Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History  •  Living Treasure from the Past


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!

Read March’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.


BMOC – Big Yellow Mystery
Daffodil Thrives in Zone 8b/9a Louisiana

“These big yellow daffodils have multiplied and bloomed prolifically for us here,” wrote our good customer Carlos Doolittle, landscape manager at Southeastern Louisiana University, “and I’m hoping you can help me learn their true identity.”

Mrs. Blaylock’s mystery daffodil

The photos he attached showed a Division 2 or large-cup daffodil with petals a shade lighter than the cup, and he said they usually started blooming in early February.

Since very few “big yellow daffodils” do well in climates that are as hot and wet as it is at Southeastern – which is 45 miles northwest of New Orleans, right on the border of zone 8b and 9a – I was intrigued.

“About a decade ago,” Carlos wrote, “an elderly lady, Mrs. Vertalie Blaylock, of Loranger, Louisiana, shared daffodils with my grandmother. They multiplied rapidly, and I transplanted some to my home and eventually to campus. Everywhere I have planted them, they have multiplied rapidly.”

Since literally thousands of big yellow daffodils have been introduced over the years, at first I worried that identifying this one would be a hopeless task. But after Carlos sent me measurements of its petals, cup, and foliage, and then described its scent as “light, honey-like,” I began to feel more optimistic.

I asked him to send his photos and information to a couple of friends who know a lot more about Southern daffodils than I do, Sara Van Beck of Georgia (and formerly Florida) and Greg Grant of Texas. Happily, we all came to the same conclusion: Mrs. Blaylock’s mystery daffodil is probably ‘Carlton’.

Southeastern’s magnificent Friendship Oak is another heirloom that’s thriving under Carlos’s care.

“That’s what it looks like to me,” Greg said, adding that ‘Carlton’ is “the most dependable yellow daffodil” where he lives in north-east Texas.

Sara agreed, and in her book Daffodils in Florida, she says ‘Carlton’ “should be the backbone of any daffodil bed” in the Deep South, partly because it’s “the most resistant (of the large yellows) to basal rot” which can wreak havoc on daffodils in hot, wet soils.

Carlos was happy to finally have a name for Mrs. Blaylock’s daffodil, especially since he’s planning “to eventually have masses of daffodils as a signature of our campus landscapes.” Daffodils, he says, are the perfect choice because “not only do their bright yellow blooms bring cheer during the dreary days of winter, but our campus colors here at Southeastern are green and gold.”

Read March’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.


What’s Blooming at Madoo?

Located in the Hamptons at the far end of Long Island, Madoo (Scots for "my dove") was the home of artist Robert Dash from 1969 until his death in 2013.

Today, under the care of the Madoo Conservancy, it’s “a magical oasis” with several historic buildings – including a barn built in the 1740s that Dash repurposed as his studio – set amid “an enchanting 2-acre landscape” that reflects Dash’s creative spirit and painterly eye.

Dash, we’re proud to say, was a customer of ours, and many of our heirloom bulbs still bloom in his gardens today, including three classic tulips that Madoo’s executive director Alejandro Saralegui mentioned recently in the Conservancy newsletter:

“Soon enough, the tulips that were planted throughout the garden will pop up. . . . “‘Princess Irene’ – with its orange bloom, smoky purple flames, and saffron-like scent – is in the large planters. ‘Kingsblood’ and ‘Bleu Aimable’ are in the quincunx beds.”

For a peek at Madoo’s gardens, see “A Trip to the Madoo Conservancy” or visit madoo.org.

Read March’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.


Book of the Month:
Dahlias: Beautiful Varieties for Home and Garden

This is a gorgeous book, filled to overflowing with spectacular, full-page images of dahlias that are sure to get a gardener’s heart pounding. Although the text by noted UK garden writer Naomi Slade is perfectly fine, it’s the photography by Georgianna Lane that’s the star here.

I have to admit I’m a little uncomfortable with that. I read garden books to learn things, mostly, but this book is more about getting you excited about dahlias by showing you how incredibly beautiful they can be. And I’d say it works!

That’s ‘Café au Lait’ on the cover, and inside there’s an even more beautiful, two-page spread of a dozen blossoms in all their subtle, rippling, cream-to-pink glory. How anyone could look at that image and not want to grow ‘Café au Lait’ is beyond me.

