charlie. When we first met him fifteen years ago, he was so small we could hold him in one hand. He loved to eat, though, and eventually, like many of us, he put on a little too much weight. We tried to limit his food, but Charlie could be insistent — and the next thing we knew our vet was telling us he had diabetes and if we wanted him to live we’d have to give him insulin shots twice a day for the rest of his life.
Five years later, Charlie’s still hanging in there, but diabetes is no fun for anyone, so we hope you’ll learn from our experience. If your cat starts drinking water and urinating more than usual, call your vet because those are often the first warning signs of diabetes. Although the twice-a-day injections sounded impossibly hard and painful at first, they turned out to be not so bad. But diabetes is a debilitating disease, and the best way to protect the cats you love from it is simply to not feed them too much, no matter how much they complain. If Charlie could talk, we’re pretty sure that’s what he’d urge you to do. Learn more at cats.about.com/cs/healthissues/p/diabetes.htm . (Nov. 2011)
I love Google Books, and not just because it’s made all of the articles I’ve written for The Old-House Journal instantly available online. The first one, about carpet bedding, dates to 1985 when I was still teaching school and just getting started as a landscape historian. I remember how thrilled I was to get that acceptance letter! Next came “Victorian Vegetables” and then others on antique apples, outdoor furniture, historic paving, herb gardens, post-Victorian landscapes, and of course heirloom bulbs.
My first bulb article was “Victorian Tulips” in 1988 when ‘Prince of Austria’ and ‘Clara Butt’ were still being offered in several catalogs. Then came “Daffodils: The Glory of the Post-Victorian Garden” and “Antique Hyacinths.” Sadly, six of the twelve hyacinths I recommended in that 1990 article are now commercially extinct, and three of the four sources for them have disappeared as well. Next came “Antique Iris” and then “Antique Peonies” in 1993 (the year we mailed our first catalog) and finally “Savoring Dahlias” in 2008. Heirloom daylilies will be next, if I can find the time to write it — and you’ll be the first to know. (Sept. 2011)
Many gardeners share their favorite plants with friends, but our good customer Pria Graves took it a step further. “I’ve donated some cuttings from your amazing heirloom dahlias to the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley,” she emailed us recently. “The Northern California Society of Botanical Artists has a close relationship with the Garden. They host our annual exhibition gratis and allow us to get pieces of plants for painting. They have a section of dahlias near their heritage rose collection and thought that having some heirloom dahlias there would be a good fit.” So ‘Andries’ Orange’, ‘Little Beeswings’, and ‘Thomas Edison’, and now have a new home where thousands of gardeners can see how great they are. Thanks, Pria! (Aug. 2011)
Your generous support of our Pink Ribbon Samplers raised another $174 this past spring. We added a few extra bucks and sent a check for $200 to LiveStrong.org, which brought our collective donation to a grand total of $525. Kelly, our shipping and micro-farms manager, was deeply touched, and the best news of all is that almost two years after her operation she’s cancer-free, feeling great, and gardening as enthusiastically as ever. (July 2011)
The Ann Arbor Historic District Commission honored fourteen preservation projects recently, including, we’re proud to say, our new office. The mayor shook our hands as he handed us the Special Merit award which read in part, “We applaud the adaptive reuse of the barn-like 1929 garage . . . for the operation of their internationally famous mail-order nursery. . . . Giving up their search for a historic farm, they decided instead to keep their business in town and create new, green office and shipping space while expanding their neighborhood network of urban micro-farms.”
Our neighbors Matt and Kelly Grocoff won the Preservation Project of the Year award for the super energy-efficient, “net zero” renovation of their old house, a project which has garnered national attention, including a feature article in Preservation magazine. (July 2011)
Gardeners of all political stripes can agree on at least one important issue: the White House vegetable garden is a good thing. This spring, to thank First Lady Obama for inspiring so many gardeners and would-be gardeners, we sent her three of our favorite heirlooms to plant in her garden. “Although they’re not vegetables,” we wrote, “all three have traditionally been grown in vegetable gardens across America. They attract pollinators, they make great cut-flowers, and, as [Scott’s] grandmother used to say, they just look pretty out there.”
All three heirlooms have strong Midwestern roots, too. “The fragrant ‘Mexican Single’ tuberoses,” we continued, “come from a small family farm in Illinois where they’ve been grown since the 1920s. (You may have seen them for sale at farmers markets in Chicago.) The bright red, small-flowered ‘Atom’ gladiolus is grown for us on a family farm in Michigan. And the ‘Wisconsin Red’ dahlia is a family heirloom that’s been handed down from generation to generation since the early 1900s.”
