Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History  •  Living Treasure from the Past


Dec
14
2018

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.

Read December’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.

Nov
28
2018

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.

Nov
15
2018

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!

Nov
10
2018

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!

Oct
23
2018

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.

Oct
16
2018

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!

Oct
9
2018

5 Special Bulbs to Plant Now
Recommended by Our Customers and Experts

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.”

Sep
19
2018

Good News about the Red Lily Leaf Beetle

When my sister and her family visited us from Massachusetts this past summer, my brother-in-law had some exciting news – after years of being plagued by red lily leaf beetles, he’d seen very few in their garden this year. The parasitic wasps seem to be working!

If these voracious beetles aren’t in your garden yet, they’re on their way. They first appeared in Massachusetts in 1992 and have since spread throughout New England and into New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Washington.

In an attempt to control the beetles, researchers at the University of Rhode Island have released three species of tiny parasitic wasps. Two of these have slowly spread throughout New England, and it looks like they’re finally making a difference in my brother-in-law’s garden.

To learn more, see Margaret Roach’s excellent interview with Lisa Tewksbury of the Rhode Island University Biological Control Lab at AWayToGarden.com/controlling-lily-leaf-beetles-u-rhode-islands-lisa-tewksbury/.

And if you’re looking for a beetle-resistant lily, Tewksbury highly recommends ‘Black Beauty’. Although adult beetles may feed on it a little, she says, the larvae never do because eggs laid on it just die.

Sep
13
2018

Southern Living Spotlights Dahlias for the South

When we opened the September issue of Southern Living recently, we were surprised to find a big, beautiful dahlia staring at us from the first page of the lead article.

Dahlias like cool nights, so growing them in the South can be a challenge. But just outside of zone-8a Birmingham, Deborah Stone grows dahlias commercially for cut-flowers at her Stone Hollow Farmstead.

In the article, Stone offers helpful tips for success with dahlias in the South such as waiting until several weeks after the last frost date to plant them and giving them some protection from the hottest, midday sun.

A handful of heat-tolerant dahlias are mentioned in the article, including jewel-toned ‘Juanita’ and dark-leaved ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, and a dozen of “Deborah’s Favorite Dahlias” are pictured, including dreamy ‘Café au Lait’ (pictured here), frilly ‘Tsuki Yori no Shisha’, and deep purple, always dependable ‘Thomas Edison’.

To learn more about how you can grow dahlias in the South, see our tips from experts and customers at oldhousegardens.com/DahliasForHotNights .

Sep
11
2018

The Best Water for Your Garden – in 1686

Water is an essential part of life – especially the life of gardeners. If you spent too much time this past summer dragging the hose around like we did, this excerpt from John Evelyn’s 1686 Directions for the Gardener at Says Court is for you.

“The best water,” Evelyn wrote, “is from rivers and running streams [rather than from a well or spring] so it be not too lean and cold.

“That which is always standing or shaded corrupts and is not good, but the water of ponds, and wherein cattle soil, is excellent, [and] rain water has no fellow.

“If water be too thin and poor, enrich it with the dung of sheep or pigeons by hanging a basket full of it into the water and letting it steep. Cow dung is also profitable. [However] water over-dunged brings a black smut on orange leaves, etc.

“If you be necessitated to use cold raw spring water, let it stand a while in the sun, and therefore keep always ready an infusing tub or vessel. Four gallons of heated water qualifies 20 gallons to milk-warm.”

Who knew water could be so complicated, eh? But as you may have already discovered – and Evelyn’s gardener probably wanted to tell him – you don’t have to do everything perfectly to have a wonderful garden. Hopefully yours made it through the summer just fine, even if you didn’t water it with milk-warm, dung-enriched river water.

Sep
6
2018

The Heirloom Daffodil Orchard at
England’s Felley Priory

Featured on the cover of Gardens Illustrated, Felley Priory’s Daffodil Orchard is the “crowning glory” of its “renowned gardens” – and filled with nothing but heirlooms.

1. ‘Carbineer’, 2. ‘Kilworth’, 3. ‘Bath’s Flame’, 4. ‘W.P. Milner’, 5. ‘Fortune’, 6. ‘Hospodar’

The Priory has been in the Chaworth-Musters family since 1822, but most of the daffodils were planted in the 1940s. Since then, many of their names had been lost, so the Priory asked three experts – including our friend Ron Scamp – to help identify them.

Among those they recognized were ‘Beersheba’, ‘Mrs. R.O. Backhouse’, ‘Trevithian’, ‘Van Sion’, and ‘W.P. Milner’, but many others “were deemed to be natural hybrids . . . or old cultivars whose names have been lost.”

Nameless or not, the Priory’s daffodils were so impressive that the experts “were spotted standing under an old pear tree, dabbing their eyes with their handkerchiefs, overwhelmed by the magnitude and beauty of the display.”

7. ‘Van Sion’, 8. ‘Beersheba’, 9. ‘Croesus’, 10. ‘Lucifer’, 11. ‘Mrs. Backhouse’, 12. ‘Sulphur Phoenix’

The article also includes photos of “12 Great Cultivars for Naturalizing.” We offer eight of them: ‘Bath’s Flame’, ‘Beersheba’ (“attracts the notice of all by its glittering whiteness,” said the great E.A. Bowles), ‘Croesus’, ‘Lucifer’, ‘Mrs. R.O. Backhouse’ (named by breeder Robert Backhouse in memory of his wife), ‘Sulphur Phoenix’ (“double flowers of bright lemon and pale cream with good weather resistance”), ‘Van Sion’, and ‘W.P. Milner’ (named by breeder Henry Backhouse for his brother-in-law).

Even if – alas! – you don’t have an old orchard, you can start your own magnificent display of long-lived heirloom daffodils by ordering now for October delivery.