Sixty-four other dahlias are featured – including heirlooms ‘Clair de Lune’, ‘David Howard’, ‘Fascination’, ‘Gerrie Hoek’, ‘Kelvin Floodlight’, ‘Thomas A. Edison’, and more – each with a one-page description and a luscious, full-page photo or more.

There isn’t a lot of other information, just six pages of dahlia history and botany, six pages about the various forms, a dozen pages on how to grow them – from a UK perspective—and that’s it. But did I mention how beautiful the photos are?

“Dahlias are easy and enjoyable to grow,” Slade writes, and “there are few plants that flower so consistently and splendiferously.” If you already grow them, this book – which is a great value at just $15.50 online – will be a treat. And if you haven’t tried them yet, Dahlias may be just what you need to get started.

Read March’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.


Posh UK Magazine Heralds
“Modern Era” of “Truly Sophisticated” Glads

When the upscale British magazine Gardens Illustrated devotes eight pages to gladiolus, you know they’re no longer just supermarket flowers.

Indeed, a “modern era of gladioli has arrived” writes Tom Brown, head gardener at Parham House and Gardens where he conducted a major trial of glads in 2017.

Although for some gardeners, he admits, glads will be “forever associated with outrageous taste,” today “subtler and more compact cultivars are beginning to push their way above the crowd.” Many of these are “truly sophisticated, associating beautifully with other late-summer performers” in the garden or bouquets.

Abyssinian glad

Although most of the glads Brown mentions are too new for our catalog, one subtle older beauty he praises is the Abyssinian glad, G. callianthus ‘Murielae’. With “nodding, fragrant flowers that are an absolute delight,” this Award of Garden Merit winner “offers great versatility, and is equally superb in containers, borders or in a vase.”


“Of course, if you’re looking for loud and proud,” he continues, “there are also more traditional-looking, ruffled gladioli cultivars such as ‘Priscilla’.... The challenge when using these in a cut-flower arrangement is finding companions that will stand up to them. In this case look no further than dahlias, zinnias, and sunflowers to complement” these lively glads.

Glads are also great for “the late-August gap,” Brown says, “that period when late-season perennials are still gathering momentum but summer favorites are starting to struggle. Step up gladioli, igniting fireworks in the front, middle, and rear of our borders and blowing the lid off our creativity.”

“So my advice,” he concludes, “is banish all thoughts of brash and gaudy. Instead, experiment and indulge your garden and your vases with bold and beautiful spikes. In short, allow yourself to be seduced afresh by the vintage glamour and the contemporary charms of gladioli” – which you can order now for April delivery!


Watch New Ryan Gainey Film
in Atlanta Feb. 27 – or the Trailer Now

Fans of Ryan Gainey, the revered Southern garden designer and heirloom-plants lover, have been giving two thumbs up to The Well-Placed Weed: The Bountiful Life of Ryan Gainey.

The 2018 documentary interweaves shots of Gainey’s romantic, heirloom-filled garden with excerpts gleaned from a series of interviews that ended just a month before Gainey died in a house fire in 2016.

As Atlanta’s Cherokee Garden Library noted recently, this film is the first to “examine the complexities” of Gainey’s life. “He was a contradictory character, both off-putting and tender, self-absorbed and generous, artificial and authentic.” His home garden which was his masterpiece was, “as he often said, a ‘garden of remembrance’ where his old friends and family lived on in the overlapping blooms of heirloom plants.”

You can watch a 90-second trailer of the film, or a four-minute excerpt (accompanied by an excellent article), or buy the DVD, or – best of all – you can watch it at a special screening followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers on Wednesday, Feb. 27, at the Atlanta History Center.


Love in Bloom: What Do Your
Valentine’s Day Flowers Say about You?

“best of all” ‘Rococo’, 1942

“Does the kind of flower you send say anything about you as a lover? I think it does.”

So says Anna Pavord, superstar garden writer and bulb-lover, in The Curious Gardener. Here’s her modern take on the language of flowers, including her favorite Valentine’s Day flower – tulips!

Roses – “From a lover who feels safest as one of the herd and for whom imagination will never be a strong point.”

Carnations – “Acceptable only if they overpower you with their smell. If they don’t, then your lover too must be under suspicion of being unable to deliver what the outside appearance promises.”

Daffodils – “I’d trust a man who gave me daffodils. . . . Daffodils fit the bill seasonally, and in love as in life, you like to feel you are getting the right things at the right time. . . . There’s hope in daffodils. That’s a dangerously fragile commodity at the best of times, but now is the season to indulge it.”

