Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History  •  Living Treasure from the Past


May
22
2019

What’s That Iris? Get ID Help from Experts Online

Like many gardeners, you may have some beloved plants in your garden that have lost their names. Calling them “Great-Grandma’s rose” or “that daffodil we found in the woods” doesn’t make them any less wonderful, but sometimes you may wish you knew their real name.

If it’s an iris you’re wondering about, you can now ask the Historic Iris Preservation Society about it. On the HIPS homepage, you’ll find a green box that says “Need help with iris ID? Click here.” Do that and you’ll be taken to their ID Central.

Don’t be daunted by the long introduction and instructions for filling out the application. All you need to know is that it’s hard to identify nameless iris – roughly 70,000 have been introduced, many look a lot alike, and colors often vary depending on climate and soils – and that “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer to any of the questions.

Do read the “Photo Request” section which explains how and when to take the three required close-ups of your nameless iris. Then enter its height, bloom size, fragrance, and so on, upload your photos, and send it.

If you’d prefer, you can mail in your application and photos. Either way, you’ll get a response from the HIPS experts, and – although identifying an iris is always a longshot – there’s at least a chance that your nameless iris will no longer be nameless.

Good luck!

Read May’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.

May
15
2019

Get Outside and Celebrate Preservation Month!

May is Preservation Month and a wonderful time to explore historic gardens and landscapes near you.

If you don’t know where those are, The Cultural Landscape Foundation can help. “Cultural landscapes” are historic places ranging from gardens and parks to farmland and ethnographic landscapes. Enter your zip code at tclf.org/advanced-search and you’ll get a list of some of the most important ones within 100 miles of your home.

Another great resource is the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Though traditionally focused on buildings, the Trust has a new motto, “This Place Matters,” and a broadened vision that includes landscapes. For 45 landscape-related articles from its excellent Preservation magazine – including ones about Brooklyn’s 175-year-old Green-Wood Cemetery, historic orchards in California, and “What Type of Historic Landscape Fits You?” – check out “Landscape Stories.”

Of course you could also just go for a walk in any old neighborhood and look for how the plants, constructed features, and the way things are arranged outdoors differ from what you see in newer neighborhoods. The past is out there, all around us – and Preservation Month is a great time to enjoy it!

Read May’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.

May
1
2019

Natives Not Required,
Expert Says – “Just Grow Plants”

As I watched the bees feeding frenziedly on my winter aconites and Crocus tommasinianus this spring – long before any native plants were in bloom – I was reminded of the advice of an eminent British ecologist.

Ken Thompson, who was profiled in Gardens Illustrated last November, has spent most of his long career studying the relationship between gardens and wildlife. He says his work was inspired by Jennifer Owen who, in the course of 30 years spent cataloguing the wildlife in “her ordinary, neat, suburban garden,” found 2,673 species including several which were new to science. As Thompson notes, Owen’s work “showed that you don’t have to create a pretend version of a natural habitat in order to attract wildlife.”

“Gardens aren’t like any natural habitat and because of that people think they are inferior, but they’re not,” he says. “They’re just another kind of habitat. Yes, have a pond if you can, do without chemicals, and leave some piles of dead wood around, but hedges, flowers, and plants all create places to feed and places to rest, and that is all that wildlife needs.”

“My best advice for anyone concerned about wildlife is this,” he says in conclusion – “just grow plants. Creatures eat plants, or the nectar created by plants, and everything else eats the creatures. As long as you are growing plants, you are doing all right.”

So even though native plants are awesome, there’s no need to feel guilty about growing plants that aren’t – and the bees in my garden clearly agree with Thompson on this.

Apr
25
2019

“Thanks to You, I’m Starting a Flower Farm!”

An email with that happy subject line arrived here recently from our long-time customer, Alicia Guy of Shoreline, Washington.

“After 17 years of planting OHG bulbs and dahlia tubers,” Alicia wrote, “I’m going to live on a grander floral scale! All of your high-camaraderie notes on invoices have nudged me over the edge. This spring I am starting Bitty Bouquet Flower Farm in Duvall, just outside of Seattle. I’m going to focus on heirloom flowers, most particularly dahlias.

“Just before Scott retired, I called to thank him for how much you’ve contributed to my garden life. The conversation wandered to my secret dream of having a small heirloom flower farm and, of course, he made it seem like that could be meaningful and rewarding work.

