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September 3, 2014
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”
— John Muir, 1838-1914, American naturalist, author, and wilderness advocate
Our New Catalogs are in the Mail!
We mailed them Aug. 27 to everyone who ordered from our fall-2012/spring-2013 catalog or more recently. If that’s you, yours should arrive soon if it hasn’t already. Bulk mail can take up to two weeks, though, and sometimes a catalog gets lost. Consider putting a reminder on your calendar or in your phone for Wednesday, Sept. 10, and if you don’t have yours by then give us a call and we’ll rush you another by first-class mail. We don’t want you to miss it!
Fall Shipping Starts Oct. 1
It’s almost “game time” for us, and we’re eager to begin!
Don’t Miss These Almost-Sold-Out and Newly Added Bulbs
Eight of our rarest bulbs are already sold out, and these 12 are projected to be gone soon — so if you want them, don’t delay!
peony: ‘Mrs. F.D. Roosevelt’,
“Best” Blogger Chats with Scott about Bulbs from Snow to Iris Season
Margaret Roach’s AWayToGarden.com was named “Best Overall Blog” at last year’s first-ever Garden Bloggers conference. If you’re not already a devoted reader, why not take a look at Margaret’s recent talk with me about having bulbs in bloom from snow to iris season. We started with winter aconites (with a great photo of them in Margaret’s garden) and other small, mostly animal-resistant beauties including Turkish glory-of-the-snow (Margaret’s favorite). I did my best to talk her into hyacinths (today’s un-coolest bulb, but awesome), and we touched on fragrant daffodils, tulips, and the very animal-resistant snowflake.
Although it’s not in the written version, if you listen to the podcast of our talk you’ll hear why Margaret says the voles, chipmunks, and rabbits in her garden “never got the memo” about Crocus tommasinianus being animal-resistant. One fall she planted 4000 for a Martha Stewart Living photo shoot but only four survived to bloom in the spring — a painful reminder that animal-resistance ranges from “extremely” to “moderately,” and if they’re hungry enough animals will eat just about anything.
Rogue Voles Teach Cornell Scientist about Animal-Resistant Bulbs
When voles ate bulbs intended for a study on deer-resistance, Cornell University’s Bill Miller made the best of it. In the fall, Miller had potted up the bulbs and put them into cold storage. Unfortunately in spring he discovered that “during the winter, prairie voles had taken up residence in the stacks of crates and had eaten more than 35% of the bulbs. We found two large nests of voles, and the youngsters were quite happy, well fed, and growing fast from their nutritious meals. . . . Of course we were not happy with this, but we used it as an opportunity to learn some things about vole feeding and flower bulbs.” The voles’ favorite bulbs included tulips, crocus, Anemone blanda, and Chionodoxa luciliae, but they avoided those listed below. Deer would, too, Miller points out, since deer and voles are known to have similar tastes.
Hyacinths — “Bulbs were not attacked and shoots were perfect when uncovered. . . . From this we can conclude that hyacinths are pretty immune to attack from voles, and my own experience suggests that deer usually leave hyacinths alone.”
Daffodils — “Voles dug in about 10% of the pots but did not damage the bulb or emerging shoots” — and most gardeners know that daffodils are reliably deer-resistant.
Other bulbs that “experienced little or no damage” included snowdrops, snowflakes, cyclamen, trout lilies, and crown imperial. Others that were “injured but not destroyed” included alliums such as Allium sphaerocephalum (10% damage), winter aconite, and Siberian squill.
100 Years Ago This Week: The Last Passenger Pigeon
On Sept. 2 one hundred years ago, the last passenger pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo. Once the most numerous bird species in America, passenger pigeons had numbered in the billions and played a critical role in ecosystems across the country. But with very few laws protecting them, relentless hunting and habitat destruction led to their mass extinction.
Organizations across the country are marking this poignant centennial with special exhibits, events, and publications. An excellent article in the fall newsletter of Matthaei Botanical Gardens here in Ann Arbor notes that, since acorns were a favorite food of passenger pigeons, they probably roosted and fed in the Gardens’ centuries-old oak trees. These oaks were originally part of a Midwestern ecosystem known as oak openings — essentially prairie or savanna under trees — which is now as endangered as the pigeons once were. One study estimates, for example, that “just .02% of the Midwest’s original savanna remains” and “the loss of savanna in Michigan is most dramatic in the oak openings communities, which have declined from an estimated 900,000 acres to just 3, a loss of 99.9996%.”
To learn more about these remarkable birds and centennial events in your state, go to passengerpigeon.org, an international effort to raise awareness and promote “lessons from the past for a sustainable future.”
Fragrance in Peonies — Including the Fern-Leaf?
