Planting Tip: Glads
Bloom Facing the Most Sunlight, But . . .

We love the way glads add vertical exclamation points of color to the summer garden. To enjoy them the most, though, it pays to site them carefully, as explained in the NAGC’s journal Glad World:

“Glads, like daffodils, tend to face the direction from which they receive the longest period of direct sunlight. While you might expect this to be south, early morning or late afternoon shade from nearby trees or buildings might cause those glads so shaded to face due east or west, or southeast or southwest, depending upon how the shade pattern moves with the sun during the day. . . . Facing is an important consideration since you would like to view the front of the spike from whatever vantage point you usually view the bed, border, or pot.”

Keep that in mind when deciding where to plant your glads, but don’t worry – you can get your glads to bloom facing any direction you want if you (a) plant them in a pot (say, in your vegetable garden) and then (b) when the first florets open, move the pot into your flower garden or onto your front steps and turn it any way you like. To try this trick yourself, why not order a few glads – such as the graceful, fragrant Abyssinian glad or our customers’ favorite ‘Atom’ – for spring-planting?


Heirloom Myth-Busting #2:
Does an Heirloom Have to Be 50 Years Old?

Absolutely not. Although some people may tell you that’s a requirement, they’re just confused or oversimplifying. Trust me, there’s no International Registrar for Heirloom Plants that’s charged with officially defining the term – and age is relative, in any case.

Some plants like peonies and apples will live for a very long time, even in a totally abandoned garden, while other plants like dahlias and tomatoes will disappear most places unless someone saves, stores, and replants them every year. This means that 50-year-old peonies are relative youngsters compared to the many that survive from 100 or even 150 years ago, while 50-year-old dahlias are already hard to find, making them, in effect, much older.

It’s sort of like the way it is with dogs. It doesn’t make sense to define an “old” dog as one that’s at least eight years old because Irish wolfhounds rarely live that long while Chihuahuas can live to be twice that age.

That’s why I believe that insisting on a specific cut-off date for heirloom plants is misguided, and that rarity or endangeredness has to be as much a part of the definition as age itself. Heirlooms have been handed down because they’re wonderful plants, and the older they are the more they allow us to experience the incredible diversity of the past. (Hence our OHG tagline, “So Much More than New.”) But if we don’t grow and care for heirlooms, even the toughest of them will eventually be lost, and the ones that are most in need of our care are the ones that are the rarest and closest to extinction – even if they’re not yet 50 years old.

(You might also enjoy reading my earlier newsletter article, “Heirloom Myth-Busting #1: Are They Heirloom, Heritage, Antique, Vintage, or Historic Plants?”)


Dahlia Accolades:
5 RHS Award Winners, 3 Maine Survivors

Of the more than 75,000 plants available to gardeners today, less than 10% have been honored by the Royal Horticultural Society with its prestigious Award of Garden Merit. These exceptional plants have proven their worth as “the best for all-around garden value.”

The RHS regularly updates the award list, and since availability is one criteria, varieties that have become hard to find are often dropped from it – making it all the more impressive that five of our heirloom dahlias are current AGM-winners: ‘Clair de Lune’, ‘David Howard’, ‘Glorie van Heemstede’, ‘Kidd’s Climax’, and already sold-out ‘Bishop of Llandaff’.

Another impressive accolade comes from our good customer Judith Mitchell of Waldoboro, Maine. “I got my first dahlias from you while it was still pretty chilly here in zone 5b,” she writes, “so I very carefully put my tubers aside to wait for warmer weather. Well, you can probably guess what happened – that’s right, I couldn’t find them. In fact, it was well into July when I almost literally stumbled upon them out in the shed.

“Ay-yi-yi, I thought. I immediately planted them with many apologies to the little guys, thinking, of course, that all was lost, I’d get nothing, and it was my own damned fault.

“BUT!!! Lo and behold, they soon sprouted, leaves unfurled, and – much to my rapturous delight – buds appeared! I heaped praise and encouragement on them, and at this late writing [Oct. 17], all have bloomed except for ‘Atropurpurea’, which does have two little buds although they probably won’t mature before frost. ‘Union Jack’ is lovely, and ‘Little Beeswings’ is sheer delight – the most adorable, perfect, and floriferous little dahlia in my dahlia-rich garden. Many thanks for all your marvelous flowers!”


See the Difference: English vs. Spanish Bluebell

Spanish bluebells are great. Also known as squill in the South, they’re tough enough to bloom and naturalize just about anywhere.

But if it’s English bluebells you’re looking for – the iconic wildflower of British woodlands – you’ll need to know how to tell them apart, because counterfeits are ubiquitous.

As head gardener Quentin Stark explains in the May 2015 issue of The English Garden, English bluebells are “a wonderful rich blue. The flowers are tubular and grow on just one side of the stem” – which you can clearly see in this accompanying photo – “and they have an amazing scent. Spanish bluebells are taller, with paler blue, more open flowers, have no scent, and the flowers grow all the way around the stem, making the plant more upright.”

Our true English bluebells are the real deal. They come to us from a small nursery in Wales where they’re native, and you can order yours now for fall planting at last fall’s prices.