We’ll probably never know whether our bulbs make it into the First Garden, but that’s okay. As with any gift, it’s the thought that counts, and one of gardening’s greatest pleasures is imagining what could be. (May 2011)
With a collection of over 20,000 items, the Cherokee Garden Library at the Atlanta History Center is one of the country’s leading libraries devoted to gardening, garden history, and related fields. That’s why we felt especially honored when the Library’s director, Staci Catron, emailed us saying, “I am currently working on obtaining full runs of important seed and nursery catalogs” — and asked for a dozen of ours that the Library was missing. We were glad to oblige, and ever since then we’ve been imagining gardeners a hundred years from now exploring and learning from our catalogs just like we have with catalogs from the past. Thanks, Staci! (Feb. 2011)
“You can’t always get what you want,” the Rolling Stones sing, “but if you try sometimes you get what you need.” We took those words to heart last year, ending our search for a small farm to move to and deciding instead to expand our network of urban micro-farms and renovate our old, barn-like garage into improved shipping space and a new “green” office.
We moved in last week and couldn’t be happier. Come see the dramatic transformation at oldhousegardens.com/BarnAgain.asp.
And thank you! Like an old-fashioned barn-raising, this huge project would have been impossible without the big-hearted support of many, many people. Your kind words kept us encouraged, and your orders (and our friends at PNC Bank) are helping us pay the bills. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you! (Jan. 2011)
Our urban bulb fields are dusted with snow today, but Kelly is so blissfully busy out there cutting back iris leaves and spreading winter mulch that she asked me to take the lead in telling you THANKS for your enthusiastic response to our Pink Ribbon samplers. Kelly got a lot of heart-warming notes from cancer survivors and their friends and families, and as promised we’re donating $3 from every sampler to LiveStrong.org. One of our growers, David Atkins, also sent us 100 free bulbs “to sell for Kelly,” and when we added in that generous contribution our group-donation came to a grand total of $325.
And you can still help! To join us in fighting breast cancer with flowers, simply order a Pink Ribbon sampler for SPRING planting right now. (Dec. 2010)
As you may know, for years we’ve been searching for a small farm to move our growing business to. Unfortunately, everything we found was either too far away, too far gone, or too expensive.
So this spring we revisioned our future and headed off on a different path. Inspired by our friends at Detroit-based Urban Farming, we’re expanding our efforts to turn under-used land in the center of Ann Arbor into micro-farms for heirloom bulbs.
We actually started doing this many years ago when we noticed our neighbor Mark’s abandoned vegetable garden and asked if we could plant a few bulbs there. He agreed, loved the results, and kept asking us to plant more till now our trial garden fills almost every inch of his sunny backyard.
Since then we’ve dug up, added tons of compost, and planted three more micro-farms within a few blocks of our office, thanks to the generosity and community spirit of Ken, two friends who prefer to remain anonymous, and -- just this spring -- Tess and her mother Lavinia. And we’re looking for more.
Of course we’ll still get most of our bulbs from our growers overseas and the 22 small farmers we work with in 15 states (now including the Goetz family of Riga, Michigan — welcome!). But urban farming will allow us to save more bulbs and grow our business while we help to green the planet. What could be better than that? (August 2010)
For Mother’s Day this year, Vogue.com asked twenty top fashion designers and models — from Vera Wang to Gisele Bundchen — to talk about “the gifts they intend to give or hope to receive.” Our favorite reply came from Zac Posen, the wildly popular Tribeca designer whose “strong, feminine aesthetic has become a favorite of style leaders” such as Kate Winslett, Jennifer Lopez, and Beyonce, and whose off-the-rack collections are currently selling at Target and Saks.
“I plan to give my mother ‘Madame Chereau’ heirloom iris from Old House Gardens,” Zac wrote. “They are the most sought-after iris of the nineteenth century and have a history of staying alive. I remember when I was younger we had a field of iris, which was beautiful! I want to fill a field with irises for my mother one day.”
Thanks, Zac! We hope your mom loves them! (June 2010)
We’re beaming! In its annual “best of the new plants” article, Garden Gate has named our ‘Lucky Star’ gladiolus its “Top New Bulb” for 2010.
Although originally introduced in 1966, ‘Lucky Star’ was virtually lost to gardeners for decades. Its unusual, angular form is eye-catching, but what really sets it apart is . . . it’s fragrant! We’re sure to sell out now that Garden Gate is spreading the word, so if you want to plant a few this spring, you’d be wise to order now . (March 2010)
Williamsburg in April is a paradise for any garden lover (and we’re not just saying that because Williamsburg now gets all of their bulbs from us!). Add two days of talks and informal garden sessions focused on “Timeless Lessons from Historic Gardens” and you’ve got the extraordinary 64th annual Williamsburg Garden Symposium. Our own Scott Kunst will be a featured speaker along with garden superstar Ken Druse (Planthropology, etc.), rose rustler Mike Shoup of the Antique Rose Emporium, John Forti of Strawbery Banke Museum, Jennifer Bartley of American Potager, and landscape designer Gordon Hayward (Intimate Gardens, etc.). For full details, see history.org/History/institute/Images/Web_GardenSym10.pdf. (Jan. 2010)
We just got some exciting news and couldn’t wait to share it with you. In their upcoming November issue, our friends at Garden Gate magazine are naming us one of their “top ten mail-order web sites”!
