Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History  •  Living Treasure from the Past


Our New Catalog is at the Printers –
and Everything is Online Now!

Surprise! In our never-ending quest to serve you better, we’re mailing our catalog in January this year.

And it’s a complete, two-season catalog, with spring-planted bulbs for delivery in April and fall-planted bulbs for delivery in October.

Almost 40 of your favorites are back from a hiatus – ‘Florentina’ and ‘Eleanor Roosevelt’ iris! ‘Albatross’ and ‘Little Witch’ daffodils! – and we’re offering a dozen heirloom beauties for the very first time:

DAHLIAS (spring delivery) – ‘Fascination’, ‘Fatima’, ‘Natal’, ‘New Baby’, and ‘Rocco’;

GLADS (spring delivery) – ‘Plum Tart’, ‘Trader Horn’, and ‘Wine and Roses’;

OTHERS for spring delivery – ‘Star of the East’ crocosmia and ‘Royal Beauty’ daylily;

PEONIES (fall delivery) – ‘Lady Alexandra Duff’ and ‘Victoire de la Marne’.

If you’re a returning customer your catalog should be in your mailbox by the end of this month.

But why wait? Everything in the catalog is online now – along with dozens of web-only rarities – and you can ADD to your order anytime through March 15 (for spring) or Sept. 15 (for fall).

So go ahead! Give yourself something special to look forward to by ordering now for spring or fall delivery – or both!

Read January’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.


The Year’s Best:
A Dozen of Our Favorites from 2018

Just in case you missed any of them the first time around, here are twelve of our favorite newsletter articles from the past year, as posted at our blog where the photos are bigger and sometimes more numerous.

If we left one of your favorites off the list, please let us know!

“The First Concrete Sidewalks (And How Old Are Yours?)”

“The Virtues of Heirloom Daylilies”

“Flower Pot Diversity in 1859”

“Rita’s Easy Way to Get Your Dahlias Eyed Up and Sprouting”

“Searching for the Lost Daffodils of Reverend Engleheart”

“Native Dutchman’s Breeches is British Dicentra Expert’s Favorite”

“Elizabeth Lawrence on Preserving Plants at Home – Together”

“Our Immigrant Gardens”

“The Best Water for Your Garden – in 1686”

“Plant This: Our Customers and Experts Praise 5 Special Bulbs

“Garden Like the Queen”

“Van Gogh’s Tuberoses”

And don’t forget you can read almost every article we’ve ever published, organized by topics such as History and Heirlooms, Daffodils, and even Garden Poetry and Laughter, at https://oldhousegardens.com/newsletter/.

Read January’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.


Van Gogh’s Tuberoses

Van Gogh was a flower-lover, to judge by the many paintings he made of them.

His sunflowers, of course, have become iconic, and his magnificent Irises sold in 1987 for a record-breaking $54 million. But there are scores of his lesser-known flower paintings in museums around the world.

Leafing through a Van Gogh book the other day, I came upon this painting titled Vase of Carnations and Other Flowers. Taking a closer look, I noticed that the starry white flowers at the top are tuberoses! In fact, to my eye they’re such a dramatic and important part of the painting that it might better be called Vase of Tuberoses and Other Flowers.

Van Gogh painted it in 1886, shortly after moving from the Netherlands to Paris where he soon began painting with the brighter colors and bolder brushwork of the Impressionists. At that time tuberoses were so popular that a Boston writer said “everyone who has a garden knows the tuberose” – and their fragrance today is just as wonderful as it was then.

You can view this painting in person at the Kreeger Museum in Washington, DC, and you can enjoy the same flowers that inspired Van Gogh by ordering your own tuberoses now for planting this spring.


Farewell to Paul Cates, Hero of Heirloom Glads

The world of heirloom flowers lost one of its greatest champions recently with the death of our friend Paul Cates.

‘Bibi’, ‘Starface’, ‘Lucky Star’, ‘Dauntless’, ‘Blue Smoke’ – these are just a few of the dozens of great old glads that Paul rescued and then grew for us, treasures that probably would have been lost forever if not for him.


But glads were only one small part of his amazingly full life. Born in the Maine farmhouse where he died 93 years later, Paul was a lifelong Quaker, jailed just out of college as a conscientious objector, and sent to Germany to do relief work. Returning there in 1958 for a PhD, he was pressed into service smuggling medications into East Berlin where he met his wife Elisabeth. By the time she managed to escape the country in 1969, their first son was already two years old.


Back in Maine, Paul went to work as a traveling pastor, taught German and Russian in Quaker schools, and raised cut-flowers to sell to local florists – with glads quickly becoming the most popular. In his spare time he wrote plays that drew sold-out audiences to the local grange hall, served as president of the Maine Gladiolus Society, and at the age of 79 he ran and lost a hard-fought campaign for the Maine House of Representatives.

