Save the Monarchs!
Every fall millions of orange and black monarch butterflies migrate hundreds of miles south to a handful of tiny sites mostly in Mexico where they survive the winter by huddling together on trees. In spring they mate, return north, lay eggs, and die – which means no monarch ever makes the trip twice. So how do they find their way? Scientists are still trying figure that out.
Unfortunately the number of monarchs making the trip this past year was the smallest it’s been in twenty years. Experts blame the decline on last year’s unusually warm weather and a dramatic loss of habitat due to genetically modified crops. “In key US states where the butterfly feeds and breeds . . . farmers have planted more than 120 million acres of corn and soybeans genetically modified to resist the herbicide [glyphosate],” The Los Angeles Times reported. “That allows them to use glyphosate to kill milkweed, the monarchs’ essential food.” Learn more.
To help make up for at least a fraction of those 120 million acres lost, you can plant milkweeds and monarch-favored nectar plants in your yard. For guidance, see Sally Roth’s highly-rated Attracting Butterflies & Hummingbirds to Your Backyard and – for just $2.99 – Tony Gomez’s e-book Bring Home the Butterflies Vol. I: How to Attract More Monarchs.
A spectacular 3-D movie about the monarchs’ odyssey, The Flight of the Butterflies, is now showing in 40 IMAX theaters at museums across the country. It’s a “miniature underdog story,” says the Washington Post, that’s “reminiscent of March of the Penguins,” and “a story about the better side of humans, specifically the real people who first wondered where monarchs go in the winter.” Learn more. (May 2013)
Stamps for Gardeners: Vintage Seed Packets, La Florida, and More
Apparently we’re not the only ones who think that flowers and the mail are great together. Earlier this month the post office released two new sets of “forever” stamps graced with flower images.
The La Florida stamps feature a quartet of colorful hibiscus, cannas, morning glories, and passionflowers. As the post office explains, “During the Easter season of 1513, Spanish explorers first visited the state we now know as Florida. They named the land La Florida for Spain’s Easter celebration, Pascua Florida (‘Feast of the Flowers’), and for the verdant display of vegetation that they could see from their ship.”
Even better are the new Vintage Seed Packets stamps with antique images of cosmos, zinnias, and eight other old-fashioned flowers drawn from American seed packets of the early 1900s. Experienced gardeners will recognize most, although I have to admit that the red “linum” was unfamiliar to me. Googling it I learned that it’s red flax, Linum grandiflorum ‘Rubrum’, and now I’m thinking of trying it this spring. Hopefully other gardeners will be similarly inspired. And if seed-grown heirloom flowers have become so popular that the post office notices, could a set of heirloom bulb stamps be next???
Other stamps that gardeners will enjoy are the five Bonsai stamps and the panoramic Cherry Blossom Centennial stamps. Happy mailing! (April 2013)
Spring in the Comic Pages
Last Sunday’s edition of one of our favorite comics, Arlo and Janis, will bring a knowing smile to any gardener. Enjoy it here. (March 2013)
Farewell to Garden Design
We subscribe to a lot of garden magazines, and we enjoy the diverse views they offer of the wide world of gardening. Sadly, after the April issue we’ll be missing the high-end, fashion-forward, design-centric view of Garden Design. With a relatively small circulation of 185,000 and weak ad sales, the magazine is the second to be folded by publisher Bonnier Corporation since a new CEO took over there a few months ago. Garden Design not only kept us looking ahead to the future of gardening, it helped save America’s landscape history by promoting the preservation work of the Cultural Landscape Foundation. Thanks, friends, for both. (March 2013)
March Madness: Go Big 10!
For the first time since 1994, our hometown University of Michigan Wolverines have made it to the Sweet Sixteen, beating the tough teams of South Dakota State and VCU. Next up, the formidable Kansas Jayhawks. Three other Big 10 teams are still playing, too – Indiana, Ohio State, and Michigan State (the alma mater of our OHG colleagues Derick, Rick, and Vanessa) – and we’re cheering for them all, at least for one more round. Go Blue! (March 2013)
Sipping Spring: Dandelion Beer
You’ve probably heard of dandelion wine, but dandelion beer? As I was picking up a six-pack of Magic Hat #9 recently, the name of the beer sitting next to it caught my eye: Pistil. “Stop and smell the petals,” the label read, “brewed with dandelion.” What gardener could resist?
Dandelions aren’t just something to curse. A European wildflower, they’re rich in vitamins and minerals which made their spring leaves an important “pot herb” for centuries when fresh vegetables in the winter were rare. Brewed by Vermont’s Magic Hat micro-brewery, Pistil is “a refreshing, sun-inspired spring ale. A subtle floral spiciness from Apollo and Northern Brewer hops is balanced by earthy notes from dandelion leaves, while acidulated malts provide a smooth, slightly sour malt body . . . perfect for taking down deep thirst.”
