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December 11, 2013
“Every gardener knows under the cloak of winter lies a miracle — a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dream.”
— Barbara Winkler, American writer and editor
From all of us here at Old House Gardens, thanks for another wonderful year of friendship, support, and sharing our love of beautiful old flowers. You make everything we do here possible, and that’s an incredible gift. May your holidays be merry and every day of the new year bring you closer to the garden of your dreams.
Order by 3:00 EST Dec. 20 to Give the Gift of Spring this Holiday Season
The promise of spring makes an unbeatable gift, and it’s even better when it comes with our friendly, ever-helpful customer service.
Bulbs and Samplers for Spring Planting: Lush dahlias for bouquets, perennial iris, fragrant tuberoses, graceful daylilies, charming little glads, and more, all for delivery in April. And if you order by 3:00 EST Dec. 20, we’ll send a card announcing your gift of bulbs (regularly $2.50) for free!
A Gift for You: Save 10% through December on Bulbs for Next Fall
The early bird gets the worm, and saves 10%! This month when you order bulbs for NEXT fall, you’ll not only put yourself at the head of the line for our rarities but you’ll also pay 10% less than this past fall’s prices. You can always add to your order anytime, so why not get first dibs and save 10% by ordering next fall’s bulbs by Dec. 31? That’s smart garden-shopping!
Two Great New Books for Holiday Giving (and Getting)
Our friend Denise Adams has given garden lovers the perfect companion for her landmark Restoring American Gardens: An Encyclopedia of Heirloom Ornamental Plants. Although the focus of her earlier book was plants (thank you very much), in her new book, American Home Landscapes: A Design Guide to Creating Period Styles, Denise and her co-author Laura Burchfield present a lavishly illustrated history of how the design and constructed features of our yards – fencing, paving, furniture, etc. – have changed over the past 400 years. They link past with present, too, offering advice to modern gardeners in their first chapter, “So You Want to Design a Historic Landscape,” and including case studies throughout the book. Maybe best of all, though, are the many illustrations and plans drawn from a wealth of historic sources. It’s one thing to read about what gardens were like in the past, but actually seeing some of them – and the gardeners who made and loved them – is endlessly fascinating.
Another new book that’s so beautifully illustrated you can enjoy and learn from it even if you only look at the pictures is Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales. You’ll want to read it, though, because the story of Potter’s life and gardening as told by our friend Marta McDowell – author of the superb Emily Dickinson’s Gardens – is richly rewarding. Born in 1866, Potter was a shy girl with a love of nature who grew up to chart her own path, self-publishing her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, becoming a celebrated author and preservationist, marrying at 47, and gardening with enthusiasm. In the second half of her book, Marta reconstructs a year in Potter’s gardens based on her letters, books, sketches, and watercolors. I was especially happy to learn that she loved heirloom plants and grew many of “our” bulbs: winter aconite, snowdrops ("the flower Beatrix most often mentions in her letters"), ‘Cloth of Gold’ crocus’, crown imperial, daffodils (including Lent lily and ‘Butter and Eggs’), hyacinths, tulips, the native English bluebells, bearded iris, peonies, lilies, and dahlias. Although the hero of her best-loved book is a rabbit – and the bad guy was the gardener – clearly Potter was one of us. (Read a New York Times interview of Marta with a photo of her holding one of our ‘Deuil du Roi Albert’ dahlias.)
Color of the Year: OHG Purple (er, Radiant Orchid)
Call us ahead of our time, or trend-setting seers. Pantone’s recently announced Color of the Year for 2014 is a bright pinky-purple that they call “Vibrant Orchid” but that you may recognize as our once signature color. In fact, all nine of our first catalog covers, from 1993 to 2001, were printed on a paper known as Planetary Purple which was very similar to Radiant Orchid. We saw it as a lush, quirky, high-energy color that reflected how we felt about our bulbs and our company. Today we still use it at our website to highlight important things such as our Web-Only bulbs, and we continue to call it OHG Purple.