We’re big fans of Garden Gate, too. With a circulation of over 400,000 it’s one of the country’s most popular gardening magazines, and it’s completely reader-supported — no ads. Get a free preview issue and see for yourself just how terrific it is. (Sept. 2009)
When you buy your bulbs from us, you’re giving a whole lot of your neighbors right here in America something better than a bailout — a job that allows them to continue paying their bills and feeding their families.
Unlike virtually everywhere else you can buy bulbs, we’ve always sought out American growers. In fact, this spring a whopping 85% of our sales are for bulbs grown for us here in the USA.
When you buy our dahlias, for example, you’re supporting 13 full-time and 12 seasonal workers at a family farm in Oregon.
Our glads support 12 full-time and 80 seasonal workers at a family farm in Michigan, 5 full-time and 20 seasonal workers at a family nursery in West Virginia, and a husband and wife team in Maine.
Our cannas and daylilies support 4 full-time and 6 seasonal workers at a family farm in Missouri as well as 7 full-time and 30 seasonal workers at a family farm in Oklahoma where the owner emailed us recently: “We are thankful to do what we do and that this business generates income for many families in our rural area.”
When you buy our ‘Mexican Single’ tuberoses, you’re supporting 2 full-time and 15 seasonal workers at a family farm in Illinois. Our iris are grown and shipped by 25 full-time and 150 seasonal workers at a family farm in Oregon. And our montbretia and St. Joseph’s lilies are nurtured by a very active retired couple in Alabama.
And then there’s us. Not counting Charlie (since he’s a cat), there are 7 of us working here year-round and another 9 during our two busy shipping seasons.
Final tally = 79 full-time and 322 seasonal workers who are VERY glad when you buy your spring-planted bulbs from OHG. On behalf of all of us, thank you! (Apr. 2009)
Andy Cabe, botanical garden director at Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, SC, wrote recently in The State:
“While driving in to work . . . , the old Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson song, ‘Luckenbach, Texas’ popped into my head. There is a line that goes, ‘Maybe it’s time we got back to the basics of love.’ Well, it dawned on me that this line may apply to gardening as well; sometimes we need to get back to those basic plants that we’ve loved for years. Gladiolus is one of those plants.
“. . . One of my favorite varieties of late has to be gladiolus ‘Atom’ . . . with amazing, fiery red blooms outlined with a hint of pure white. ‘Atom’ is shorter than many other varieties . . . [so it’s] easy to integrate into the landscape. . . . I find that they are most effective in masses of 10 bulbs or more (this will allow you to cut several stems to take into the house and still leave plenty of blooms to liven up the garden). . . .
“New plants are always fun and interesting, but we should never forget the forefathers. Sometimes, it’s good to get back to the basics.” (Apr. 2009)
Don’t be scared off by its name. GardenRant.com is one of the most popular of all the thousands of garden blogs, and for good reason. It’s the collective work of four terrific writers including Elizabeth Licata, who seems to grow and love bulbs almost as much as we do, and Amy Stewart, whose Flower Confidential is one of my all-time favorite garden books. To quote from their “manifesto,” they’re “Convinced that gardening MATTERS. . . In love with real, rambling, chaotic, dirty, bug-ridden gardens,” and “Delighted by people with a passion for plants.” That’s my kind of gardeners, and I urge you to give them a read.
Why not start with Elizabeth’s recent blog about us? Be sure to check out the nice comments from fellow blog-readers at the end of it, too, and maybe add one yourself! Elizabeth has many other entries about bulbs, including recent ones about forcing and bulb FAQs, but just about anywhere you wander at GardenRant, you’ll find something well worth reading. (Nov. 2008)
Anne Raver of the New York Times is always worth reading, and we especially liked her recent column about lilies. She quotes Scott extensively and writes that “he sold me my first ‘Black Beauty’ bulbs years ago, and they have bloomed from mid-July to early August without fail ever since, in ever-widening clumps.” She also credits us with introducing her to ‘White Henryi’, “the classic trumpet lily” of ivory and amber, and praises another half-dozen of our heirlooms including the wild Lilium superbum whose “iridescent green throats . . . guide their pollinators — fritillaries and swallowtails — to the nectar inside.”