I loved Pistil, but reviews from the beer-drinkers here at OHG were mixed, with some objecting to the gentle sourness and lack of hoppy-bitterness which I found refreshing. To sip it yourself, you’ll need to move fast. Pistil is Magic Hat’s spring seasonal brew, which means it’s available through March 31 only. Learn more here. (March 2013)
On Trend for 2013: Romantic, High-Value, and Heirloom
In a recent post at his thought-provoking blog Grounded Design, landscape architect and passionate gardener Thomas Rainer predicts seven major trends that will impact gardening in 2013. “Trend predicting is, of course, utterly obnoxious,” he writes, “but I love trying to articulate the zeitgeist,” the spirit of the time. Two of his trends resonate especially strongly with us here at Old House Gardens:
“1. The New Romanticism, Simplified. . . . The romantic mood that has swept over garden design will persist in 2013. As Western states teeter on the brink of bankruptcy, and we increasingly experience the world through our smartphones, people will turn to their gardens for a spiritually authentic, but emotionally-soothing experience. We crave something real from our gardens, but not too edgy. . . . Historic revivalism (a la Downton Abbey [see below]) will continue to influence designers, particularly Victorian gardens (check out Cleve West’s Best in Show Chelsea garden last year for an example), but these styles will manifest themselves in simpler, sleeker ways. The elegance of the past gardens is stimulating, yet comforting. . . .
“6. Nursery Trends: High Value Acquisitions. While the lethargic economy will continue to affect nursery demand, people will continue to buy plants, even expensive plants. Garden consumers want value, not just cheap. Sales of rare specimens, heirloom plants, sculptural shrubs, and unusual multi-stem trees will increase this year even as the general demand for more generic specimens will be sluggish. Nurseries that cut back selection due to hard economic times may miss out on an emerging niche market.”
Is he right? We hope so! Read about all seven of Rainer’s 2013 trends here. (Feb. 2013)
Green is Cool! Emerald Named Color of the Year
Drum roll, please! Every year the Pantone Color Institute announces its Color of the Year, and this year it’s a favorite of gardeners everywhere: green, or more specifically, emerald. “A lively, radiant, lush green,” emerald “enhances our sense of well-being by inspiring insight as well as promoting balance and harmony,” according to the Color Institute. “Since antiquity, this luminous, magnificent hue has been the color of beauty and new life in many cultures” as well as the color of “growth, prosperity, healing, and unity.” To learn more, view some emerald-rich photos, and maybe even order an emerald coffe cup or iPhone case, visit pantone.com/pages/index.aspx?pg=21055&from=hp. (Feb. 2013)
The Evolution of “Mail” Ordering
Do you remember the first time you ordered from us? For many customers, that was a long time ago, and a lot has changed since then, as Jim Ramoni of San Jose, CA, reminded us recently:
“Dear Scott and OHG Family, Congratulations on your 20th year of providing happiness and beauty nationwide. I’m proud to be a part of the tradition. To show how times have changed on my end, I’m placing my order from my iPad. I still remember WRITING up the order form in pen and mailing it in! Your continued success is inspiring and, as always, your bulbs make my fall FUN.” (Dec. 2012)
Enjoy Heirloom Flowers Every Day of the New Year
Give yourself or someone you love a year full of heirloom flowers with Suzanne Lewis’s 2013 Classic Bouquets calendar. An award-winning photographer and long-time OHG customer, Suzanne features many of our flowers in her stunning images. One of our favorites this year is her all-white March bouquet of ‘Thalia’ and ‘Grand Primo’ narcissus, ‘L’Innocence’ hyacinths, and ‘Gravetye Giant’ snowflakes. (Dec. 2012)
Hurricane Sandy: Sympathy, Defiance, and Free Bulbs
Our sympathies go out to everyone who’s been battered by Hurricane Sandy and its devastating after-effects. For gardeners who are used to finding joy in our gardens, seeing this other side of nature must have made it even more horrifying.
