How Did Beautiful ‘Jane Cowl’ Get Its Name?

Before it sells out early this year (as it always does), here’s a bit of history about big, beautiful ‘Jane Cowl’. Sent to us by our good customer Jim O’Donnell of Philadelphia, it’s from the November 1927 edition of Garden and Home Builder:

“In the large class at the American Dahlia Society’s show for seedlings” – which are dahlias that are not yet named or for sale – “not one of the more than thirty varieties exhibited could be casually passed by. Judging this rich amount of material occupied the gathered experts for some considerable time, and it was by no means an easy walkover for the winner; and yet, when Miss Jane Cowl [one of the most famous actresses of that era], who honored the exhibition with her presence on the first day, was invited to select out of the seedlings the one that should be named for her, she unhesitatingly and almost instantaneously decided on the same bloom that the judges had already selected for the big award.

“It would not be wise, however, to argue from this that the expert judges might be done away with. Miss Cowl, of course, selected the bloom that pleased her most without any regard to its comparative distinctiveness and other qualifications and standards by which the experts must measure any newcomer. There is, however, much satisfaction to be had in the fact that the popular favor and expert judgment in this instance, at all events, did coincide.”

See what Miss Cowl and the experts liked so much here, and if you decide you have to have it, be sure to order soon!


Historic Meadowburn Farm Offers Rescued Dahlias

Meadowburn Farm in northwest New Jersey was once the home of popular garden writer Helena Rutherfurd Ely. When published in 1903, Ely’s A Woman’s Hardy Garden was one of the first American garden books to reject Victorian pattern bedding in favor of a more informal style of gardening with shrubs, old-fashioned annuals, and perennials.

Meadowburn Farm has changed remarkably little since Ely’s death in 1920. It’s been owned by one family since 1930, and since 1883 its gardens have been tended by Ely’s original gardener and his descendants. Today, with the help of the Garden Conservancy, the gardens are being restored to their former glory

Ely wrote that dahlias, glads, cannas, and red salvia were the only pattern-bedding plants she grew at Meadowburn. Dahlias are “decorative and desirable for cutting,” she explained, and “all the varieties are lovely.”

Today seven dahlia varieties survive at Meadowburn, possibly from as far back as Ely’s time. Unfortunately by the time Quill Teal-Sullivan was hired four years ago to guide the restoration of the gardens, the names of all had been lost. Quill turned to us for help, but since literally tens of thousands of dahlias have been introduced since Ely’s time, I knew that identifying Meadowburn’s relics would be a long shot at best.

Historic Meadowburn Farm Offers 7 Rescued Dahlias

After looking at photos, all I could tell her was that one might be ‘Jane Cowl’ and another ‘Deuil du Roi Albert’. We sent her tubers of both so she could grow them side by side to compare foliage, height, bloom-time, and other details – which is the only way to be certain about an identification – and we put her in touch with nearby dahlia experts who could visit Meadowburn and offer their insights.

Quill finally decided that one of the dahlias is indeed ‘Jane Cowl’, and she’s given new names to the others. Perhaps oldest of all – to judge by its 19th-century form and the way its flowers nod – is the one that’s now called ‘Meadowburn Byba Vincenza’ (see above left).

All seven are for sale at the Meadowburn website, with proceeds helping to fund the restoration of the gardens, including “the 150-foot dahlia allèe – filled with heirloom varieties – [which] erupts with color in late summer, as it has done for more than a century.” Learn more about Meadowburn’s gardens and its dahlias – and then maybe order one of its relics to grow in your own garden this summer! (Feb. 2016)

Historic Meadowburn Farm Offers 7 Rescued Dahlias

Late Winter Tip: Check on Your Stored Bulbs NOW

If you stored any tender bulbs last fall, it’s important to check on them now. The longer they’ve been in storage, and the closer it gets to spring, the more vulnerable stored bulbs are.

KEEP THEM COOL – It’s often hard to keep storage temperatures down as the weather outside warms up. Colder temps are usually better for stored bulbs – just like the refrigerator is better for storing most vegetables – though you never want them to freeze. Warmer temps can lead to premature sprouting and the development of rot, mold, and disease.

 Seasonal Tip: Remember to Check on Your Stored Bulbs
Our bulbs in storage with a max/min thermometer and fan.

Monitor temperatures with a maximum-minimum thermometer. Opening doors or windows in your storage space whenever outdoor temperatures drop may help. Bulbs can also be stored in the refrigerator but remember that the air inside refrigerators is usually VERY dry, so adjust accordingly.

Although most stored bulbs can handle a wider range of temperatures, the ideal for glads and crocosmia is 35-45 F, for dahlias 40-45, and for tuberoses and rain lilies about 50.

ADJUST THE MOISTURE – If storage conditions are too damp – and especially if they’re also warm – bulbs will rot or develop mold, etc. On the other hand, bulbs that are too dry – especially dahlias – may dry out completely.

If you find condensation on the inside of storage bags or boxes, leave them open a bit to let excess moisture evaporate. On the other hand, if your dahlias are shriveling or feel unusually light, sprinkle a little water on them and whatever they’re stored in – coarse vermiculite, wood shavings, peat moss, etc. – and if you don’t already have them stored in plastic, do so. Check back in a few days and adjust as needed.

MAKE A BREEZE – Good air circulation helps prevent disease organisms from developing on bulbs which are stored in mesh bags (glads, crocosmia, and tuberoses). Add a small fan to your storage space, but don’t have it blowing directly on the bulbs, just moving the air around a little.

WATCH FOR SPROUTS – If you’ve stored your bulbs dry in their pots, start checking for new growth long before it’s warm enough to move them outside. A little sprouting is okay, but once it starts to advance, move the pot into your sunniest window and barely water it.

Remember that a pot of tuberoses will usually bloom for a second year if watered and fertilized well, but by the third spring the bulbs will be too crowded to bloom well. Report them then, composting the ones that bloomed previously (since each individual bulb blooms only once) and replanting the largest of the daughter bulbs.

KEEP IT DARK – Light is one of the cues that spurs bulbs into growth, so keeping your storage space as dark as possible will help keep your bulbs happily asleep until it’s time for another year of awesomeness.

Learn more in the Winter Care sections of our Spring-Planted Bulb Care page.


Happy 50th Anniversary, Southern Living!

Congratulations to our friends at Southern Living who are celebrating the iconic magazine’s 50th anniversary this month! February’s special double issue includes 21 of the magazine’s vintage front covers, 50 years of Southern recipes such as hummingbird cake (1978), and even a blooper section of “not-so-golden moments that we just couldn’t keep to ourselves.”

Gardening has always been an important part of Southern Living, and this issue is no exception. In “The Seed Saver” you’ll meet our friend Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. “The Camellia Man” spotlights Tom Johnson, curator of the nation’s largest collection of historic camellias. And then there’s Southern Living’s long-time garden editor Steve Bender– who’s also a long-time supporter of Old House Gardens – with “50 Golden Rules of Gardening.”

Steve calls himself the Grumpy Gardener, and though his rules may be the funniest garden tips you’ve ever read, they’re full of sage advice. Don’t miss his introduction, too, where he says that gardening is like cooking, and the best way to learn it – and to discover how much fun it is – is by doing it. When people tell him “Gardening is too hard. There is so much to learn. I just know if I plant something, I’ll kill it,” he replies, “Of course you will! Everyone who has ever gardened since Adam and Eve has killed a plant. That’s how we figure out what works and what doesn’t.”

And gardening, Steve says, is “the most gratifying of all human endeavors” – even “better than an accordion concert” or “fine aged possum.”