To read it all (and find out what prompted Scott to tell her, “Don’t print that!”), click here. (Sept. 2008)
With precision and wit, Kate Karam sums us up in the September issue of Cottage Living: "Rare and lust-worthy collection of choice bulbs. Order early!" (Sept. 2008)
To celebrate its 80th anniversary, the Hortus Bulborum has printed four snazzy bookmarks, each decorated with antique bulb illustrations, and they’ve given us 1000 of them to share with you. We’ll tuck one into every order we ship this fall that includes a bulb we get from the Hortus (while supplies last). If you see “from the Hortus” in the description of any bulb you’ve ordered — or will order — for delivery this fall, you’ll get a bookmark! (Aug. 2008)
In this December’s Country Home, Katherine Whiteside gives us some nice props:
“I reach for Scott Kunst’s Old House Gardens, a fabulous mail-order catalog packed with authentic heirlooms and vintage bloomers. Order bulbs for friends from the same decade as their house was built (daffodil ‘Sweetness’, 1939, for example). You’ll have your gift-buying all wrapped up before the holidays.”
To search our bulbs by date, color, or whatever, try our easy Advanced Search! (Nov. 2007)
If you live anywhere near Raleigh, Akron, or Wheaton, MD, mark your calendar now for Horticulture’s exciting fall symposium featuring Rosemary Alexander of the English Gardening School, Gordon Hayward, Lucy Hardiman, and our own Scott Kunst. For full details, visit https://secure.hortmag.com/programs/index_2007.asp . (And yes, that’s a photo of our true Byzantine gladiolus there!) (Aug. 2007)
Once again we managed to hold the line and even reduce prices for many bulbs in this year’s catalog. Unfortunately, we also ended up raising more prices than we’d like, mainly for varieties grown in the Netherlands where the euro continues to soar. Not so many years ago the euro was worth about $.85, but as the Associated Press reported just last week, “The euro shot to an all-time high against the US dollar Tuesday, [reaching] $1.3738, its highest level since the 13-nation currency started trading in 1999.” (July 2007)
This past May we were proud to be a small part of a ceremony honoring Elizabeth Lawrence, patron saint of Southern gardening and one of America’s most revered garden writers. At the 25th annual meeting of the Southern Garden History Society, members made a pilgrimage to Lawrence’s unadorned grave in a colonial churchyard outside Annapolis where they planted white rain lilies we had donated for the occasion.
Lawrence grew these tiny flowers and wrote about them in her classic A Southern Garden. In the right spot, they multiply happily into a permanent, ever more beautiful display. With Miss Lawrence looking on, we’re sure these will thrive.
Efforts are currently underway to save Lawrence’s house and garden in Charlotte, NC. To learn more or help, visit www.elizabethlawrence.org. (July 2007)
10,000 copies of the Hortus Bulborum’s brand new brochure await tourists in the Netherlands this spring. Open it and . . . wow! Two full panels are filled with a big, beautiful photo of the Hortus in full bloom — and if it looks familiar that’s because it’s a photo from our website. We also helped translate the text into English for Leslie Leijenhorst, the brochure’s talented designer and author of the Hortus Bulborum book. We’re proud to help this extraordinary botanic garden any way we can! (April 2007)
We’re beaming! On her TV show April 12, while talking about the pleasures of summer-blooming bulbs, Martha held up our catalog and said warmly, “These are wonderful heirloom bulbs.” You’ll also find us listed as one of her favorite bulb sources at the newly redesigned marthastewart.com . Thanks, Martha (and friends)! (April 2007)
This May, come join us for a leisurely sidewalk tour through our home neighborhood, Ann Arbor’s Old West Side Historic District. With Scott leading the way, we’ll explore the all but invisible relics of the historic landscape that survive in any older neighborhood: trees that pre-date the pioneers, tiny garages built for Model-Ts, antique arbors and birdbaths, daffodils and lilacs, even historic weeds. For more info, visit [outdated link removed]. Rain or shine, we’re sure to have fun! (April 2006 and 2007)
“Scott Kunst on Growing Spectacular Glads” — that’s the title of the article that kicks off the Jan.-Feb. issue of Garden Gate magazine. It’s part of an on-going series that features nationally-known experts talking about topics of growing interest. With the help of editor Jim Childs (one of our favorite garden writers), Scott shares his tips for growing glads in pots, perennial borders, and throughout your garden, and recommends five of his favorite heirloom glads. (Jan. 2007)
In March Scott is coming to California to give his beautiful “Heirloom Bulbs” slide lecture at the extraordinary Filoli estate and the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show. Scott loves meeting our customers, so please mark your calendar and make plans to come say hello. (Jan. 2007)
The headline made us laugh, but April Austin’s article about us in this highly regarded national newspaper is terrific. To read it (and see a photo of “Indy” in our trial garden), go to csmonitor.com/2006/0913/p16s01-lihc.html. (Sept. 2006)
Hey, we’re excited! Not only has Domino magazine, Conde Nast’s hip new “guide to living with style,” named us one of their “Sites We Love”, but their blunt, funny garden-blogger Ivette Soler, aka Germinatrix, had some very kind things to say about us. “I’m in the throes of plant lust,” she wrote. “I just received a copy of Old House Gardens’ catalog. I have to sneak it into the house so my husband doesn’t see it. I hide it in last month’s Vanity Fair. He thinks I’m reading about the difficulty of being Hilary Swank, but I’m planning on acquiring some serious heirloom bulbs. . . .” Read and laugh on at http://www.dominomag.com/magazine/blogs/germinatrix. (Sept. 2006)
Inspired by our heirlooms (check out the dedication) and written by our good customer Diane Dees of Covington, Louisiana, this terrific little poem not only won a prize in the Binnacle Second Annual Ultra Short Competition (see umm.maine.edu/binnacle/short.asp) but just last month it was published in Australia’s Bikwil magazine.