As the hurricane was closing in on New York, we received an inspiring order from our good customer Alia Ganaposki of Astoria, Queens. “I thought ordering bulbs would be a good way to defy Hurricane Sandy, ” she wrote, and in her attitude we recognized the resilient spirit of gardeners everywhere. To honor Alia and comfort all who were beaten but not defeated by the storm, we’ll be adding a few free bulbs to every order we ship to any of the hurricane-wracked states between now and the end of our fall shipping season next week. It’s our way of saying our hearts are with you — and better times are sure to come. (Nov. 2012)
Flower Power: Bulbs to Cure Breast Cancer and AIDS
Every gardener knows the healing power of Nature’s beauty and getting your hands in the dirt, and of course plants have been used medicinally since the dawn of time. In his always interesting Plant Delights newsletter, Tony Avent recently shared some good news about the medical potential of some of our favorite bulbs and other flowers:
“Recent research from The University of Sichuan, published in Current Chemical Biology (vol. 3, 2009), has shown that the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, has great potential as an anti-fungal, anti-viral (including HIV), and anti-tumor agent for several cancers, including breast cancer. The report also studied the significant anti-tumor activities of other related monocots,” including daffodils, mistletoe, Solomon’s seal, mondo grass, cast-iron plant, and dwarf voodoo lily. Other common flowers “with very specific anti-HIV activity,” Tony adds, include amaryllis (Hippeastrum), Cymbidium orchids, and red spider lilies. (Oct. 2012)
Laugh of the Month: G-argh!-dening
I’m a big fan of three-pronged cultivators (my current favorite is a light, sturdy, ridiculously inexpensive one by Fiskar), as is the guy in this recent “Speed Bump” comic. (Oct. 2012)
Fragrant, Colorful, Historic . . . and Hard to Spell
Once America’s favorite bulb – the one at the front of every catalog, with more varieties offered than even tulips – hyacinths have plummeted in popularity over the past 150 years. Could spelling be to blame? Gardeners searching for hyacinths at our website have misspelled it and its Latin name hyacinthus 38 different ways, more than just about any other bulb.
But don’t worry. Gardening isn’t a spelling bee, and whether you spell it hiacinth, hiacynth, hiasinth, hyacenth, hyachinth, hyacin, hyacincth, hyacisth, hyacith, hyacynth, hyacynthe, hyancinth, hyancith, hyacint, hyacunth, hyascinth, hyasenth, hyasinth, hycainth, hycianth, hycienth, hycieth, hycinth, hycient, hycieth, hycient, hycinth, hyinth, hyncinth, hacynthas, hyacinthas, hyacinthis, hyacynthis, hyancinthus, hycinthesis, hycinthisis, hyncinthsis, or hyacinthia, you’ll find 21 varieties and 2 easy samplers of this wonderful old bulb – more than any other catalog offers today – at oldhousegardens.com. (Sept. 2012)
On Trend: Heirloom (Light) Bulbs and Authenticity
It’s not just savvy gardeners who are getting excited about heirloom bulbs. In a recent article about the booming “past-is-present trend,” Richard Mullins of The Tampa Tribune explains:
“As Del Acosta shopped at Lowe’s for a basic alley floodlight, another kind of light a few aisles over was pulling on his heartstrings: a chubby, retro-style, 40-watt incandescent light bulb that looks like Thomas Edison might have had made it a century ago. ‘It’s a handsome bulb,’ said Acosta, the one-time historic preservation chief for Tampa. ‘I have a few antique lamps in my living room, and I’ll be putting those bulbs in there. They have such a nice warm glow.’
“Retro products such as antique-style bulbs, vacuum tube radios, Airstream trailers and old-school typewriters are a small but strengthening segment of consumer culture as baby boomers and high school hipsters crave an anti-high-tech show of authenticity and nostalgia. . . . ‘Brooklyn right now is ground zero for retro, with guys growing crazy old-school mustaches, and every restaurant is designed intentionally to look like they’re something out of the ‘20s,’ said Marian Berelowitz, editor at the trend-spotting group JWT Intelligence.”
Schwinn, Canon, Fiat, and even Apple and Facebook are jumping on the bandwagon, Mullins says. Read the full article here – and congratulate yourself for being ahead of the curve! (August 2012)
Easy to Love, Hard to Spell
One of our most popular bulbs is the hardy and amazing Bissentine glad . . . er, Bynzyntine glad . . . no, wait a minute – how do you spell that?? If you’re not sure, you’re not alone. Gardeners searching for Byzantine glads at our website have misspelled it and its Latin name byzantinus 23 different ways. But don’t worry, we’re here to help! Whether you spell it Bisantine, Bisentine, Bissentine, Bizantine, Bynzyntine, Bysantine, bysantinus, Byzanine, byzanticus, Byzantile, byzantinas, byzantinis, byzantinius, Byzantinne, byzantinum, byzantium, Byzatine, byzatinus, Byzentine, Byzintine, byzintinus, Byzntine, or Bzatinne, you’ll find true stock of exactly what you want at oldhousegardens.com. (June 2012)
It’s Official: Spring was Hot
“Call it spring’s fever,” wrote Seth Borenstein in a recent Associated Press article that confirmed what many gardeners already suspected. “Federal records show the US just finished its hottest spring on record. March, April, and May in the lower 48 states beat the coldest spring temperature record by a full 2 degrees. The three months averaged 57.1 degrees, more than 5 degrees above average. That’s the most above normal for any US season on record. . . . The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also reported that it was the second warmest May since records began in 1895. May averaged 64.3 degrees, just behind 1934.”
