Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History  •  So Much More Than New
Sep
20
2017

Century-Old Sequoia Moved in Boise

How do you move a tree that’s 98 feet-tall and weighs 800,000 pounds?

Very carefully.

That’s exactly what happened in Boise this past summer when Idaho’s largest and most historic giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron gigantean) – a gift from naturalist John Muir in 1912 – was moved a couple of blocks to make way for a hospital expansion.

Giant sequoias are the world’s largest trees, growing up to 300 feet tall with trunks over 25 feet in diameter, and they can live a very long time. The oldest one documented by ring count was 3500 years old, so the 115-year-old Boise tree, as one of the moving crew pointed out, is “still a young tree.”

Century-Old Sequoia Moved in Boise – www.oldhousegardens.com

Unfortunately Boise’s summer was brutally hot and dry this year, and giant sequoias are native to very humid regions where, according to Wikipedia, they “supplement water from the soil with fog taken up through air roots, at heights to where the root water cannot be pulled.”

Nevertheless, the Texas firm that moved the tree gives it a 95% chance for survival, and Boise’s City Forester Brian Jorgenson (who I had the pleasure of meeting this past summer at my sister’s wedding) says he’s “cautiously hopeful.” Jorgenson checks on the tree daily, monitoring four soil-moisture testing stations and a hose running up its trunk that sprays water on the upper branches to humidify them.

Almost three years ago, the same Texas firm moved a 250-year-old oak tree here in Ann Arbor (see “Save the Oak!” and “One Year After”) and it’s still alive and well. Here’s hoping the Boise sequoia will thrive as well – and outlive us all.

Learn more and watch at idahostatesman.com/news/local/article158181954.html and idahostatesman.com/news/local/article164970812.html.

Read September’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.

Sep
14
2017

Peonies and “Pumpkin Spice Latte Gardening”

Pumpkin Spice Latte has returned, and coffee drinkers everywhere are rejoicing.

Peonies and “Pumpkin Spice Latte Gardening” – www.oldhousegardens.com

So why isn’t this wildly popular drink offered year-round, asks Joseph Tychonievich in the current issue of Michigan Gardening. Because then, he says, “we’d drink it, grow tired of it, move on, and forget about it. The fact that this special drink only comes around once a year makes it special.”

And we gardeners can learn from this, Joseph says. “Often in the garden we gravitate to things that bloom or look good for as long as possible,” but “gardens aren’t some math problem. . . . The really important harvest is not flowers or even food, but joy. So maybe it is time to step back a little from all of the long-blooming, forever-performing plants and embrace flowers that . . . instead inspire us with wild joy, anticipation, and glee.”

His top suggestion, we’re happy to say, is peonies – and we’re offering more than ever this fall! Although they don’t bloom forever, “for a few glorious weeks in late May or early June, they’ll positively cover themselves with huge, extravagant, powerfully fragrant flowers.”

“You'll look forward to that . . . all year long. As the buds swell, you'll check them each day. When they finally open, you'll sit next to them drinking in the rich scent. You'll cut armloads of them. . . . You may even throw a party in their honor.”

Of course “it doesn’t have to be peonies,” Joseph adds. “Find a plant that you truly love, that really thrives and performs in your garden, ignore the fact that it only blooms for a couple weeks in a year, and then plant them by the dozens and revel deeply in the sheer magic of their performance.

“Don't let anyone tell you they aren't practical. Gardening is about passion, not practicality. . . . Remember the lesson of the Pumpkin Spice Latte and keep some magic and anticipation in your garden.”

Brand’s Magnificent, 1918
James R. Mann, 1920
home-grown peony magic

Read September’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.

Sep
6
2017

Henry’s Lily Stars in Historic English Gardens

Underappreciated Henry’s lily is one of my favorite lilies, so I was happy to see it featured not once but twice in the September 2017 issue of The English Garden.

Henry’s Lily Stars in Historic English Gardens – www.OldHouseGardens.com

In the gardens at Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire, “history and heritage meet modern planting techniques” inspired by Piet Oudolf. There “the soft orange flowers of Lilium henryi are used abundantly throughout the herbaceous borders,” combined with great swaths of hollyhocks, agapanthus, and American natives Joe Pye weed and Rudbeckia.

Henry’s lily also plays a major role at West Dean Gardens, a “formidable horticultural powerhouse” in West Sussex. This glorious two-page photograph of the historic walled garden there shows it blooming exuberantly (center and right) in the Hot Border which “smolders across the length of the kitchen garden’s greenery.”