“Canna Mania,” by Diane Dees
(for Scott K.)
Antique cannas startle me in the garden.
Bold leaves of bronze, olive finely striped,
green blades with vermillion veins, paint-box
blooms of sunrise and sunset, peaches and melons.
Watermelon-red slurped by ruby-throats
buzzing frantically around ancient rind.
Scarlet/yellow harlequin pinwheel,
random pats of butter streaked by Devon cream,
technicolor leopard skin,
lozenges of orange, orpiment flames.
sometimes Monet, often Rothko;
Victorian madness, sprouting across time,
mine for the price of a rhizome (June 2006)
Six pages of the current Gardens Illustrated, the upscale British monthly, definitely caught our eye: “Heirloom Daffodils, Rescuing Forgotten Bulbs.” Inside, six pages are devoted to our good friend Josephine Dekker and her centuries-old farm in North Holland where she is collecting and propagating exactly the sort of daffodils we love.
In fact, we’re proud to be the only US source for Josephine’s treasures. (And we got a kick out of Gardens Illustrated calling us THE Old House Gardens. It sounds much more distinguished, don’t you think?) You can pick up the April issue at many US bookstores and newsstands right now. (March 2006)
[To learn more about Josephine, click here.]
Filoli is one of America’s grandest historic estates, its Botanical Art Program is internationally acclaimed, and next month two dozen of our rarest tulips will be modeling for a watercolors workshop there! We donated the tulips to Filoli expressly for this week-long course taught by Ann-Marie Evans of the Chelsea Physic Garden. All are true broken tulips (such as our spectacular ‘Insulinde’) which have enamored artists for centuries. The only bad news is that the $750 workshop sold out within days. Sorry! (Feb. 2006)
I’ve been invited to judge, lecture, and lead a bulb walk at the New England Spring Flower Show in Boston, and am I ever excited! I’ll be showing my big, beautiful slides of heirloom bulbs at 3:30 PM on Saturday, March 11, and Sunday morning I’ll be leading a cozy, early-bird tour of the bulb exhibits. For more information or to order tickets, visit www.masshort.org. (Feb. 2006)
Our little home-made catalog is getting some national exposure and praise in the November issue of Multichannel Merchant, the bible of the catalog world.
Two top-notch catalog consultants devote three pages to reviewing our catalog, offering some really nice compliments along with lots of helpful suggestions for improving it. They call our writing “world-class” and say we’re “on the right path” to an “A-plus catalog.” Woo-hoo!
To read the whole review, and then maybe offer us your own suggestions, click here. (Oct. 2005)
Over the years, Sarah Thomas of the British National Collection of Dahlias has helped us add many great old dahlias to our catalog, and happily we’ve been able to help her, too. This spring she asked us for five dahlias she couldn’t find over there: ‘Bitsa’, ‘Gold Crown’, ‘Nita’, ‘Oreti Kirsty’, and ‘Tinker’s Tim’. We tracked them down at three different growers and sent them to the Collection in May. Yes, Sarah was delighted! (June 2005)
In March 2005 GardenWatchdog.com named us to their prestigious “Watchdog 30” list of best mail-order sources. As they explained, “These are the 30 most highly rated companies in our entire database [of over 4000 catalogs!]. You can’t go wrong by ordering from these outstanding companies.” GardenWatchdog.com is a great website where gardeners can rate and comment on mail-order sources. Since the Watchdog 30 is based entirely on the unsolicited recommendations of customers, we are especially proud of this honor. Thank you all! (2005-06 catalog)
Our ravishingly fragrant 2004 Spring-Planted Heirloom Bulb of the Year continues to gain converts. This spring we delivered bulbs of Mexican Single tuberose to both Mount Vernon, where it is historically appropriate, having been grown in America since colonial days, and the US National Arboretum in Washington, DC. We’re honored! (April 2005)
Felder Rushing is one of the funniest guys in horticulture, and passionate about getting more people to have more fun gardening. We’re proud to call him a friend. Felder visited us here last month, picked our brains for his NEW edition of Passalong Plants, and then wrote about us for the Jackson, Mississippi, Clarion-Ledger. If you missed his column there, you can enjoy it here: oldhousegardens.com//FelderRushing. (March 2005)
Planting over 1000 daffodils in clay, in the rain, in December, in Michigan may not sound like fun, but eight of the Old House Gardens crew had a great time doing just that on December 10 at our local Arbor Hospice. We had originally offered to donate the bulbs, but when the hospice couldn’t find volunteers to plant them, we decided to do that for them, too. Afterwards, we came back to the office cold, wet, caked with mud, and feeling great. For a photo, go to oldhousegardens.com/arborHospice.asp. (Jan. 2005)
Roman hyacinths, ‘Twin Sisters’, and other classic Southern bulbs are blooming again in the Jackson, Mississippi, garden of author Eudora Welty — and we helped! The garden opened to the public this past spring after a careful restoration led by landscape historian Susan Haltom who turned to us for authentic bulbs.