And it wasn’t only spring. “The first five months of 2012 were the hottest start to a year in US weather record history. The 12-month period starting last June is also the hottest on record.” Whew!
It’s hard to predict all of the ways that this extreme weather will affect plants. Our good friend Art Tucker of the University of Delaware, for example, wrote us in surprise: “This spring was one of the driest and hottest on record for Delaware. About 50% of my established peonies refused to emerge and those that have emerged have prolific botrytis, which I have only occasionally noticed here and there in the past. Why botrytis now, after the driest spring on record? I thought botrytis was fostered by moist weather???”
Tulips have also been impacted, especially in zone-7 gardens in the East and Southeast where temperatures last winter were more like those of zone 8. Tulips and many other spring-blooming bulbs need a certain number of hours below about 48 degrees F to develop the gibberellic acid that allows their bloom-stems to lengthen and emerge from the soil – which is why gardeners in zone 8 typically pre-chill tulips for 8-12 weeks before planting. Without that, tulips will bloom on very short stems or even attempt to open their flowers underground.
Gardeners should expect to see long-term effects, too. In many areas, for example, the warm, dry spring pushed bulbs into dormancy earlier than usual, giving the plants less time to photosynthesize and bulk up – which could mean diminished bloom next spring. So stay tuned, and keep your green thumbs crossed. (June 2012)
The High Line: Heirloom Bulbs Flourish in New York’s Coolest Park
The Martha Stewart Show wasn’t the only exciting thing I did in New York last week. I also visited the High Line, a cool new park built on an abandoned railway high over the streets of Manhattan. The railway was originally used to deliver meat, produce, and raw materials to warehouses and factories along the west side of lower Manhattan. Abandoned in the 1980s, it was slated for demolition until neighborhood activists, inspired by the way nature was reclaiming the railbed, convinced the city to recycle it into an aerial greenway. Since opening in 2009, the park has become wildly popular and sparked billions of dollars worth of re-development in the area.
As you might imagine, an elevated railbed in Manhattan isn’t the easiest place for plants to grow, but the High Line is richly planted with tough perennials, grasses, woody plants, and bulbs, many of which are natives or heirlooms. All are mulched with coarse, crushed bluestone that recalls the site’s original surfacing, and some are doing better in these challenging conditions than others. Grape hyacinths had naturalized themselves there long before work on the park began, and the day I visited I was happy to see the tiny, dark blue Turkish glory-of-the-snow spreading happily. See all of the High Line’s bulbs here – including the ten tough heirlooms we offer for delivery this fall, still at LAST fall’s prices. (March 2012)
International Plan for Biodiversity Recognizes the Importance of Heirloom Bulbs
Well, not specifically, but the importance of preserving cultivated plants has been officially recognized at the international level for the first time. The United Nation’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity is “a ten-year framework for action by all countries and stakeholders to safeguard biodiversity and the benefits it provides to people.” The plan includes five goals and twenty “targets,” one of which reads, “By 2020, the genetic diversity of cultivated plants . . . including . . . culturally valuable species, is maintained, and strategies have been developed and implemented for minimizing genetic erosion and safeguarding their genetic diversity.” As with world peace, we can’t expect to see 100% success anytime soon, but the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity is an important step forward in any case – and not just for heirloom bulbs. Learn more here. (March 2012)
Bankruptcy Rocks Van Bourgondien Bulbs
The Van Bourgondien family has been growing and selling flower bulbs for over a century, so we were saddened (and rattled) to read this news in the Plant Delights newsletter:
“The world of mail order nurseries suffered another hit this month with the bankruptcy of K. Van Bourgondien, which first filed for Chapter 11 protection on January 26 along with its garden center division, Simple Pleasures Flowerbulbs, and its Canadian division, J. Onderwater. The combined companies listed assets of $500,000 and debts of 12 million dollars. . . . It remains unclear at this time if the company can find a way to remain viable. Fingers crossed.” (March 2012)
Spring’s First “Inexpressably Beautiful” Day
Gardeners love spring more than anybody else, and no matter how mild your winter has been, we bet you’ll know exactly what Sydney Eddison is talking about here in A Patchwork Garden (1990):