Henry’s Lily Stars in Historic English Gardens – www.OldHouseGardens.com
Henry’s lily with ‘David Howard’ dahlia

Henry’s lily “grows like stink and is a real good do-er,” says gardens supervisor Sarah Wain. It’s one of the “stalwarts” of the border, along with “heleniums ‘Butterpat’ and ‘Moerheim Beauty’, daylilies, Solidago [goldenrod], Sedum, Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’, Potentilla ‘Gibson Scarlet’, and Rudbeckia fulgida.”

California poppies, nasturtiums, and ‘David Howard’ dahlia also figure prominently in the Hot Border, along with Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ As luck would have it, I planted a clump of ‘Lucifer’ next to the Henry’s lilies in my backyard this summer, and though it may not have been West Dean’s Hot Border, they did look great together.

To give this wildflowery, easy-growing lily a try in your garden, order a few now for spring planting!

Read September’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.

Aug
30
2017

Protect Yourself from Garden Thieves

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

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

Protect Yourself from Garden Thieves – www.OldHouseGardens.com

“Someone had obviously cased the garden and knew what to take. They even went into my greenhouse and potting shed in search of portable items.

“Alas, I had a photograph of only one of the stolen pieces, taken for a garden tour brochure. Lesson learned. Everything will now be photographed and kept in a file along with all of the receipts, which I do have safely stored.

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

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

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

Aug
23
2017

Alexander Hamilton: Bulb Gardener

Alexander Hamilton: Bulb Gardener – www.OldHouseGardens.com

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

The auction lot I wanted sold for $40,000, double its pre-sale estimate. In it were two pages of notes and a sketch that Hamilton drew for the gardener at Hamilton Grange, his beloved estate in upper Manhattan.

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

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

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

Alexander Hamilton: Bulb Gardener – www.OldHouseGardens.com
Hamilton Grange, Manhattan

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

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

Aug
16
2017

“Magnificent, Almost Immortal” Peonies

“Magnificent, Almost Immortal” Peonies – www.OldHouseGardens.com
‘Prarie Afire’, 1932

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

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

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

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

“Magnificent, Almost Immortal” Peonies – www.OldHouseGardens.com
‘Miss America’, 1936
“Magnificent, Almost Immortal” Peonies – www.OldHouseGardens.com
‘Shawnee Chief’, 1940
“Magnificent, Almost Immortal” Peonies – www.OldHouseGardens.com
Aug
9
2017

Transylvania Celebrates the Tuberose

Transylvania Celebrates the Tuberose – www.OldHouseGardens.com

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

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

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

Festival activities include perfume workshops, flower cooking and jewelry-making classes, films, concerts, traditional foods, and a bicycle tour of the tuberose fields.

Learn more at Romania-Insider.com and the Hoghilag Facebook page – and to enjoy your own Backyard Tuberose Festival, order a few bulbs now for spring planting!

Jul
26
2017

Winston-Salem to Host
Conference on Restoring Southern Gardens

Winston-Salem to Host Conference on Restoring Southern Gardens – www.OldHouseGardens

“Gardening in a Golden Age” is the theme of this year’s Conference on Restoring Southern Landscapes and Gardens scheduled for September 21-23 at garden-rich and always fascinating Old Salem.

Focusing on the early 20th century, the conference kicks off with the hand-colored “magic lantern” slides of photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston in “Picturing the American Garden, 1900-1930.” Other lectures and tours will explore Ellen Biddle Shipman’s work in Winston-Salem, African-American landscape architect David Williston, garden writing and art in the early 1900s, and more.

The conference will be rich in the camaraderie of kindred spirits, too – which I remember well from the last one I attended. To learn more or register, visit oldsalem.org/events/event/landscapeconference/.

Jul
19
2017

The Queen of Garden Antiques

The Queen of Garden Antiques – www.OldHouseGardens.com

Garden antiques are increasingly popular – and I’m not just talking about “shabby chic” garage sale finds.

No one knows this better than Barbara Israel, the country’s leading source for high-end garden antiques. With customers ranging from Yoko Ono to the Smithsonian Institution, Israel currently offers such choice items as a terra-cotta Art Moderne greyhound for $3500, a Victorian fern-patterned cast-iron bench for $8500, and – at the top of my wish list – a 15-foot-tall copper-roofed garden pavilion for $55,000.

Israel has been selling garden antiques for over 30 years from her home in Westchester County, NY. There, as Therese Ciesinski writes in the winter 2017 issue of Garden Design, her lush gardens are filled with “a frozen menagerie of more than 200 maidens, warriors, animals, fountains and birdbaths, urns and obelisks, gates, finials, and follies. They are a reminder that strolling one's garden to contemplate nature, history, and art is still a worthwhile pastime.”