Our customer and friend Jeannette Hardy writes in the Nov.-Dec. 2004 issue of Horticulture: “If you go to the garden on Pinehurst Street, brace yourself for a primer on the native and heirloom plants that dominate Mississippi’s landscape. There are camellias of every stripe, banana shrub and other fragrant plants, along with bulbs galore — daffodils, spider lilies, silver bells, and hundreds of other favorites that planted Welty’s writings into the tough soil of the Deep South.”
To learn more, visit mdah.state.ms.us/welty/index.html. (Dec. 2004)
Our good customer Mary Higgins of Cambridge wrote us last week after the Red Sox had beat the Yankees to win the American League pennant:
“I have to tell you that I think your bulbs are responsible for breaking the Curse. I was unpacking them on Tuesday night during the sixth game so I left them in the exact same spot during last night’s game. On behalf of Red Sox nation, I thank you! Perhaps you could rename one of the heirlooms? Ortiz tulip??” (Oct. 2004)
In a gorgeous article on October 21 that included photos of our Gladiolus byzantinus, ‘Black Beauty’ lily, Narcissus poeticus recurvus, Tulipa acuminata, and ‘Insulinde’ tulip, Anne Raver had some kind words to say about us and both ‘Clara Butt’ and our Bulb of the Year, Tulipa acuminata. Thanks, Anne! (Oct. 2004)
Our old dahlias grace the cover of the August edition of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Green Scene magazine, part of a wonderful article by our good customer and culinary historian, William Woys Weaver. Will says there’s a “healthy revival” of interest in old dahlias and credits our “tireless enthusiasm.”
And in the October issue of The Avant Gardener, editor Thomas Powell calls us “the premium purveyor of heirloom bulbs.” The Avant Gardener is a terrific, 36-year-old newsletter of all things new and exciting in the garden world. For a sample issue, send $3 to PO Box 489, New York, NY 10028, and tell Mr. Powell you appreciate his long-time support of our cause! (Oct. 2004)
In the September 7 issue of Family Circle, our good friend Cynthia Van Hazinga has included us in her “Plant Picks from the Pros: 15 Garden Showstoppers.” One of five nursery-owners featured in the article, Scott recommends the indestructible ‘Black Beauty’ lily, Byzantine glads, and our Heirloom Fall Bulb of the Year, Tulipa acuminata. (Sept. 2004)
Mac Griswold, author of The Golden Age of American Gardens and Washington’s Gardens at Mount Vernon, has been a customer of ours since 1994. She wrote us recently with words so poetic we couldn’t resist sharing them with you:
“Congratulations! You’ve sparked a flaming world of old-time beauty from an ember that was nearly cold!” (2004-05 catalog)
Felder Rushing, horticultural demi-god, garden comedian, and author of Passalong Plants and other great books, stopped by to see us last summer. Recently he emailed us:
“When I talk about places to start shopping for tough plants and passalongs, I wave around three catalogs and I give out three web addresses: yours (Old House Gardens) Mike Shoup’s (Antique Rose Emporium), and Kent Whealey’s (Seed Savers). I mention that y’all have three things in common: a love of plants that goes beyond the pale, networking with other hardcore plantsmen, and sharing both plants and what you learn.”
We love you, too, Felder! (March 2004)
Instead of a blank computer screen staring back at you all day, now you can enjoy spring every day with our very first Old House Gardens desktop background (it’s like a screen-saver that doesn’t move). Remember the luscious bouquet on the back cover of our catalog? Now you can download and install it as a background SO EASILY that even the most inexperienced computer-user can do it in seconds. Click here and enjoy! (Dec. 2003)
Check out the Winter 2003 issue of Better Homes and Gardens’ Garden Shed magazine for a great article and a dozen glorious photos of the Hortus Bulborum, Holland’s outdoor museum of antique bulbs.
