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March 7, 2014
“Adopt the pace of Nature: her secret is patience.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882, American philosopher, essayist, and poet
Give Spring a Boost by Ordering Now!
Having a hard time choosing? Try our easy samplers, including our frugal, fabulous “Intro to Heirlooms” — $35 worth of summer beauties for just $30. Or save 15-25% on our Bumper Crop bulbs such as shade-tolerant ‘Indian Chief’ iris and 5-foot-tall ‘Challenger’ daylily.
29 of our rarest dahlias and glads are already SOLD OUT, so why wait any longer? Kathy, Rita, and Vanessa are eager to help you at (734) 995-1486, and our easy website is always open for your shopping pleasure. Order yourself some summer excitement now!
Shipping Starts . . . April 7???
It’s been a brutal winter here in Ann Arbor, but even in “normal” years our nighttime lows never stay reliably above freezing until early April — which is why we usually plan to start shipping April 1. This year, though, we still have 2-3 feet of snow on the ground and four record low temperatures in the past week alone, including MINUS 16 degrees! So, depending on what Mother Nature throws at us in the next few weeks, we may have to delay the start of spring shipping by a week or so.
No matter how warm it is where you live, we need to make sure your tender bulbs can travel safely to us from our growers across the country and overseas, and that they’ll stay warm enough to avoid damage on their way to you. Thanks for your patience, and if spring reaches you before us, enjoy!
Bulbs in Pots: Our New Page of Tips for Tuberoses, Rain Lilies, and More
Every summer we decorate our front porch with pots of fragrant tuberoses and little pink rain lilies, while out in the back yard we tuck pots of glads in among the perennials to provide exclamation points of color.
You can, too! Most spring-planted bulbs are easy to grow in containers, and you’ll find everything you need to know at our newly expanded “Bulbs in Pots” page. Read it now and get ready for a summer filled with beauty, fragrance, and fun.
Blog of the Month: Margaret Roach Talks Heirlooms with Scott
If you’re not reading Margaret Roach’s A Way to Garden, you’re missing something special. Margaret’s combination of what she calls “horticultural how-to and woo-woo” have made hers one of the most popular garden blogs. And Margaret appreciates the pleasures of the past. In 2007 she left her job as Editorial Director of Martha Stewart Living and moved to an old farmhouse in rural New York that she’s been restoring and filling with all sorts of beautiful things, from antique typewriters to pressed seaweed. (Take a peek at apartmenttherapy.com.)
So naturally I was thrilled when Margaret asked me to talk with her recently about heirloom bulbs, especially dahlias. You can listen to the podcast of our 24-minute chat anytime you want, or read the condensed version of it at her blog. She starts by calling me “Mr. Heirloom Bulb himself” — which I’m pretty sure she meant as a compliment — and then asks me to explain my “anthropological passion for these exceptional plants,” how my definition of heirlooms has changed over the past 30 years, why I like growing dahlias, and more. In the course of our talk I learned that she “particularly loves” dark-leaved dahlias such as ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ and that her favorite antique iris is ‘Gracchus’.
There’s a lot of excellent how-to at Margaret’s blog, and unusual plants, and recipes, and even frogs, but her greatest strength, I’d say, is that she enjoys exploring the deeper connections and meaning in gardening, nature, and life. One recent example is her heart-felt remembrance of Jack, the cat who walked out of the woods and into her life on 9/11. If you’re an animal lover, especially, you won’t want to miss it.
Worst Winter Ever? How Will It Affect Your Plants?
It’s been a grueling winter this year, with record drought in California and extreme cold and snow throughout much of the rest of the country. (According to the National Weather Service’s new “Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index,” here in the Detroit area it’s been the worst since 1950.) Of course heirloom plants have been taking extreme weather in stride for decades if not centuries, but — leaving aside drought for a future article — let’s take a look at some of the factors that determine how much the cold and snow will affect your plants.
How COLD It Got — Of course the colder it gets, the more damage it causes to a wider variety of plants. That’s why average minimum low temperatures are the basis for the USDA hardiness zones. But there’s more to it than that.
How SUDDENLY the Cold Arrived — As winter approaches, plants go through a series of bio-chemical changes that prepare them to survive the cold. However, if the cold comes on suddenly, instead after a long period of slowly dropping temperatures, plants that would normally take it in stride can be killed outright.
How LONG the Cold Lasted — One night of extreme cold may only injure a plant, especially in warmer parts of the country, but if temperatures stay that low for two or three days the damage may be so great that the plant will never recover. In colder areas, the longer the weather stays cold, the deeper the ground will freeze — and the colder it will get down there — which can result in the death of plants that, with a more normal mix of up and down temperatures, would usually survive.
How BARE the Soil Was — Like a down comforter, snow traps air which makes it a great insulator. In fact, according to our friend Dan who runs a local cemetery, the one to three feet of snow that we’ve had on the ground here pretty much all winter has insulated the soil so well that it’s virtually frost-free — which makes grave-digging easy — except near roads, paths, and other areas where his crew has cleared the snow. Snow also protects bare soil from the cycle of freezing and thawing that occurs when sunny days are followed by much colder nights, and which can break roots and heave new plants out of the ground. Of course wet, heavy snow can wreak havoc on the branches of trees and shrubs, but most of the time, where winters are cold, snow is a good thing.
How WELL-ESTABLISHED Your Plants Are — Plants that are recently-planted are always more vulnerable to the cold, mainly because they’ve had less time to establish an extensive root system to anchor and hydrate them. That includes woody plants and perennials you planted anytime last year, and especially bulbs and other plants that you planted last fall.