“Peonies play a significant part in the omnium gatherum of June odors,” Louise Beebe Wilder wrote in her 1932 classic The Fragrant Path. “Peonies do not, of course, all smell alike, and many of them have practically no smell at all. Few of the single kinds are markedly sweet-scented, nor are [most of the red ones]. The purest and most delicious quality of scent is found in the various pale pink varieties [such as ‘Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt’ and deeper-pink ‘Edulis Superba’] and in the white and blush-colored kinds [such as ‘Elsa Sass’].
Beebe also claimed that Paeonia tenuifolia, the fern-leaf peony is fragrant. This surprised me because I’ve grown it for years and never noticed that — so if you’ve sniffed it, please let us know what you found.” Several Paeonia species have fragrant flowers,” she wrote, “among them the little red flowered P. tenuifolia, from the Ukraine called the Adonis peony because of the similarity of its feathery foliage to that of the Adonis. It is a charming little species, suitable for and in harmony with the rock garden as well as for border life. It is the first of its race to bloom and after the flowering is past and seed has matured, the plant dies to the ground and is seen no more until the following spring. So mark well its dwelling that you may not injure it in digging about.”
Wacky Dahlias: Why Did My ‘Nonette’ Bloom Red?
Dahlias are incredibly diverse, and most of the time that’s a good thing — but not always. Unlike most living things which have two sets of chromosomes, dahlias are octoploids which means they have eight. This wider range of genetic possibilities is the source of their astonishing diversity, but it also creates more opportunities for things to go awry.
Chimeras — named for a mythological beast that was part lion, goat, and snake — are plants in which cells of two different genetic make-ups exist side by side. Many bi-tone, speckled, and other variegated dahlias are chimeras, and the interaction between their genetically different sections or layers is often unstable. ‘Nonette’, for example, is usually an apricot colored dahlia sprinkled with tiny bits of red. Sometimes, though, its flowers are all apricot or all red. (See photos of this and more at our new Wacky Dahlias page.) Most of the time most flowers of a chimera are normal with only a random few that are different, but sometimes the plant changes completely so that all of its flowers are different, and sometimes only one part of a flower goes wacky.
Growing conditions can make a difference, too. Flower colors often change as the weather cools and sunlight diminishes in the fall, and stressful conditions — too much heat or not enough water, sunlight, or nutrients — can sometimes make double flowers bloom with fewer petals.
Most of these changes are only temporary (and often entertaining), but if you have a dahlia that bloomed all wrong this year, please let us know so we can send you a refund, credit, or replacement. And if you have a photo of one of our dahlias gone wacky in your garden, we’d love to see it!
From 1912: Growing Parrot Tulips in Hanging Baskets
Until ‘Fantasy’ was introduced in 1910, parrot tulips tended to be a bit wobbly because their stems weren’t quite strong enough to hold their enlarged flowers upright. The Reverend Joseph Jacob in his 1912 book Tulips had this clever suggestion for taking advantage of that weakness:
“An effective and rather uncommon way of growing [parrot tulips] is in hanging baskets of wire or wood. Thickly moss all round the exterior of the receptacle, and fill the inside with a retentive soil of half leaf-mould [ie. compost] and half good fibrous loam and sand. Place the bulbs so that some will grow through the sides and some out of the top. The basket can be started as an ordinary pot, care being taken to stand it on something so as not to flatten the bottom too much. A flower pot does well for the purpose. When a few inches of growth have been made, it must be suspended in a greenhouse or winter garden and kept well watered, especially in hot, windy weather. So treated, each one will make a very pleasing object, the great uncouth and ragged blooms hanging down in charming confusion and displaying their quaint coloring and weird shapes.”
Pink Surprise Lilies in Zones 5 and 8
Thanks for your replies to last month’s query about growing surprise lilies outside of the narrow range of zones we’ve been recommending them for, 6b-7b. We’ll have a full report in our next newsletter, so stay tuned. And if you’re growing them in zones 6a or colder, or 8a or warmer, we’d still love to hear from you!
Welcome a Glorious Fall with Us on Facebook
Another 182 gardeners “liked” us at Facebook during the past three weeks, bringing our cozy clatch of fellow gardeners there to 8597. Thank you, all! If you haven’t yet, we hope you’ll come take a look at what’s blooming here and join us as we head into shipping season and the cooling, fruitful days of fall.
Did You Miss Our August Newsletter? Read It Online!
August’s articles included our reduced shipping rates, a before-and-after look at our new catalog cover, “Technicolor tulips” as annuals, a Ryan Gainey bulb bouquet, praise for little ‘Rip van Winkle’, surprise lilies at the BH&G garden, our old house in a new book, and more. You can read all of our back-issues, by date or by topic, at oldhousegardens.com/NewsletterArchives.
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