“Every March, no matter how foul the weather has been for thirty of the thirty-one days, there is one day – at least one – so inexpressibly beautiful that you suddenly think you know what it’s all about. If you had lived only for this one day, it would be enough. The feel and smell of the air are intoxicating. If you are very young, you want to throw away your jacket or sweater and roll on the damp ground. Your mother will have a fit and say, ‘You’ll catch your death of cold!’ But of course you won’t. You are never going to die of anything – you’re immortal. If you are old enough to know better, you forget it for the moment. This day in March is instantly recognizable. The sky is a special shade of blue so pale and translucent that it doesn’t really seem to be there at all. And looking up, you understand the meaning of infinity. There are no clouds to set limits in the vastness. The sunlight has no color and seemingly no source or direction. It is just an immense radiance in the even more immense sky.” (March 2012)
Garden Resolutions from Our Readers
In December we shared a few of our garden resolutions for 2012 and asked for yours. Most of you must have been too busy wrapping presents, but five forward-looking gardeners emailed us theirs:
“I am planning an ‘ancestor garden’,” wrote Diana Robertson of Falls Church, Virginia, “with plants named similarly to members of my family tree: ‘Lawinia’ rose, for example, in honor of my grandmother, Etta Lawinia Taylor Robertson. As I plan, I’m copying the catalog photos into my family tree at Ancestry.com.”
Sharon Welzen of Waukegan, Illinois, is also making big plans: “My house was built in 1853 so I plan to delegate different beds to 25 year periods from pre-1853 to about 1900, combining lilies, tulips, and daffodils. I can’t wait to see the results.”
Mary Beth Hawn of Aylett, Virginia, wrote in frustration: “This year I’m positively going to wage war against the voles. It can’t possibly cost as much as the plants I’ve lost to them. Perhaps I’ll get another terrier. One is not enough.”
“To mulch!” resolved Ruth Geraci of Summerdale, Alabama. “To this end, my husband and I have given ourselves a chipper-shredder for Christmas. And we WILL use it, to protect our beautiful plants from the tyranny of the southern heat.”
And simplest of all, Larry Retting of South Amana, Iowa, wrote: “I’m going to plant tulips on top of the ground next fall!” (Although that may sound crazy, research at Cornell says it works.)
Good luck, Diana, Sharon, Mary Beth, Ruth, and Larry, and thanks for the inspiration! (Jan. 2012)
Looking Ahead: What’s Your New Year’s Resolution for the Garden?
In winter, every gardener seems to be making plans for how they’re going to make their garden even better in the year ahead. So we ask: do you have a New Year’s resolution for your garden? If so, we’d love to hear it at email@example.com. Heck, we might even share it in an upcoming newsletter. To prime the pump, here are a few of ours:
Mike (IT Assistant): To force hyacinths indoors (since last year my beagle dug up all the ones I had in pots outdoors).
Kelly (Shipping Manager): To plant my lawn-extension with daylilies.
Rita (VP for Customers): To fertilize!
Vanessa (Bulbs Manager): To make sure there’s color in my garden for all four seasons.
Derick (Order-Entry Expert): To learn from everyone else here how to keep my first bulbs coming back and blooming bigger and better.
Rick (IT Manager): To start the year weed-free. I plan to take extra precautions to control weeds as early as possible. This includes teaching my children! (Dec. 2011)
Two Great Heirloom Flower Calendars
Give yourself or someone you love a lush bouquet of heirloom flowers every day of the year with Suzanne Lewis’s 2012 Bouquets calendar. An award-winning photographer and long-time customer of ours, Suzanne features many of our flowers in her calendar’s stunning images. In the February bouquet, for example, ‘Rubrum’ lilies mix with old roses, in March there’s an amazing all-blue, all-heirloom bouquet of hyacinths, and in October elegant ‘Jersey’s Beauty’ dahlia glows among burgundy mums and autumn leaves.
If you’re a fan of the antique images we use for our catalog covers, check out the Smithsonian Institution’s 2012 Seed Catalogues calendar. Our friend Brienne discovered it while shopping at Whole Foods and texted us in excitement. Each month features a different image from the Smithsonian’s huge collection of American seed and nursery catalogs. Our favorite is December’s 1896 lithograph of dahlias – which graced the back of our own catalog a couple of years ago. (Dec. 2011)
Charlie Says: Protect Your Cat from Feline Diabetes
Although he makes the rest of us answer his email, no one here is better loved than Charlie. When we first met him fifteen years ago, he was so small we could hold him in one hand. He loved to eat, though, and eventually, like many of us, he put on a little too much weight. We tried to limit his food, but Charlie could be insistent – and the next thing we knew our vet was telling us he had diabetes and if we wanted him to live we’d have to give him insulin shots twice a day for the rest of his life.
