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