“I’ve been bowled over by how much enthusiasm taking this risk has generated with my family, friends, and (now former) co-workers, and I’m so excited to see where it all might lead. You can follow my journey at instagram.com/bittybouquet/, and thanks again for your long, slow part in this crazy mid-life career shift!”

Congratulations, Alicia! Selling heirloom bulbs was a “crazy mid-life career shift” for me, too, and though it was a lot of hard work and worry, it brought me a LOT of joy. May the beauty of your flowers and the happiness of your customers sustain you, and remember, as you said at the end of your email, “Spring is inevitable!”

Apr
23
2019

Protect Your New Plants with Trash-Can Cloches

Here’s a simple tip to protect your newly-planted iris, dahlias, daylilies, and other young plants from rascally rabbits, squirrels, deer, and other pests. It’s from the “Great Ideas from Smart Gardeners” column that’s in every issue of one of our favorite magazines, Garden Gate.

“Anna Ellenberger discovered some great plant protectors at her local dollar store: Wire mesh trash can baskets.

“They’re 10 inches tall and wide and available in either black or white. The size works great for setting upside down over her seedlings and small plants to keep critters from munching their new leaves, and the black color blends into the surroundings better than the white.

“Anna suggests poking small stakes through the mesh to keep the trash can in place. [You could also use u-shaped landscape-cloth pins.] When they aren’t in use, they stack up neatly for storage.”

Apr
17
2019

Dahlias and Cannas for Prince Albert

Dahlias and cannas were both wildly popular in the Victorian era, so it’s no surprise that two of our favorites grow today at Osborne House, the lavish country home of Queen Victoria and her garden-loving husband Prince Albert.

In 1845, according to an August 2017 article in The English Garden, “Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, then both in their twenties, bought an estate on the Isle of Wight as a seaside retreat for their growing family.” After building a grand new house, Albert redesigned the grounds, and today, thanks to extensive restoration by English Heritage, they once again reflect his vision.

“Rather endearingly, Albert is reputed to have directed work on the Osborne landscape by semaphore from the Pavilion flag tower. Victoria seems to have been less enthusiastic, complaining in her diary of the time he spent planting and pruning. In 1848, at the height of the planting operations, she spent a record 123 days on the estate so as to see as much of him as possible.”

Today “the intricate design of the parterres which was lost when the terraces were grassed over has been recreated.” ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ dahlia stars there in a dramatically dark composition with bronze-leaved castor beans, red salvia, and red-and-bronze-leaved begonias.

The lovely ‘Ehemanii’ canna with its dangling bells of deep rose-pink is also featured at Osborne House where a long row of it flowers exuberantly in the former kitchen garden.

Even if you don’t have 200-acre estate, you can garden with a touch of royal style by planting ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ this spring (and save 20%!) or by signing up for an email alert when ‘Ehemanii’ — which sold out last month in a mere three days — is available again. Cheerio!

Apr
10
2019

A Head Gardener’s Tips
for Growing and Enjoying Glads

I learned something new recently: “When cutting gladiolus, it is always best to remove the top bud, which often results in more flowers in the stem opening to their full potential.”

So says head gardener Tom Brown of Parham House and Gardens in Sussex. Here’s some other helpful advice he offered in an excellent article in the July 2018 Gardens Illustrated.

“Gladiolus are relatively easy to grow,” Brown writes, “and as the corms are so inexpensive you can afford to use them as annuals, meaning you can experiment with different colors and styles from one year to the next.”

‘Starface’

If you don’t want to buy new ones every year, they can also be dug and stored or – depending on your hardiness zone – “mulched heavily in sheltered, free-draining areas” To try that, cut the stalks down after frost, “cover the clump with a plastic bin liner [storage tub] to keep the corms dry, and mulch liberally with compost.”

Abyssinian glad

Although Brown notes that many sources recommend planting glads earlier, he prefers “waiting until at least May” – again depending on your hardiness zone – “when the soil has warmed and the chance of frosts faded.” For a longer bloom season, he recommends “staggering your planting through May and June at fortnightly intervals.”

If you’re growing them for cutting, “you should be able to squeeze 60 to 100 corms into a square meter” which means planting them roughly four inches apart. To grow them intermingled with other flowers, Brown removes “a spade’s width and depth of soil” and then sets “five to seven corms at the base of the hole.”