Five years later, Charlie’s still hanging in there, but diabetes is no fun for anyone, so we hope you’ll learn from our experience. If your cat starts drinking water and urinating more than usual, call your vet because those are often the first warning signs of diabetes. Although the twice-a-day injections sounded impossibly hard and painful at first, they turned out to be not so bad. But diabetes is a debilitating disease, and the best way to protect the cats you love from it is simply to not feed them too much, no matter how much they complain. If Charlie could talk, we’re pretty sure that’s what he’d urge you to do. Learn more at cats.about.com/cs/healthissues/p/diabetes.htm . (Nov. 2011)
Eudora Welty’s Ode to Bulb-Eating Rodents
My family looks at me like I’m a lunatic when I pound on the window and holler at squirrels digging in my garden, but Eudora Welty would understand. I recognized her as a kindred spirit when I read this witty, William Blake inspired poem that she wrote and posted on a stick in her garden. (One Writer’s Garden, page 146) (Nov. 2011)
Squirrel, squirrel, burning bright,
Do not eat my bulbs tonight!
I think it bad and quite insidious
That you should eat my blue tigridias.
Squirrel, Sciurus vulgaris,
Leave to me my small muscaris,
Must you make your midnight snack, mouse,
Of Narcissus Mrs. Backhouse?
When you bite the pure leucojum,
Do you feel no taint of odium?
Must you chew till Kingdom Come
If in your tummy bloomed a lily,
Wouldn’t you feel sort of silly?
Do you wish to tease and joke us
When you carry off a crocus?
Must you hang up in your pantries
All my Pink Queen zephyranthes?
Tell me, has it ever been thus,
Squirrels must eat the hyacinthus?
O little rodent,
I wish you wo’dn’t!
Albuquerque Gardeners Get Paid to Save Water by Planting Bulbs
In an October 3 article titled “Droughtbusters,” TIME magazine spotlights five innovative efforts to conserve that increasingly rare resource, water. Along with mandatory rainwater harvesting in India and purifying toilet water for drinking in Namibia, the article explores how Albuquerque, NM, has reduced its per-capita water use by 38% – thanks in part to hyacinths. Yes, hyacinths! “Since 1996,” it reports, “Albuquerque’s water authority has been paying residents $.75 per square foot to rip out their thirsty lawns and replace them with plants that need little water to thrive. To date, some 6 million square feet of turf have been replaced with agave plants, Joshua trees, hyacinths, and other desert-appropriate vegetation in a style known as xeriscaping.”
Although we’ve always recommended keeping hyacinths dry in summer – because, like most bulbs, they’re native to parts of the world where summers are parched – it seemed a stretch to call them “desert-appropriate.” As it turns out, Albuquerque includes hyacinths on a list of twelve bulbs whose water needs are rated either low or medium which therefore qualifies them for the xeriscaping rebate: alliums, blackberry lily (Belamcanda), Colchicum, crocus, hyacinths, bearded iris, bulbous iris, surprise lily (Lycoris squamigera), grape hyacinths (Muscari), daffodils, tulips, and rain lilies (Zephyranthes). You can learn more here – or just add “saving water” to the long list of good reasons to plant our bulbs! (Oct. 2011)
Summer 2011: Hottest Since the Dust Bowl
Though it was cooler than usual in Oregon and Washington, much of the country suffered through punishing heat this past summer. In fact, according to USA Today, 2011 was the country’s “hottest summer in 75 years and the second-hottest summer on record” – topped only by the Dust Bowl year of 1934. Texas and Oklahoma were hardest hit. Their averages of 86.8 and 86.5 degrees – based on the entire 24-hour cycle, not just daily highs – were the hottest ever recorded for any state.
Texas also suffered through its driest summer on record, and drought continues to be a problem in a third of the contiguous states. Parts of the East, on the other hand, were inundated with rain, and California had its wettest summer ever. Read the entire article here. (Sept. 2011)
Thank You! Kelly’s Pink Ribbon Samplers Raise $525
Your generous support of our Pink Ribbon Samplers raised another $174 this past spring. We added a few extra bucks and sent a check for $200 to LiveStrong.org, which brought our collective donation from last fall and this spring to a grand total of $525. Kelly, our shipping and micro-farms manager, was deeply touched, and the best news of all is that almost two years after her operation she’s cancer-free, feeling great, and gardening as enthusiastically as ever. (July 2011)
Made in Michigan: Hospital Grows Its Own Vegetables (and Our Dahlias)
We’ve introduced you to some of our favorite Michigan-made products here, in an attempt to boost our home state’s hard-hit economy. But this month we’re spotlighting an innovative Michigan-made idea instead.