The Queen of Garden Antiques – www.OldHouseGardens.com

Israel has written two fascinating and highly regarded books: the ground-breaking Antique Garden Ornament: Two Centuries of American Taste (1999) and the very helpful Guide to Buying Antique Garden Ornament (2012).

Her quarterly newsletter “Focal Points” is also excellent, with articles on “different types of garden ornament, specific makers, design suggestions, conservation,” and remarkable gardens, or for something lighter you can follow her on Facebook.

To browse her current inventory – which is much more than what’s pictured at her website – go to decaso.com/shop/xn5iii. Even if you can only dream of spending thousands of dollars on garden antiques, I think you’ll find it richly rewarding.

Jul
12
2017

“Jewels in the Ground” –
Four Experts’ Choices for Fall Planting

“Jewels in the Ground” – Expert Choices for Fall Planting – www.OldHouseGardens.com
‘Jenny’ daffodil

Can’t decide what to plant this fall? Here’s some expert advice offered by top British garden designers in the October 2016 issue of Gardens Illustrated.

Jinny Blom says, “‘If you do nothing else, buy bulbs. Don’t try to be clever, just pile them in and let them sort themselves out.” Her top recommendations include:

Galanthus nivalis – “Spring wouldn’t be spring without snowdrops.”

Crocus tommasinianus – “I’m always charmed by the starry flowers of this sweet little crocus which flowers so eagerly. . . . Plant great drifts of them. . . . They die away to nothing so cause no fuss at all.”

Tulipa sylvestris – “I found a patch of these exquisite, scented tulips growing in a damp meadow. . . . They are beautiful, with an elfin grace.”

‘Thalia’ daffodil – “I’ve lost count of how many of these sweet, pure-white narcissus I’ve planted. It is simply the best and most beautiful in my book, and very reliable.”

Annie Guilfoyle says, “Plant bulbs in larger quantities than you think you’ll want. That way you will not be disappointed.” She especially favors:

Crocus angustifolius, Cloth of Gold – “This little Ukrainian crocus has rich, golden petals. . . . Beautifully sophisticated, it forms a carpet of color when you need it most.”

Hyacinthoides non-scripta – “For me, English bluebells are the bulbs that really herald in the spring. . . . Perfect for naturalizing in those tricky, shady corners under deciduous trees.”

Alison Jenkins says, “It’s easy to overlook bulbs, but they add . . . some magic at a dreary time of year.” She recommends just one heirloom, but it’s superb:

‘Jenny’ daffodil – “The graceful form and soft tones of this daffodil work well when naturalized. . . . It has creamy-white, swept-back petals with a pale-yellow trumpet.”

And Declan Buckley says, “Bulbs are invaluable for injecting early season color. The key is to think big and plant in generous quantities.” His top choices include:

Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus – “Despite its delicate appearance, this deliciously fragrant, late-flowering, wild species . . . is tough and sturdy.”

‘Gravetye Giant’ snowflake – “Fragrant, snow-white, bell-shaped flower, tipped with green. I have planted it among ferns on the edge of a woodland garden and in borders with ‘Thalia’.”

“Jewels in the Ground” – Expert Choices for Fall Planting – www.OldHouseGardens.com
Tulipa sylvestris
“Jewels in the Ground” – Expert Choices for Fall Planting – www.OldHouseGardens.com
Crocus tommasinianus
“Jewels in the Ground” – Expert Choices for Fall Planting – www.OldHouseGardens.com
‘Gravetye Giant’ snowflake
Jul
7
2017

Peony Vodka: Intoxicating Beauty

Peony Vodka: Intoxicating Beauty – www.OldHouseGardens.com

Heirloom peonies are rich in beauty, fragrance, and memories – but have you ever tried drinking them?

Now you can, thanks to Three Meadows Spirits, a New York-state micro-distillery. Headquartered in an 18th-century farmhouse, Three Meadows is part of the booming American craft spirits industry. Its unique Peony Vodka is subtly flavored with a blend of nine natural ingredients including “tincture of peony” derived from the roots of an antique row of peonies growing at the farm of founder Leslie Farhangi.

Although herbalists in Europe and China have used peony root for centuries to treat a variety of ills, Three Meadows claims only that its vodka is versatile and delicious.

Learn more in this recent article or visit the Three Meadows website where a big, beautiful peony bud on their homepage opens to full bloom in less than 30 seconds. And if you’d like to try a glass of Peony Vodka yourself – maybe as you sit in the garden on a warm summer evening – you can order it online here. To peonies!


Peony Vodka: Intoxicating Beauty – www.OldHouseGardens.com
Peony Vodka: Intoxicating Beauty – www.OldHouseGardens.com
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