How HARDY Your Plants Are — If you enjoy stretching your hardiness zone and experimenting with plants that are only marginally hardy in your area, you can expect more losses than if you’re a more conservative gardener. The way we figure it, though, a plant that brings us years of pleasure is worth the investment, even if an extreme winter every now and then kills it and we have to replant it. It may also be comforting to remember that all of our tulips, lilies, crocus, and many of our fall-planted diverse bulbs, if well-established, are recommended for zone 5 with its ten-year-average lows of minus 20 F, and many will be fine in zone 4 or even zone 3 with lows to 40 below — and with good snow cover to insulate them they’ll take even lower temperatures in stride.
Severe winters have their SILVER LININGS, too. Deep cold kills insect pests, heavy snow replenishes soil moisture, and — though most of your plants will be just fine this spring — the few that don’t make it will give you more room to plant new ones.
Georgia O’Keeffe, Gardener
The great American artist Georgia O’Keeffe is well-known for her paintings of the Southwest, where she lived for the latter half of her life, and her sensual, close-up images of flowers. Now “Modern Nature,” an exhibit at San Francisco’s de Young Museum, features 55 works from early in O’Keeffe’s career when she spent summers with her husband’s family on the shores of New York’s Lake George. Some are “magnified botanical compositions inspired by the flowers and vegetables that she grew in her garden” — including red cannas and purple petunias — while others feature wild plants such as the well-loved native bulb, jack-in-the-pulpit.
In a short review of the book that accompanies the exhibit, photographer Saxon Holt writes that O’Keeffe would scour the plant catalogs of superstar plant-breeder Luther Burbank looking for new flowers to plant and paint. Burbank illustrated his catalogs with “groundbreaking” color photos, and the similarities between these photos and O’Keeffe’s paintings are striking. See for yourself at Holt’s blog, and then treat yourself to a preview of ten paintings from the exhibit.
French vs. English Jonquils: Did “Early Louisiana” Get its Start in New Orleans?
Our heirloom “Early Louisiana” jonquils are a wonderfully fragrant, unusually vigorous form of N. jonquilla that blooms weeks earlier than the ones sold by mainstream sources — but why? The late Carl Amason, founder of the Arkansas Daffodil Society and a great mentor for me when I first got interested in old daffodils 30 years ago, offered an intriguing answer in the March 2012 edition of The Daffodil Journal.
Carl lived on the old family homestead in southern Arkansas, and four very old daffodils flourished there: Twin Sisters, Butter and Eggs, Buttercups (the original trumpet daffodil, aka Lent lily), and jonquils — which he described as “a strain of Narcissus jonquilla which was vigorous, prolific to self sow,” and had a fragrance that would “make a statement, “especially” by moonlight on a warm night.”
But, he wrote, “I was frequently asked why some jonquil plantings were much earlier and more vigorous than others.” At first he “assumed that the more vigorous . . . were growing in established places with good soil and more sun.” Later he realized “there were two or more distinct strains of N. jonquilla, and that was the primary reason for the differences.” The earlier-blooming strain was what he “came to call the French jonquil, to distinguish it from the English jonquil that bloomed a month later.” This strong-growing French strain “has become naturalized in north Louisiana, south Arkansas, and east Texas,” he wrote, but it’s not as common further east where the less vigorous strain “that came with the English speaking peoples from Virginia and the Carolinas” predominates. “Evidently,” he concluded, “the New Orleans settlers brought the earlier French strain upriver to Arkansas and east Texas.”
Native to Spain and Portugal, N. jonquilla has been naturalized in the nearby south of France for a very long time. Like many wild plants, it’s a highly variable species, and it’s reasonable to believe that centuries ago earlier-blooming strains were favored by gardeners along the sunny Mediterranean in France, while later-blooming strains were preferred in the more northerly British Isles — and the bulb fields of the Netherlands — where spring comes later and early flowers would be more likely to be damaged by late frosts. Carl’s French/English dichotomy also helps to explain why virtually all modern hybrid jonquils are later blooming. As he wrote, “The English strain was what the hybridizers, mostly British, used in their work because it was only natural for them to use what was readily available.”
“This is all speculation on my part,” he added, but his conclusions make sense to me. Today the English strain is widely offered by mainstream bulb-sellers, but if you want the vigorous, early-blooming, richly fragrant, heirloom French strain — grown for us in east Texas — we’d be glad to help you out. And if you order NOW for delivery this fall, we’ll give it to you at LAST fall’s prices!
Hellstrip, Curb Lawn, Parking, Terrace, Berm, Fairway — What Do You Call It?
Thanks to the many of you who answered my question last month: “What do you call that space between the sidewalk and the street?” So far we’ve tallied 33 different names for it, and although I promised a full report in this month’s newsletter, we’ve run out of room so we’re putting it off till next month. That means you still have time to tell us what YOU call it. Please include where you live (or lived when you called it that), so we can map the regional distribution of the terms. Email email@example.com or post it on our Facebook page. We want to hear from you!
Watch Spring Unfold with Us on Facebook
Over 300 fellow gardeners “liked” us at Facebook last month, bringing our friendly group of spring-starved gardeners there to 7038. Thank you, all! If you haven’t yet, we hope you’ll come take a look and join us as we say goodbye to this #@%*! winter and welcome the slow but certain arrival of another glorious spring.
Did You Miss Our Last Newsletter? Read It Online!
February’s articles included a mind-blowing Dutch dahlia parade, the father of spider daylilies, our” hellstrip” query, 11 newly added treasures, and more. You can read all of our back-issues, by date or by topic, at oldhousegardens.com/NewsletterArchives .
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