Not long ago the staff at our local St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital decided it wasn’t enough to just talk to their patients about the importance of healthy food – they should serve them healthy food, too. So last year, in a ground-breaking effort to help make that a reality, they hired a young farmer and turned 15 acres of their sprawling medical campus into The Farm at St. Joe’s. Today patients are served vegetables grown in fields and hoop houses they can see from their rooms, and once a week there’s a small but lively farmers market in the hospital lobby. Learn more here.
When we heard the Farm was also growing a few cut-flowers, we offered to donate some of our bulbs. Farmer Dan Bair responded enthusiastically, and next week he’ll be planting two 100-foot rows of our heirloom dahlias – healthy food for the soul. (May 2011)
Bomb-Sniffing Tulips: Coming Soon to a Garden Near You?
“Could airport security gardens be the wave of the future?” asked a recent article in the New York Times. “How about a defensive line of bomb-sniffing tulips in Central Park … or lining the streets of Baghdad?” Though it may sound far-fetched, researchers at Colorado State University report that they’ve “created the platform for just such a plant-kingdom early warning system: plants that subtly change color” by draining chlorophyll from their leaves when exposed to air-borne particles of TNT. “Plants are uniquely suited by evolution to chemical analysis of their environment, in detecting pests, for example,” the article explains. “When modified to sense TNT, the most commonly used explosive, [plants in the lab] reacted to levels one one-hundredth of anything a bomb-sniffing dog could muster.” There’s still work to be done “to make sure the plant’s signal is clear enough and fast enough to be of use,” but researchers hope to have response time down from hours to minutes within three years. Read more here. (March 2011)
Sports and Flowers: Gardening with Team Colors
Although sports and flowers may seem to be an unlikely combination, quite a few of our customers mention their favorite teams to us – perhaps because we’re headquartered in Ann Arbor, home of the (usually) mighty University of Michigan Wolverines. One enthusiastic customer even sends us a sympathy card whenever Ohio State kicks our butt in football.
So last fall when I noticed that we were shipping yellow daffodils and blue scilla to Deb Barber in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the University of Wisconsin, I wrote: “I probably shouldn’t point this out, but that’s a ‘maize and blue’ combo (as in UM’s colors). Is that even allowed in Madison?”
Deb responded in kind: “With a BA from Northwestern, I squint and then view virtually every bluish flower in my garden as purple, and make sure some whites are nearby. Note that I am trying your purple-headed garlic this time around. I also have a master’s degree from Madison and my husband works for the university, so in summer I nod to Wisconsin and plant red geraniums with white. As for the possibility that I actually have maize and blue in my spring garden, hmmmmm. My biggest displays of daffodils are ‘Red Devon’ and ‘Mary Copeland’ – both have orange centers, not maize. Together with the blue scilla, that hints at a University of Illinois combo. Fair enough, since my husband is an Illini grad.
“While I am slow and steady at adding to my garden, the Big Ten is adding schools so fast that I resolved not to keep up, and will stick to antique team colors as well as antique bulbs – with Old House Gardens’ help. IMHO it is getting awkward to be a Big Ten alum of any kind, when it’s clear these schools don’t know math or geography.” (Feb. 2011)
Pleasures of the November Garden
If the short, cold days of November have you feeling a bit gloomy about your garden, here’s a pep talk from one of the 20th century’s greatest gardeners, Vita Sackville-West, creator of England’s iconic Sissinghurst Gardens.
“If it is true that one of the greatest pleasures of gardening lies in looking forward, then the planning of the next year’s beds and borders must be one of the most agreeable occupations in the gardener’s calendar. This should make October and November particularly pleasant months, for then we may begin to clear our borders, to cut down sodden and untidy stalks, to dig up and increase our plants, and to move them to other positions where they will show up to greater effect. People who are not gardeners always say that the bare beds of winter are uninteresting; gardeners know better, and take even a certain pleasure in the neatness of the newly dug, bare, brown earth.” (Nov. 2010)
Suzanne’s Heirloom Bouquets Calendar is Back!
After a three-year hiatus, the award-winning Bouquets calendar of our good customer Suzanne Lewis is available again – along with prints of her gorgeous photos of heirloom flowers that you can frame and enjoy forever.