There’s more – which you can read here – but you get the picture. Paul was an inspiring guy who lived his life joyfully making a difference. We feel lucky to have known him, we’re grateful for the difference he made in our lives, and our hearts are with Elisabeth and the entire Cates family in their loss.

‘Lucky Star’
‘Blue Smoke’

How Old is That Lawn Mower? Part 1

my new old mower; note the ribbed wheels and barely visible traces of gold paint

My neighbor Mark was cleaning out his garage when an old lawn mower caught my eye.

“That’s cool,” I said. “Do you want it?” he asked and – me being a fan of all things garden-historic – of course I said yes.

But how old was it? With its cast-iron wheels and smooth wooden hand-grips, I figured it dated to maybe the 1930s or ’40s, but I soon found out that I had a lot to learn about mowers.

The first lawn mower was invented in 1830 by Englishman Edwin Budding who was inspired by a machine that trimmed the nap off cloth. Before that, most lawns were cut with scythes – if they were cut at all – which was time-consuming and expensive.

Budding’s mower was a hit. “It promises to be one of the greatest boons that science has conferred on gardeners in our time,” wrote the era’s leading horticulturist, John Claudius Loudon, adding that wealthier land-owners could now “indulge in a garden luxury which, if they had to procure it by manual labor, would probably long remain beyond their reach.”

Budding’s mower, with large roller in back, single side wheel, and grass-catcher tray in front

The first mower to reach the US arrived in 1850, imported by a wealthy garden-lover for his Hudson River estate. Five years later his enterprising mechanic was building and selling the first American-made mowers.

“Side-wheel” mowers like mine were patented in Philadelphia in 1869, and the design has changed little since then. Unlike earlier mowers which used a roller in back to turn a large wheel on one side which then spun the cutting blades, these simpler new mowers used a pair of smaller wheels set on the sides to power the blades.

Since side-wheel mowers were lighter and had fewer moving parts that could go wrong, they soon became the most popular style. By the 1890s, they were being produced by scores of small factories throughout New England and the Midwest.

1889 trade card with carpet bedding and a side-wheel mower much like mine (and a horse-drawn mower in back) at the Philadelphia site of the 1876 Centennial Exposition

A paper label glued to the handle of my mower reads “Van Camp Hardware & Iron Company, Indianapolis,” so at first I figured that’s who made it. Then I discovered a patent date cast into one of the wheels – Sept. 12, 1899 – and traces of red and gold paint on the wheels and iron arms.

Those clues led me to the former Lawn Mower Capital of America and helped me learn a lot more about my mower’s history – which I’ll share with you in January.


Garden Like the Queen

“Duel du Roy” at Sandringham

An old friend of ours has been hanging out with Queen Elizabeth.

“Hey, that looks like ‘Deuil du Roi Albert’,” I said to myself while paging through the October 2017 issue of The English Garden – and sure enough it was, growing at Sandringham, the Queen’s 20,000-acre estate in the Norfolk countryside.

Sandringham, I learned, has been the private home of four generations of British monarchs. It’s where – as fans of the TV show The Crown may recall – Elizabeth’s father loved to hunt and where the royal family spends most Christmases.

Sandringham’s gardens are “peppered with tender exotics and a vibrant display of late summer dahlias” in a “distinctively Edwardian approach” that hearkens back to the first decade of the 20th century when Victorian flamboyance was giving way to the more naturalistic style of the Arts and Crafts movement.

“The same dahlias have been grown at Sandringham for 30 years,” the article explains, “but the names they are known by come from their original labels, which can suffer from ‘gardeners’ spelling’ and slightly idiosyncratic ideas about naming.” That’s certainly true of ‘Deuil du Roi Albert’ – “Remembrance of King Albert” – which at Sandringham goes by the much livelier name of ‘Duel du Roy’.

Whatever you call it, ‘Deuil/Duel’ is truly a dahlia fit for a queen, and – although our stock this year is limited – you can order yours now for April delivery.


World-Class Korean Tulip Festival
and Bulb Symposium

Have you ever seen a garden with a million tulips? If you visit the spectacular Taean World Tulip Festival in Seoul, you will.

Named one of the world’s top five tulip festivals, the April-May event features 1.2 million tulips of 300 different varieties. And although different kinds of tulips normally bloom at different times over a span of 6-8 weeks, at Taean – thanks to sophisticated horticultural management techniques – they pretty much bloom all together. As they say in Korea, “Wa!”

While most visitors will just be gazing blissfully at the tulips, some very serious flower-lovers will be gathering May 1-3 at the XIII International Symposium on Flower Bulbs and Herbaceous Perennials. Along with presentations ranging from “Evaluation of Hybrid Lilium for the Landscape” to “Breeding of Blue Flowers by Genetic Engineering,” the symposium includes tours of some of Korea’s top nurseries and public gardens.