Online Now 14,000 Antique Garden Catalogs

Here’s some exciting news for all of you who enjoy the antique images we use in our print catalogs. Last week the Biodiversity Heritage Library celebrated their amazing online collection of over 14,000 historic garden catalogs with a week-long social media event called “Garden Stories.” Even if you missed our Facebook alert about it, you can still:

Online Now for Your Viewing Pleasure: 14,000 Antique Garden Catalogs –

1. Read the Library’s 12 blog posts about the history of garden catalogs, including ones on Shaker seeds, catalog art, and “Leading Ladies.” Click the “Older Posts” link at the bottom of each set of articles to see them all.

2. Enjoy the thousands of antique catalog images the Library has posted at Flickr. Be sure to click on your favorite images to see others from the same catalog – and if you find one you think would be perfect for our next catalog, let us know!

3. Explore some of the Library’s thousands of digitized catalogs dating from 1782 to 1969. Leaf through the 1825 catalog of the William Prince nursery, for example, and you’ll find 22 pages of fall-planted bulbs – including several whose names you’ll recognize from our catalog – and almost two pages of dahlias which at the time were so new to cultivation they were placed in the section labeled “Green-House Plants.”

The Biodiversity Heritage Library is a consortium of natural history and botanical libraries working together to digitize “the legacy literature of biodiversity” and make it more widely available in a global “biodiversity commons.” The BHL’s garden catalogs were digitized mainly from the collections of the National Agriculture Library (which holds some 200,000 catalogs), the New York Botanical Garden, the Missouri Botanical Garden, and Cornell University. We applaud the BHL’s work and we’re glad they recognize the value of historic garden catalogs!


Celebrate ADS Centennial with “Cream of the Crop”

Congratulations to the American Dahlia Society on its 100th anniversary!

Introduced from Mexico in 1798, dahlias became one of the most popular plants of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The UK’s National Dahlia Society was founded in 1881, the German Dahlia Society in 1897, and – after a failed attempt in 1895 – the ADS was established in 1915. The new society held its first national show that fall in New York’s Museum of Natural History. The blooms were displayed in milk bottles, winners took home $100 worth of ribbons and medals as well as $325 in cash, and the show drew some 35,000 enthusiastic viewers.

Dahlias are on the rise again today, and of all the bulbs we ship in the spring, they’re the most popular with our customers. They’re easy to grow, great for bouquets, and spectacularly diverse. To celebrate the ADS centennial, here are four easy ways to add at least one of these incredible flowers to your garden this spring:

‘Little Beeswings’

1. Grow the oldest dahlia that still ranks as an ADS “Fabulous 50” dahlia – ‘Kidd’s Climax’, which last year won 78 blue ribbons or higher awards.

2. Grow an heirloom that still ranks as an ADS “Cream of the Crop” dahlia – ‘Kelvin Floodlight’ (with 42 blue ribbons or higher awards in 2014), ‘Bonne Esperance’ (26), ‘Juanita’ (18), ‘Thomas Edison’ (16), and ‘Little Beeswings’ (16).

3. Grow a dahlia that’s so old it could have been shown in the very first ADS show: ‘White Aster’ (introduced in 1879), ‘Union Jack’ (1882), ‘Tommy Keith’ (1892), ‘Little Beeswings’ (1909), ‘Wisconsin Red’ (1910?), or ‘Prinzessin Irene von Preussen’ (1912).

4. Grow one of our easy heirloom dahlia samplers, Dreamy Dahlias or Endless Bouquets.


Tips from 1954:
Companion Plants for “Up and Coming” Daylilies

“Gaining rapidly in popularity, daylilies are truly one of the most up-and-coming perennials we can choose for our gardens,” wrote G. M. Fosler and J. R. Kamp in a nifty little 1954 booklet titled Daylilies for Every Garden. With its mid-century vibe, the booklet offers these tips for companion plantings:

“Daylilies are often planted with early bulbous stock, such as tulips and daffodils. The daylily foliage does not interfere during the blooming periods of these plants. Later in the season the maturing and unattractive bulbous foliage is hidden by the expanding lush daylily clumps.

“The earliest blooming varieties [such as ‘Gold Dust’, ‘Sovereign’, and ‘Orangeman’] are effectively combined with bearded iris, the whites and the delightful shades of blue and purple in iris contrasting beautifully with the gold and yellow daylilies. The later daylilies . . . also make ideal garden companions for bearded iris and peonies. Daylily foliage does not grow very large until after the iris and peony blooming seasons are past. It is then that the daylily really comes into its own to continue the succession of color in the garden.

extra early ‘Orangeman’

“For pleasing effects later in the summer, the artistic gardener will think of endless combinations. Some daylilies work in well with colorful phlox, columbine, and blue delphiniums. Purple liatris is very striking with yellow daylilies. Many daylily colors also harmonize pleasingly with Shasta daisies, floribunda roses, oriental poppies, platycodon [balloon flower], hardy lilies, and even fall chrysanthemums. Highly interesting foliage contrasts are also possible with such plants as canna, coleus, dusty miller, and hosta. . . .

“An all-season perennial border made up of tulips, iris, peonies, daylilies, and chrysanthemums will provide continuous interest from early spring until frost.”

We’re shipping all 18 of our heirloom daylilies right now, but please note that in a few weeks they’ll be too large to ship safely, so if you want them, NOW is the time to order.