To add a bit of Radiant Orchid to your garden, try our spring-planted ‘Nellie Broomhead’ dahlia (now with an improved photo online), ‘Fidelio’ gladiolus, and ‘Caprice’ iris, and for fall planting there’s the incomparable Byzantine glad (at 10% off this past fall’s price through Dec. 31!). To find other possibilities, use the “Color & Foliage” choices in our easy, awesome Advanced Search.
Toast the Holidays with . . . Heirloom Iris?
With the curiosity of a scientist and the writing skills of a master story-teller, Amy Stewart is one of my favorite authors. In her 2013 New York Times best-seller The Drunken Botanist, she explores the hundreds of “plants that create the world’s great drinks,” from barley and hops to obscurities such as quandong, sloe berry, and even a couple of centuries-old iris:
“The pharmacy and perfumery of Santa Maria Novella, established by Dominican friars in Florence in 1221, gained notoriety for its use of the rhizomes of iris. They were not the first — Greek and Roman writings mention it — but their perfumes, cordials, and powders contained liberal doses of this rare and precious substance.
“Orris was popular not so much for its fragrance — although it does contain a compound called irone that gives it a faint violet smell — but as a fixative, holding other fragrances or flavors in place by contributing a missing atom that would otherwise make the fragrance volatile and easily released from the solution it is suspended in.
“None of this chemistry was understood at first. Perfumers and distillers would also not have understood why the rhizomes had to dry for two to three years before they become effective as a fixative. We now know that it takes that long for a slow oxidation process to occur, . . [which] causes irone to form . . . .
“Only about 173 acres of orris are cultivated worldwide. Most of the orris is either I. pallida ‘Dalmatica’, grown in Italy, or . . . I. germanica var. Florentina, grown in Morocco, China, and India. I. germanica ‘Albicans’ is also used . . . .
“To extract the orris, the rhizome must first be pulverized and steam-distilled to produce a waxy substance called orris butter, or beurre d’iris. Then alcohol is used to extract an absolute, which is . . . a stronger version of an essential oil.
“Orris is found in nearly every gin and in many other spirits. Its popularity in perfume is due to the fact that it not only holds the fragrance in place but clings to the skin as well. It also happens to be a very common allergen, which explains why allergy sufferers might be sensitive to cosmetics and other fragrances — as well as gin.”
See a field of pallida ‘Dalmatica’ farmed in Italy at oldhousegardens.com/MoreAboutPallidaDalmatica .
Now in the Archives: 100 of Our Favorite Gardening Quotations
Every month for the past eight years, we’ve chosen a garden-related quotation to put at the top of our email newsletter. Now, at the prompting of readers like you, we’ve posted all 100 of them in a new section of our Newsletter Archives called Garden Quotations. It’s a wide-ranging assortment, from funny to inspiring, Theophrastus to Barbara Kingsolver, and we hope you’ll enjoy them all.
We’re always looking for more, too, so if you have any favorites you’d like to share with us, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
Check Your Phone: Your Plants are Calling
Just in time for the holidays, there’s a new high-tech gizmo called Flower Power that lets you monitor the needs of your plants even when you’re far from home. Looking like a futuristic stick, Flower Power is a wireless indoor/outdoor plant sensor that monitors and analyzes four essential requirements for plant health — sunlight, soil moisture, temperature, and fertilizer. There’s a free app so you can check the results on your smartphone, and you can even set it to automatically send you an alert when, say, your plants need watering. At $59.99, Flower Power isn’t cheap, but heck, it’s the holidays! Learn more at Amazon (be sure to click the bottom button on the left to watch the video) and in this review.
Chill with Us on Facebook
Our endless holiday party of friendly gardeners now numbers 6294, but there’s plenty of room for more. So don’t be shy — come take a look, “like” us, chat (or just listen in), get occasional early-bird alerts, and help spread the word about the joys of heirloom bulbs.
Did You Miss Our Last Newsletter? Read It Online!
November’s articles included a fellow bulb merchant on our street in 1839, Thanksgiving thanks (and Scott’s recipe for cornbread and sausage stuffing), forcing bearded iris, $500,000 for heirloom peonies, Kristina rates us “Top 5” for holiday gifts, and more. You can read all of our back-issues, by date or by topic, at oldhousegardens.com/NewsletterArchives .
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