Be sure to read the sidebar titled “America’s History Keeper,” too — it’s all about us! Kate Carter Frederick writes, “The Hortus Bulborum has a small, homegrown counterpart in the United States: Old House Gardens . . . . The impassioned work of Scott Kunst . . ., [it’s] the only garden supplier in the world devoted exclusively to offering heirloom bulbs and preserving the increasingly endangered varieties.” Thanks, Kate and The Shed! (Dec. 2003)
Mark your calendar now for April 4-6. That’s when Williamsburg hosts their 58th annual Garden Symposium, this one devoted to “Heirloom Plants and Gardening.” They’ve put together a stellar line-up of speakers, including our own Scott Kunst. For a brochure, go to http://www.history.org/history/institute/institute_about.cfm. And please help spread the word! (Dec. 2003)
“Peter van Hausem stared at his ‘Zomerschoon’ as one might examine a rare diamond, or a precious ruby.…” So starts a wonderful short story about Tulipomania, gardening, and misguided passion by our good customer Diane Dees of New Orleans. Read it all at oldhousegardens.com/ZomerschoonStory.asp. (Sept. 2003)
Ten years ago when I launched Old House Gardens, Paul Hawken’s Growing a Business provided me with plenty of inspiration. Now it looks like we’ve returned the favor — the latest Smith and Hawken catalog features their first-ever collection of “Heirloom Bulbs,” and the most unusual bulb in it is deep, dark ‘Philippe de Comines’ tulip, which we re-introduced to North America in 1998. ‘Philippe’ showed up in McClure and Zimmerman’s catalog for the first time this year, too, and ‘Pictus’ crocus — which we also reintroduced in 1998 — made the cover of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs!
We’re happy for these great old bulbs, but with heirlooms going mainstream, we’re hoping there’ll still be a place for us. There’s plenty we’ll keep doing that the big boys can’t or won’t — rediscovering forgotten jewels like ‘Philippe’ and ‘Pictus’, bringing you treasures too rare for them to handle, and always offering unbeatable quality, authenticity, and the friendliest service on the planet. All we’ll need is your continuing support! (Sept. 2003)
The May/June issue of Fine Gardening magazine features a great article (if we do say so ourselves) by our own Scott Kunst. It’s titled “Antique Beauties: Heirloom Dahlias, Gladiolus, and Cannas,” and it includes dramatic photos of a baker’s dozen of our very best. Check it out! (June 2003)
Our good customer Wesley Greene of Colonial Williamsburg, VA, writes:
“We are thrilled to be able to include your heirloom bulbs in the demonstration beds at the Colonial Garden. They were a great fascination to our visitors last year, and we frequently recommend your website to interested visitors. Your company is a wonderful resource.” (2003-04 catalog)
He’s short. He’s fuzzy. He’s the handsome fellow on our back cover and the darling of everyone here at Old House Gardens. Charlie came to us about four years ago as a kitten of modest means, son of a single mom taken in by an apartment full of kind-hearted college students, including Scott’s older son Scott. His sweet disposition and an uncanny ability to think outside the litter box put him on the road to success, and soon he was promoted to Vice-President for Relaxation.
Today his wide-ranging responsibilities take him to the picking barn (great gossip and a chance for mice), our test gardens (no one should garden alone), the shipping room (great view and a door that someone always opens), and our office (soft spots for power-naps and a whole staff hired just to pet his fuzzy little head). In his personal life, Charlie is an avid animal rights supporter and registered participant in the Humane Society’s spay and neuter program. His favorite things include crowded desk-tops, water from the watering can, and Katie’s lunch. (Feb. 2003)
For some of the world’s most beautiful flower photography, check out the calendars of our good customer Suzanne Lewis. Some of our bulbs are included in Suzanne’s lush “Bouquets” calendar, and her “Heirloom Flowers” calendar [outdated link removed] kicks off with a glowing close-up of our ‘Dillenburg’ tulip spangled with raindrops. Charlie, our furry VP, highly recommends Suzanne’s calendar “Garden Cat” [outdated link removed]. (Jan. 2003)
Tune in Friday, November 29, the day after Thanksgiving, to see Scott on Martha Stewart Living! Scott will be planting bulbs with Martha in her backyard at Turkey Hill and sharing his bulb tips in two segments, “Heirloom Bulbs” and “Planting Heirloom Bulbs.”
Scott had a great time taping the segments in late October. “Martha made me feel very welcome,” he says, “and her gardens are gorgeous. In between taping we sampled her antique apples, and she gave me a jar of her home-made quince preserves to take home to my wife.” (Nov. 2002)
This spring the folks at Martha Stewart Living TV visited the Netherlands and our friends at the Hortus Bulborum, the Dutch botanic garden devoted to preserving heirloom bulbs. In a show tentatively scheduled to air Sept. 26, you can tour the Hortus with them.
