Heirloom Bulbs & Garden History  •  Living Treasure from the Past

August 2019


Too Hot? Too Wet? What’s It Doing to Your Bulbs?

Hotter summers are getting to be the norm for much of the country, but this year many areas have had a lot more rain than usual, too.

How will it affect your bulbs? It depends.

DAHLIAS – Spring was unusually cool and wet in many parts of the country, and that’s a tough combination for newly planted dahlias. If some of yours failed to sprout, that’s probably why. Next year wait until late spring to plant them, and if the long-term forecast calls for unusually cool or rainy weather, wait a bit longer.

Once they’re up and growing, though, dahlias prefer cool nights, and heat waves can slow their growth to a standstill. But don’t worry. When cooler temperatures return, they usually kick back into gear and go on to bloom normally.

GLADS & CROCOSMIA – Thrips are tiny, almost invisible sucking insects that multiply rapidly in hot weather. If your glads or crocosmia have pale or rusty streaks on their leaves, don’t delay – spray with an insecticidal soap. Since these soaps kill only on contact, be sure to coat the leaves thoroughly on both sides. You’ll probably need to spray again in a week or two, so put a reminder in your phone and stay vigilant.

High heat can also make narrow-stemmed glads like ‘Atom’ grow in a zig-zag fashion as they droop slightly during the day and then grow upright again at night.

LILIES – Thanks to plenty of rain, the lilies in my garden this year have been taller and more floriferous than ever. One Henry’s lily, for example, is currently almost eight feet tall – two feet taller than usual – and loaded with three dozen buds and blooms. But since this summer has also been unusually hot, the flowers haven’t lasted as long as they usually do, and some varieties – such as ‘Pink Perfection’ – haven’t been as richly colored.

PEONIES – Peonies usually like ample water, but warm, humid conditions can spur the growth of mildew and fungal diseases that disfigure their leaves and rot their stalks. At the first sign of these problems, remove the diseased tissue and throw it in the trash, not the compost. Then sterilize your pruning shears with bleach or alcohol before moving on to another plant.

TULIPS & HYACINTHS – In the spring, tulips like cool temperatures and plenty of moisture, but once they go dormant, they can rot in soil that stays too wet for too long. This is also true for hyacinths, to a lesser extent. If you’ve had an unusually rainy summer, there’s a good chance fewer of your tulips and hyacinths will return and bloom again next spring.

Although it can be frustrating at times, I think our dependence on the weather is one of the things that makes gardening so enriching. It keeps us on our toes, tuned into nature, and gives us a hands-on understanding of what climate change can mean for all of us.

Read August’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.


Eat Your Weeds – Delicious, Historic Purslane

purslane thriving in my garden

Purslane is the weed of the moment in my garden right now. I swear if I look away for just a day or two, areas that were perfectly weeded are covered with big sprawling mats of it.

With its flat, succulent leaves, purslane is part of the Portulaca genus which also includes the heirloom annual moss rose. Its seeds germinate best when soil temperatures reach 90 degrees, which explains why I’m seeing so much of it right now. And it does grow quickly, producing seeds just three weeks after it sprouts – which can remain viable for up to 40 years! Plus any pieces that get missed while you’re weeding can root and grow into new plants, so I’m sure I’m going to be battling purslane in my garden forever.

But here’s the good news – purslane is both tasty and nutritious, and it has a deep history.

“The moisture-rich leaves are cucumber-crisp, and have a tart, almost lemony tang with a peppery kick,” writes Laura Vozzella in the Baltimore Sun, and it’s frequently compared to watercress and spinach (though to my taste buds it’s milder than all of the above). It’s also rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and even melatonin.

"wild purslane" in Gerard's Herbal, 1597

“Fresh young plants” are best, writes Sandra Mason of the University of Illinois Extension, “especially young leaves and tender stem tips.” She recommends eating it “in salads or on sandwiches instead of lettuce or pickles. Next time order a ham and purslane on rye,” and adds that purslane “can also be cooked as a potherb, steamed, stir-fried, or pureed.”

According to Wikipedia, “archaeobotanical finds … are common at many prehistoric sites” in the eastern Mediterranean, and by the Roman era purslane’s “healing properties were thought so reliable that Pliny the Elder advised wearing the plant as an amulet to expel all evil.”

In his great Herbal of 1597, Englishman John Gerard described two forms, “garden purslane” and the similar but smaller “wild purslane” which “cometh up of his own accord in allies of gardens and vineyards.” (Sound familiar?) It was “much used in salads, with oil, salt, and vinegar,” he said, and he listed over a dozen herbal uses for it, from provoking appetite and soothing toothaches to treating hemorrhoids and “killing worms in small children.”

I could go on and on – who knew a weed could be so interesting? – but I’ll just recommend a couple of excellent articles if you want to explore further: the Baltimore Sun’s “Purslane: A Weed Worth Eating” and “What to Do With Purslane” at Epicurious.com.

Happy weeding – and eating!

Read August’s News, Alerts, & Quotation.