Enjoy more photos of the festival here, and then start making your travel plans. Spring is already on its way!


Fall Tips for a Healthier, More Beautiful Garden

Investing a little time in your garden now will pay big dividends in the year ahead, so here’s our seasonal guidance for improving your garden’s health and beauty – and increasing your garden joy:

how to clean up iris and peonies to protect them from borers and mildew,

how to dig and store dahlias, glads, tuberoses, rain lilies, and crocosmias (pictured here, freshly dug),

how to plant tulips, daffodils, etc. in outdoor containers,

how to force bulbs indoors for winter bloom.

For more, check out the 39 other links at our complete Planting and Care page, or call or email us. We want to help!


Dahlia Tips from Longwood Gardens

Fall is dahlia season, and the parking lot at Longwood Gardens was overflowing recently as thousands of visitors thronged to the national show of the American Dahlia Society.

Longwood is one of the country’s grandest public gardens, and dahlias have been grown there ever since it was the private home of Pierre S. du Pont. Between 1909 and 1934 du Pont purchased “around 500 batches of dahlia tubers,” according to the Longwood archives, probably for planting in his 600-foot Flower Garden Walk where they’re still grown today in a sumptuous mix of annuals, perennials, and grasses.

In a recent interview with blogger Margaret Roach, Longwood horticulturist Roger Davis shares his tips for growing and (if you want to) storing dahlias. Two of the three varieties they discuss are heirlooms – dark-leaved ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ and creamy ‘Café au Lait’ – and fellow oldie ‘Thomas Edison’ is also blooming gloriously at Longwood this fall.

Read the complete interview here, and if it leaves you feeling inspired, here’s a tip from us – you can order your own dahlias now for delivery at planting time next spring.


For Better Peonies, Cut and Destroy Foliage Now

Peonies are rarely troubled by pests or diseases, but here’s an easy, poison-free way to make sure yours stay that way. We do it every fall.

1. Don’t wait. Cut them down early enough that the leaves are still green. If you wait until they’re dry and brittle, they’ll be much harder to clean up – and disease organisms can over-winter on any scrap that’s left behind.

2. Start with hedge-clippers so you can cut a lot of stems at once. Chop them off a few inches above the ground, and pile the foliage to the side.

3. Follow up with pruning shears to cut off the remaining bits of stem as close to the ground as possible – being careful not to injure the pink buds of next year’s stems which are at or near the soil surface.

4. Bag all leaves and stems and throw them in the trash. DO NOT COMPOST. Your goal is to leave virtually nothing behind that disease organisms can over-winter in.

5. Sterilize your tools by dipping or rubbing them with bleach or alcohol before going on to the next peony.

That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? And remember, healthy peonies bloom more!


Plant This:
Our Customers and Experts Praise 5 Special Bulbs

Are you looking for something special to plant this fall? Here are five strong-growing and distinctive heirlooms you might want to try.

“Love them!!!” wrote Mary Sorenson of the pheasant’s-eye narcissus she planted at the Centre Furnace Mansion in zone-6b State College, Pennsylvania. Mary attached this wonderful photo and added, “They look like the most beautiful butterflies in the garden.”

In her book Slow Flowers, Seattle author Debra Prinzing describes the moss-tinted flowers of silver bells as “fluffy and delicate.” Combined in a bouquet with ‘Super Green’ roses, apricot Verbascum, lamb’s-ears and dusty miller, they “surprised me as much as those chartreuse roses,” she adds. “Are they flowers? Are they greenery? I like that it’s hard to tell.”

“I think I can safely say that ‘Generaal de Wet’ tulip is one of the most indestructible tulips on the planet,” says Lisa Miller of zone-7a Sparks, Nevada (and it’s richly fragrant). “It has been happily blooming here in a neglected pot for at least five years now. I have more planted here and there, even in shade” – the very bright shade of Nevada, that is – “and they all just keep coming back for more abuse.”

“If only one autumn-blooming cyclamen is to be grown,” writes Rod Leeds in Autumn Bulbs, “then it must be this one” – Cyclamen hederifolium (pictured on the left, with fallen leaves in back). “It is very accommodating, flourishing in so many garden situations. A semi-shaded site in friable (easily crumbled) soil suits it very well. Here it will self-sow profusely and soon build into a spectacular sight in early September.”

“You should see my ‘General Kohler’ hyacinths!” writes Donna Mack of zone-5b Elgin, Illinois. “Every spring more and more of them appear, and I actually have to dig them up and move them. They’re growing among ornamental grasses, which have a low priority for watering, so they get the dry rest they want in summer. When the grasses are cut down in spring, it’s lovely to see them blooming there.”