219 Dahlias from 1929: “Are They All Lost?”

We aren’t the only ones sending heirloom treasures through the mail. Sometimes our customers send them to us.

“While trolling the aisles of a local antique store,” Janine Seitz wrote us early this year, “I found this nifty old seed catalog. The cover caught my eye as I had recently sent you my first dahlia order.”

Thanks, Janine! The cover caught our eyes, too. From the late 1800s well into the 20th century, the John Lewis Childs Seed Company was one of the largest mail-order nurseries in the country, and its catalogs were richly illustrated.

Janine enclosed copies of the catalog’s ten pages of dahlias, too. “So many!” she wrote. “Are they all lost? I felt a little melancholy while reading these pages, thinking that they’ve vanished from the face of the earth. I’m fervently hoping there are old dahlias still thriving in some forgotten corner, but it made me doubly-glad to know Old House Gardens is doing what it can to save the ones we do have.”

Although 99% of the 219 dahlias offered in the catalog are now extinct – including ‘Daddy Butler’, ‘Kaleidoscope’, ‘Ivoire’, ‘Pink Madonna’, ‘Rookwood’, ‘John Wanamaker’, ‘Amun Ra’, ‘Le Grande Manitou’, ‘Geisha’, ‘Millionaire’, ‘Colossal Peace’, ‘Sequoia Gigantea’, and ‘Miss Minnie Vosburg’ – the good news is that two survive, and we offer them both.

‘Jersey’s Beauty’ – “Next to ‘Sunkiss’ [the dahlia on the cover], the most popular and biggest selling dahlia in America. This pure rose-pink beauty is a wonderful thing. Huge size (8 to 10 inches). Each $1.00, postpaid.”

‘Mrs. I. De ver Warner’ – “A deep mauve-pink. One of the very best dahlias grown. Flowers very large, averaging 8 to 10 inches across. Excellent for cut flowers, Each $.75, postpaid.”

These two rare survivors also top the list of the catalog’s 16 best-sellers of 1928 (after ‘Sunkiss’), with ‘Jersey’s Beauty’ in the number-one spot having “outsold all others listed below by a trifle better than three to one.”

Although today nobody will ever be able to grow 217 of the dahlias in Janine’s catalog, there are still two you can – by ordering them now for April delivery – and we hope you will. (Oops! ‘Jersey’s Beauty’ just sold out, but if you click the “alert” link in its description, we’ll email you as soon as we get more.)


Books for Holiday Giving and Getting

Winter is for reading – especially for gardeners, I’d say, and especially this winter.

So here’s a landmark book about iris history and six other wonderful books we reviewed earlier this year. Click on the links to read more about them, and happy giving ... or getting!

Classic Irises and the Men and Women Who Created Them – “This exhaustively researched history tells the fascinating stories of the people who developed the great irises of the 19th and early 20th centuries,” we wrote shortly after it was published in 2006, adding that “it’s not light reading, but it is superb.” HIPS recently bought the entire remaining stock of this book from the publisher and they’re selling them now at a price well below what you’d pay at Amazon.

Passion for Peonies – Published to celebrate the University of Michigan’s world-class garden of historic peonies, this book ranges widely to paint “a complex portrait of peonies that includes past and present, art and science, Asia, the Midwest, hybridizers, public gardens, fragrance, conservation, and more. A rich array of historic and modern illustrations adds to its considerable appeal.”

Emily Dickinson’s Gardening Life – “Despite living most of her life in self-imposed lockdown, Emily Dickinson still created extraordinary poetry. In this revised, expanded, and much more richly illustrated version of her 2004 Emily Dickinson’s Gardens, Marta McDowell traces the poet’s life in tandem with a year in her garden, from the first signs of spring to the hyacinths she loved forcing into winter bloom.”

Iowa Gardens of the Past – “This is a beautiful book, and fascinating – even if you don’t live in Iowa. Hundreds of antique images fill its 320 pages” and the text offers a wealth of information. ‘Iowa is always completely absent from landscape history books,’ the author writes, as if ‘Iowans have no history of gardening for beauty.’” Happily, “with this dazzling book she has set the record straight.”

The Liberty Hyde Bailey Gardener’s Companion – In her review in The American Gardener, Nancy Rose explains that Bailey was a “botanist, professor, gardener, and one of the leading forces” in horticulture from the late 1800s to the 1940s. From his 70 books and 1300 articles, this book brings together “some of Bailey’s most accessible and inspirational pieces.” It’s “eminently readable, and the topics are timeless,” Rose says – and I definitely agree.

A History of Plants in 50 Fossils – “If you think fossils are just dusty and dull, be prepared to have your eyes opened. The fossils in this book, each pictured in a dramatic full-page photo, are subtle, but they’re often strikingly beautiful…. The text is eye-opening, too, … full of a dizzying array of information which left me muttering ‘Oh wow!’ and ‘Amazing!’” – and gave me “a much greater appreciation not only of plants but of life on earth.”

Everything for the Garden – This “picture book for adults who like gardens and history” includes a few short essays but most of its pages “are packed with a dizzying abundance of glorious, full-color, antique images drawn from … the collections of Historic New England.” Its five chapters are devoted to books and magazines, structures and furnishings, historic gardens, “Social Revolution and the Garden Club,” and – our favorite – catalogs.


Pandemic Comfort:
Antique Nursery Catalog Jigsaw Puzzles

Feeling stressed? Bored? Sick of the pandemic? Maybe a jigsaw puzzle would help.

Sales of these comforting, old-school pleasures have been booming ever since the pandemic began, and a while ago my sister and sister-in-law sent me one that seems custom-made for our newsletter readers.

As you can see, it’s a collage of antique nursery catalog covers, many of which feature bulb flowers. In fact, you may recognize a couple we’ve used for our own catalogs!

Puzzle-maker Eurographics also offers three other similar puzzles featuring roses, vegetables, and fruits. All are based on images from the Smithsonian Institution’s collection of some 10,000 seed and nursery catalogs, they’re eco-friendly, and – according to my puzzle-loving sister-in-law – they’re top-quality puzzles.

You can order them from the Eurographics store at Amazon or find them elsewhere online for a wide range of prices. They seem to be in short supply, though, so if you want one, don’t delay!