What’s more, since we are the only US source for the Hortus’s bulbs, Martha will open the segment by planting a few from our “Exquisite Rarities” tulip sampler. (Sept. 2002)
Three national magazines on sale now are featuring our old bulbs!
In the October Country Living Gardener, our good friend Sharon Lovejoy writes about the joys of our Garage Sale samplers [now known as our Intro to Heirloom samplers]. In its September issue, Country Home spotlights five of our favorite heirlooms. And on the cover of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s September Plants and Gardens News you’ll find a nice long article titled “Heirloom Bulbs: A Selection of Unique and Endangered Beauties for the Garden” by our own Scott Kunst. (Sept. 2002)
We’re looking forward to our next decade with enthusiasm, gratitude, a little bit of trepidation, and a lot of joy.
We plan to keep having fun. We’re going to get bigger (but never too big), save more bulbs, make more money, and still treat one another like human beings. We will always love our customers! We’ll keep working hard to rediscover the world’s greatest garden bulbs and to save them from extinction by getting them into the gardens of kindred spirits like you.
The future is always hazy, but today at Old House Gardens the sun is shining, the birds are singing — and here comes the mail. Who could ask for anything more? (2002-03 catalog)
I was thrilled this spring to receive the Phipps Conservatory and Botanic Gardens’ prestigious Flora Award. A Pittsburgh institution since 1893, the Phipps is one of the country’s oldest conservatories. It presents its Flora Award annually to “outstanding international, national, and regional individuals” in recognition of exceptional contributions to “beautification, education, and the advancement of the environment.” The awards committee noted both my twenty years of helping to preserve historic landscapes as well as my work to preserve and promote heirloom flower bulbs.
I hope you’ll consider it YOUR award, too, because without our customers Old House Gardens would be just a dream. You make possible everything we’re doing here. So — please accept my congratulations! (2001-02 catalog)
Josephine Dekker is not your usual Dutch bulb farmer. I visited her this spring in the North Holland farmhouse that her great-grandfather built and where she lives with her 83-year-old mother (who doesn’t look a day over 63) and several friendly cats. The house looks huge under its tall pyramidal roof, but the back two-thirds is actually the barn – a traditional arrangement that dates back to the Middle Ages. The front third, with its antique paneling, lace curtains, and sleeping cupboards, seems like a very cozy museum.
Josephine rescues heirloom daffodils. She started by bringing old ones from the gardens of her countryside neighbors into her own front yard. “Because they are so beautiful,” she explains, “and they grow so well here.” Soon, though, she saw an opportunity, and though her farm lies well outside Holland’s bulb districts, she began collecting more and more old daffodils, propagating them in her fields, and taking them to experts to identify. Often she literally rescues the bulbs. ‘Seagull’, for example, she found lying in masses in someone’s driveway where he was drying the foliage so they’d fit more compactly into his garbage cans!
We are proud to be working with Josephine. She’s a dirt farmer with the soul of a poet, hard-pressed as small-farmers everywhere are, but sensitive to a different sort of beauty and working hard to build a future from — and for — the past. (2001-02 catalog)
Our good customer Tasha Tudor — Caldecott-Award-winning illustrator and author of Pumpkin Moonshine, Corgiville Christmas, and scores of other children’s books — included this sketch with her most recent order and graciously gave us permission to share it with you. Her caption reads:
“Chicahominy, my head gardener, reading your catalogue. He is hoping for a PhD in Entomology!” (2001 catalog)
We’re not allowed to name names, but a leading consumer magazine rated our bulbs “Excellent” — their top rating — in a review of mail-order bulb collections last October. We weren’t surprised, just very proud! (1998-99 catalog)
In 1993, with high hopes, Scott mailed 500 copies of his first catalog — three pages of brightly colored paper photocopied at Kinko’s. It offered a grand total of ten daffodils, eight hyacinths, and twelve tulips. Though Old House Gardens has changed a lot since then, his vision and our mission remain unwavering:
“Welcome to Old House Gardens’ first-ever catalog of antique bulbs!
“For ten years I have been working as a landscape historian, researching and helping preserve historic landscapes and plants.
“During this time, hundreds of people have asked me, “What plants are right for our old house — or museum?” and “Where can we get them?” At the same time, unfortunately, many antiques varieties have been disappearing from commerce.
“This catalog is an effort to help preserve historic bulbs by making them — and information about them — more widely available. (Of course, I also hope to have some fun and make a little profit.)
“What if you don’t have an old garden? No problem. Besides being historic, these bulbs are wonderful. They have thrived and delighted gardeners for generations, sometimes centuries. To any garden, they can bring a more-than-modern diversity of colors, forms, and scents — and a touch of the past.
“I welcome your support. (Please send money!)”