Who’s Growing in Your Garden?
Uncle Theron Returns Home

‘Theron’, the first “red’ daylily

Every now and then we’re reminded of the very real people in the mostly forgotten past of our heirloom flowers.

Recently, for example, first-time customer Amy Turner of Wainscott, NY, added this note to her order for 25 ‘Theron’ daylilies: “My great grandmother, Martha Prentice Strong, a great gardener and friend of A.B. Stout [the pioneering daylily hybridizer], selected and named this daylily after her husband, Theron Strong. I look forward to a garden of Therons!”

Intrigued, we turned to Google and discovered an obituary for the remarkable Mrs. Strong published in the Journal of the New York Botanical Garden where Stout worked.

One paragraph explained that the daylily was actually named for her son rather than her husband: “Another of her absorbing horticultural interests was the daylilies developed by Dr. A. B. Stout. From the first, she was enthusiastic over them, and for more than twenty years she maintained a collection of named varieties at [her home] ‘The Dolphins.’ In 1941, this collection of more than 100 kinds was transplanted to the old Clinton Academy (now a museum) in East Hampton, where it will be maintained by the Garden Club of the town. The name ‘Theron’ in memory of her son, was given by her to the first dark red clone of Hemerocallis developed by Dr. Stout, at his invitation.”

‘Theron’ blooming in front of our neighbor’s historic chicken coop, July 10, 2013.

“Oh, Uncle Theron!” Amy said when I called with the news. Her father’s uncle, Theron Roundell Strong was a lawyer, head of Manhattan’s homicide bureau, and a lieutenant in the artillery during World War I. Amy’s family still has the diary he kept during the war, and she especially remembers his entry on Armistice Day, 1918: “The guns are silent. I’m heading to Paris to marry May” — and a week later they were wed.

As for Mrs. Strong’s daylily collection, Amy says it survived until recently when the garden club ripped it out to plant wildflowers, a painful example of how historic plants are often lost to whatever’s currently in vogue in the garden.

Here in Ann Arbor this year, ‘Theron’ opened its first flowers on Independence Day — which I believe Theron Strong would have appreciated.


Stone Cold Survivors:
Tiger Lilies Thrive in Voyageurs National Park

Starting in the 1940s, Chicago businessman Jack Ellsworth and his wife Elsie built a monumental terraced garden next to their summer home on the shores of Lake Kabetogama, deep in the wilderness of what is now Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota.

At its peak in the early 1960s the garden included 62 rock-edged beds planted with thousands of lilies and other flowers and ornamented by 200 rock sculptures.

When the Ellsworths left Lake Kabetogama in 1965, the forest soon began reclaiming their garden. By 2001 when the National Park Service began implementing a preservation plan for it, decades of neglect, overgrowth, and zone-3 winters had taken their toll, and almost none of the garden’s original plants survived.

Photos from the 1960s, though, showed the garden ablaze with thousands of tiger lilies, and after we confirmed the identity of these incredibly tough lilies, the Park Service ordered 500 more to replant in the garden a couple of years ago.

Learn more here, and if you’re looking for a beautiful, historic lily for your own garden, consider planting some Lake-Kabetogama-tough tiger lilies this fall.


Tips for Success: Growing Bulbs in Pots Outdoors

Container gardening is increasingly popular, and we’re big fans of it. But you can’t grow bulbs such as daffodils and tulips in containers the same way you’d grow them in the ground. Even the largest container is a tiny, cramped, highly artificial world where the wrong potting soil, extreme temperatures, or a few days without water can spell disaster.

If you know what you’re doing, though, it’s easy – and we’re here to help. For step-by-step guidance from choosing the best containers to spring bloom and beyond, check out our new Bulbs in Pots page.

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Heirloom Myth-Busting #1: Are They
Heirloom, Heritage, Antique, Vintage, or Historic?

A Dutch friend asked me recently, “Are heirloom bulbs different from historical bulbs?” Not really, I told him, but we’d say “historic” instead of “historical” – and then the former English teacher in me kicked into high gear and I gave him my thoughts on other words commonly used to describe older plants:

Historic, not Historical – Although their meanings overlap somewhat, historical usually means “relating to history” while historic means “a part of history.” So a historical novel – a story written ABOUT the past – is not the same as a historic novel – which was written IN the past. Some people say that historic has to refer only to important things in history, but the modern sense of history has changed so much that we no longer think it’s only kings and famous people who are historic. Our house and office, for example, are in the Old West Side Historic District, and thousands of houses across the US are also in historic districts – not historical districts. Universities have programs in Historic Preservation, there’s the Historic Iris Preservation Society, the American Daffodil Society has a section in every show for Historic Pre-1940 Daffodils, etc.

Antique – In America, older varieties of apples are typically called “antique apples.” I don’t know why, but they are. Antique suggests something that’s old but with the added connotation of value or worthiness. People collect antiques, we have antique shops, etc.

Vintage – Although it comes originally from the world of wine, “vintage” is being used more and more often to describe things from the past that aren’t as old – or maybe as serious – as antiques. It’s most often used to describe clothing, but it’s also frequently used for items offered on eBay and Craigslist. It seems to be a word that’s more appealing to younger adults, who may see “antique” as being stuffy or hoity-toity but who appreciate the scruffy, counter-culture look of, say, ragged jeans, and the creative diversity of older things.

Oldies and Old-Timers – The dahlia and gladiolus societies sometimes use these terms, but as much as I like their informal, approachable tone, I think they discount the importance of older varieties. “Oldies,” to me, sounds like something that’s merely quaint and interesting, while “historic,” “heirloom,” and “heritage” sound like something valuable that we ought to take care of and preserve.

Heritage – This is often used in England and Canada to describe historic resources such as buildings, etc. It’s also being applied to plants now. (Ten years ago, “antique flowers” was the common term in England.) It has the sense of something being handed down but with more of a community or national significance rather than just personal or family importance. It’s a term that’s just starting to catch on for buildings and plants here in the US – and I’ve actually been thinking of changing our name from Old House Gardens - Heirloom Bulbs to Old House Gardens - Heritage Bulbs.

Heirloom – This suggests something old that’s often of more emotional than monetary value, and that has been handed down from generation to generation. My wife and I have antique furniture in our house that we bought at antique shops, but the rocking chair that her grandmother gave us is not just an antique, it’s a family heirloom. This to me is the best word to describe what our bulbs are. It says, “These are important, they’re not just old, they’ve been handed down, entrusted to us, they speak of the past, they carry and evoke emotion, they deserve our care.” Not everyone can get excited about history and historic, but heirloom means that you care about it, that it has personal meaning and value. It’s also the word most often used to described older vegetable varieties whose seed has been saved and passed down – and that have become very popular here. Many fancy restaurants, for example, serve heirloom tomatoes, heirloom beets, and so on.

Of course there are many other words – old, old-fashioned, classic, retro, old-school, etc. – but I think I’ve said enough.