Lilies – “Fine if you can live up to the theatrical aura they throw around them. Lilies will come from people who care very much about their appearance. . . . Let the stamens be the deciding factor. If your Valentine insists on cutting them off, on the grounds that the pollen will stain the Armani suit, then get free of the relationship as soon as you can. Just think how such a suitor would hog the bathroom. Impossible.”

Tulips – “As far as I’m concerned, these are the best, indeed the only flowers to send or receive on Valentine’s Day. Wild, irrepressible, wayward, unpredictable, strange, subtle, generous, elegant, tulips are everything you would wish for in a lover. Best of all are the crazy parrot tulips such as ‘Rococo’ [pictured here] with red and pink petals feathered and flamed in crinkly lime-green. ‘When a young man presents a tulip to his mistress,’ wrote Sir John Chardin (Travels in Persia, 1686), ‘he gives her to understand by the general red color of the flower that he is on fire with her beauty, and by the black base that his heart is burned to coal.’ That’s the way to do it.”

If you’re a daffodil, lily, or tulip kind of lover, we’re here for you! Order any of our luscious, romantic, fall-planted treasures now for delivery at planting time in October.


Out with the Old?
Is Sustainability a Threat to Historic Gardens?

Like many young people, Joshua Sparkes is full of new ideas. But he also has a deep appreciation for the past, which is a good thing since he’s the new head gardener at England’s 900-year-old Forde Abbey.

Originally built as a monastery, the Abbey has been a private home since the mid-1500s. Sparkes arrived there recently after five years in the Royal Air Force followed by hort school and four years at one of the world’s most famous gardens, Sissinghurst.

Interviewed in last month’s Gardens Illustrated, Sparkes was asked what he thought was the “biggest challenge facing gardeners today.”

“I worry about the future of historic gardens,” he said, “as the trend moves towards ‘sustainable’ and ‘ecological’ gardening, which seems only to include one esthetic. Sustainability needs to be considered in a sympathetic way that maintains the unique character of a garden, retaining its history without branding certain practices and designs as wrong. We can manage all gardens in a sustainable way, whatever their style.”

Amen! Like native plants, sustainability is critically important, but it can’t be the only priority in our gardens. Balance is essential in all aspects of our lives, and extremism – even in the service of worthy goals – often leads to more problems than it solves.

Learn more about Forde Abbey (and see a great photo of it with thousands of crocus blooming in the lawn), its magnificent gardens, and Sparkes’ plan for gardening more sustainably with tulips.


“Mind-Blowing” – The Hidden Life of Trees

“Have you read The Hidden Life of Trees ?” my friend and former micro-farms manager Lynden Kelly asked me. “It’s mind-blowing!”

So of course I had to give it a look – and I completely agree, it IS mind-blowing.

If its subtitle What They Feel, How They Communicate sounds a bit wacky to you, I have to admit that I felt the same way at first. But once I started reading the book, I couldn’t stop, and checking online I discovered that, although some scientists criticize the way author Peter Wohlleben expresses things, nobody says he’s a lunatic.

Wohlleben is a professional forester who manages a large forest for a small town in Germany. In the book’s first chapter, “Friendships,” he describes how he discovered that some moss-covered “rocks” in his forest that he’d walked by for years were actually the remains of an ancient tree stump, five feet in diameter. And here’s the mind-blowing part – despite having no leaves and therefore no way to feed itself, the tree was still alive, decades after it had been cut down, fed by its younger “friends” through the vast web of roots and fungi that connects trees underground.

As I read on I found myself saying “oh wow!” over and over again. In “The Language of Trees,” for example, he talks about how African acacias pump toxins into their leaves the moment giraffes start feeding on them. The giraffes move on to other trees, but scientists wondered why they always moved some distance away before they resumed feeding. It turns out the chewed-on trees release ethylene gas which, when it reaches nearby acacias, causes them to start pumping toxins into their leaves, too. Oh wow, right?

But is it actually “language,” you might ask. Wohlleben argues that even humans use scents to communicate – hence the multi-billion dollar fragrance industry – and that to understand the incredibly diverse world of living things we need to broaden our definitions of concepts such as “friendship” and “language.” After reading Hidden Life, I think he’s right.

Wohlleben also has an informal, almost chatty writing style which makes his book highly readable. If you’re a plant-lover, I think you’ll find it a mind-blowing treat.


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!


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/.