Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History  •  Living Treasure from the Past

March 2015


Daffodils in American Gardens: 1733–1940

<i>Daffodils in American Gardens: 1733&ndash;1940</i> &ndash; www.oldhousegardens.com

This is a landmark book, not only because of its content but simply because it’s been published. Twenty years ago I don’t think anyone would have even considered publishing an entire book devoted to the history of daffodils in America. And yet here it is, and that in itself is a testament to the progress that’s been made in convincing people that old plants can be just as garden-worthy as new ones, and that preserving them is as important as preserving historic buildings and other relics of our cultural history.

Our friend Sara Van Beck, the book’s author, has been an advocate for historic daffodils for many years. Her late father John Van Beck, was the founder of the Florida Daffodil Society and joined with me in the late 1980s to persuade the American Daffodil Society to establish a special section for Historic Daffodils in every ADS show across the country. In Daffodils in American Gardens, Sara shares the wealth of information – and images – that she’s collected over the years not only from old books and nursery catalogs but from letters, diaries, periodicals, and from exploring the daffodils that survive at historic places and abandoned sites throughout the Southeast. And what a wealth it is!

Although this may not be the easiest book to read (think dissertation rather than pop fiction) and Sara and I may sometimes disagree in our interpretation of the historical record, Daffodils in American Gardens is a major work of garden-history scholarship, and I’m thrilled that it’s been published. Congratulations, Sara, and thank you!


Spring Tip: Fertilize Early, Before Foliage Emerges

Spring Tip: Fertilize Early, Before Foliage Emerges &ndash; www.OldHouseGardens.com

Like all plants, your bulbs will do better when their nutritional needs are met, and that usually means fertilizing them every now and then. Early spring is one good time to do it, before – or as soon as – the foliage emerges. Don’t wait too long, though, or you’ll find it’s hard to keep fertilizer granules from lodging among the emerging leaves where they can burn the tender foliage.

Although it’s always best to be guided by a soil test – and over-fertilizing can cause long-term problems – if you haven’t fertilized in a while, you’re probably safe doing it this spring. A relatively balanced (something like 8-8-8), slow-release fertilizer is best, but anything other than high-nitrogen (the first number) lawn fertilizers will work just fine. Fertilizing can be especially helpful in revitalizing crowded clumps of daffodils that no longer bloom well.


‘Corky’ Daylily “Scores a Perfect 10”

&lsquo;Corky&rsquo; Daylily &ldquo;Scores a Perfect 10&rdquo; &ndash; www.oldhousegardens.com

With chocolate buds that open into a seemingly endless profusion of small yellow flowers, ‘Corky’ is one of my favorites daylilies — and I’m not the only one who feels that way. When he owned Loomis Creek Nursery in upstate New York, Portland-based garden designer Bob Hyland sold just a handful of daylilies, including ‘Corky’ which he called a “must-have” plant. His criteria for selecting daylilies were simple, he said:

“1. Great bud count for extended bloom time.

“2. Smaller flower size (2-4” diameter) to fit the look of naturalistic border designs.

“3. Strong flower colors with saturated hues and tint.

“4. Tall, sturdy flower stems (36” and taller) that punctuate borders with aerial theatrics.”

“‘Corky’ scores a perfect 10 in our evaluation system,” Bob wrote. “Its flared, bright lemon yellow, 3-inch flowers are accented by bronzy-brown color bars on the outside of petals. Wiry, purplish flower stems rise 3 feet above the narrow, strappy foliage, and each stem is well-branched with a 40+ bud count, sending wave after wave of flowers your way.”

To see for yourself what Bob and I are so enthusiastic about, order ‘Corky’ now for April delivery. But don’t delay — we have fewer than 60 plants left!


Old Masters Remixed:
The Floral Still Lifes of Bas Meeuws

Old Masters Remixed: The Floral Art of Bas Meeuws
Untitled #73, 2012, basmeeuws.com

If you’d love to own one of those sumptuous flower paintings from Rembrandt’s era filled with striped tulips, cabbage roses, and other exquisite blooms, but their multi-million dollar price tag is beyond your budget, take a look at the astonishing art of Dutch photographer Bas Meeuws.

With his digital camera and hours of painstaking work in Photoshop, Meeuws creates images that both mimic the centuries-old masterpieces and yet are strikingly new. Like the original artists, he starts by creating images of individual flowers — and insects, snails, and so on — and then later draws from this digital stockpile to assemble his bouquets. By the time he’s done composing, manipulating shadows, erasing cut lines, and so on, he may spend as much as 60 to 100 hours on a single work.

Meeuws’ bouquets feature many of the spectacular broken tulips we offer from the Hortus Bulborum. When the original paintings were created in the 1600s, these tulips — and many of the other flowers depicted in them — were so new and rare that it was actually cheaper to buy a painting of them than the flowers themselves. In his photographs, Meeuws says he tries to evoke the feelings that “people looking at the picture then would have had, the awe that they must have felt for all the expensive and exotic flowers.” Take a look and I think you’ll agree that he’s accomplished that remarkably well.