‘Atom’

Brown says that planting corms about ten inches deep gives them “consistent moisture and temperature so the flowers need less staking.” Smaller glads like ‘Atom’, ‘Starface’, and the Abyssinian glad often need no staking, while full-size glads “simply need four stakes in the corners of the clump and then string around the perimeter and a few pieces in between.”

Now doesn’t that sound easy? To give these tips a try and “indulge your garden and your vases with bold and beautiful spikes,” why not order a few glads now for April delivery?

Apr
3
2019

Heirloom Gardener Magazine Spotlights
Our ‘Royal Beauty’ Daylily

New to our offerings this year, wine-red ‘Royal Beauty’ daylily is making a splash in the spring 2019 issue of Heirloom Gardener where it’s the only flower included in their article about “the freshest heirloom releases of the season.”

Published by the same people as Mother Earth News and Utne Reader, Heirloom Gardener focuses on edible plants, but it always includes an article or two of interest to flower-lovers – including, in this issue, “A Celebration of Lilacs” and “Victorian Plant Women.”

See more or subscribe at heirloomgardener.com.

Apr
3
2019

Do Tiger Swallowtails Like Orange Lilies Best?

We’re not sure, but when I saw this tiger swallowtail feeding on my Henry’s lilies last summer, I remembered garden-writer Felder Rushing telling me that they flocked to the double tiger lilies in his Mississippi garden.

Could it be that the orange color and turk’s-cap form remind them of similar North American natives such as Lilium superbum that they’ve been feeding on for millennia?

Lilium superbum

If you want to see for yourself, Henry’s lily is one of four spring-planted lilies we’re shipping this April, and you can also order our two tiger lilies and L. superbum now for fall shipping.

P.S. If these incredible butterflies visit your orange lilies this summer, please send us pictures!

Mar
28
2019

‘Ehemanii’, ‘Winsome’,and More are Back –
and This May Be Your Last Chance for ‘Radiance’!

First the bad news: We recently learned that the last Dutch grower of the vibrant pink cactus dahlia ‘Radiance’ has quit growing it. That means this spring’s tubers may be the last we’ll ever offer – so if you want this well-named 1950s beauty, now is the time to order it!

Then the good news: Three great dahlias came through winter storage better than expected, so ‘White Aster’, ‘Gypsy Girl’, and the immortal ‘Jersey’s Beauty’ are once again available at our website. Woo-hoo!

And finally the really big news: For the first time in many years, three exceptionally rare beauties are also for sale again – heart-stoppingly lovely ‘Winsome’ dahlia, perky, bee-friendly ‘Mrs. H. Brown’ dahlia, and unique, spectacular ‘Ehemanii’ canna with its gracefully dangling clusters of brilliant rose flowers. WOO-HOO!!!!!

We’re limiting ‘Winsome’ and ‘Ehemanii’ to one per customer, and most of these other treasures are also in very short supply – so if you don’t want to miss them, order now!

Mar
21
2019

Great Companions
to Plant with Your Iris this Spring

The right companion can make any plant look better. For bearded iris, here are a few suggestions from two of America’s greatest garden writers.

iris & companions in Wilder’s 1918 Color in My Garden

For June borders that are “a joy indeed,” Louise Beebe Wilder in her 1916 My Garden recommends intermingling iris with “tall blue and white lupines, lemon lilies [Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus], foxgloves, and peach-leaved campanulas, with a background of Persian lilacs and such free-growing roses as ‘Stanwell’s Perpetual’, ‘Madame Plantier’, and the yellow briers – ‘Harisoni’ and the Persian – and edged with double white pinks and Nepeta mussini [catmint].”

John Wister in his 1930 The Iris recommends some of the same plants and adds to the list: “Good garden combinations can be made with a background of Spirea ‘Van Houttei’, Philadelphus coronarius [mock orange], and kerria with lavender iris [such as ‘Pallida Dalmatica’] and salmon pink Oriental poppies.

“Pink iris [such as ‘Caprice’] and ‘Queen of May’ go equally well with this. Gypsophila [baby’s-breath] statice, clove pinks, Nepeta mussini [catmint], Anchusa [Italian bugloss], and lupines are but a few of the many plants that gardeners have used successfully with various irises.”

With their smaller flowers and rugged constitutions, heirloom iris often combine more harmoniously in gardens than modern cultivars do. We’re shipping a dozen of the best for planting in April, and now is the time to order!