July’s eye-popping bouquet features three of our dahlias, ‘White Henryi’ lily, and blue hydrangeas. In the accompanying text, Suzanne gives us a shout-out: “If not for Old House Garden’s determination to preserve historic flower bulbs, many antique plant treasures would no longer be found in the marketplace and might never find a home in your garden.” Be sure to take a look at March’s photo, too, a radiant, white, all-OHG bouquet that perfectly captures spring’s innocence and abundance.
If you fall in love with one of the photos and want to frame it and hang it on your wall, archival-quality prints are also for sale. We’ve already put one on our Christmas list, and you may want to, too! (Nov. 2010)
Dutch Bulb Fields Changed Monet’s Gardening and Art
An 1886 trip to Holland had a profound impact on Monet’s painting and gardening, as explained by Vivian Russell in Monet’s Garden: Through the Seasons at Giverny.
“The Dutch tulip fields stretched before him in sheets and blocks of color that formed a bold, brilliant mosaic that no painter, Dutch or otherwise, had ever attempted to capture on canvas before. In a letter, Monet spoke of these ‘enormous fields in full bloom; it’s admirable, but enough to drive a poor painter crazy – impossible to render with our poor colors.’ Not one to let a challenge pass, he took up his brushes and in twelve days produced five canvases. Infused with sunlight, blue sky, and white clouds, his red and yellow tulip fields shone luminously.
“The bulb growers’ technique of strengthening the bulbs by picking off the flower heads just at their peak also impressed him. There were piles of these blooms on the banks of the canals. What struck Monet was that ‘on these little canals we see spots of yellow, like colored rafts in the blue reflection of the sky.’ The image of flowers floating on a mirror of water would obsess him for the rest of his life.
“Using the tulip fields as a point of departure, he began recreating the effect of these concentrated splashes of color [in his gardens at Giverny] by making long rectangular beds planted with one variety of flower giving a solid block of color. Occasionally he would mix flowers to give various color harmonies. This became the theme and variations of the flower garden, with new plants and color schemes being added all the time – blocks of yellow marigolds, for instance; long, wide lines of blue irises; gladioli in one color or a mixture of two; Japanese anemones in whites and pinks; mauve and orange snapdragons together.
“To allow him to expand and experiment with an even greater variety of colors and plants all at once, he created smaller versions of these long beds, his famous ‘paintbox beds,’ thirty-eight in all, laid out in pairs from the top of the garden to the bottom. The gardeners [today] always refer to them affectionately as les tombes because they are the same size and shape as a grave, but it is not known whether that was Monet’s nickname for them, too. Each one was planted seasonally with different annuals or biennials in specifically chosen colors, laid side by side, like daubs of color on a palette or on one of his canvases.”
The Hottest June Ever
It's official. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this past June was the hottest ever recorded. TIME magazine reports that "The combined global land and ocean temperature was 1.22 degrees F above the 20th century average." Temperatures in March, April, and May were also the hottest ever recorded, and "2010 is well on its way to becoming the warmest year worldwide since 1880, the earliest date for which global data is available." (July 2010)
Summer Reading: Between Tulips and the Gloomy Sea
Flowers have been inspiring art and poetry for millennia. Here's a recent poem that starts with a familiar scene from the Dutch bulb fields but quickly morphs into something darker and more poignant. Thanks to our good customer Sue McIver for emailing it to us, the Poetry 180 program of the Library of Congress for emailing it to her, and Doug Dorph and his publisher for giving us permission to share it with you.
Dutch Boy, by Doug Dorph
To one side, the North Sea like lead,
to the other, tulips, too bright, too colorful,
and your finger hurts. You are tied
to the big belly of the dike, your finger
a reverse umbilicus that sucks the boyish
into responsible sea. My complaint concerns
childhood, the premature loss thereof.
Mother, from under one of her headaches, told me -- cook dinner:
fish sticks, spaghetti sauce,
beef Wellington, hummingbird's tongue under glass.
How did I know we wouldn't wash away
like silt in the burst? The Provider,
the Protector, the Pleaser, Good Boy --
it's ingrained like the fat that marbles
choice beef. But there's no choice.
When the gloomy sea threatens, you're there
with your trusty finger. The bicycle lies forlorn
on the gravel bicycle path in the shadow of the dike.
The family windmill is brittle and blue as a scene on a plate.
Yet your other hand, the one with the free digit,
reaches for the painted flower heads
bobbing in their painted flowerbeds.
(From Too Too Flesh, Mudfish Individual Poet Series #3, 2000, Box Turtle Press, New York, NY) (July 2010)
Bankruptcy Stuns Fans of Wayside, Park Seed, Jackson and Perkins
The economy is picking up, but it’s still a tough world out there. On April 2, three of the oldest and most highly respected plant suppliers in the country filed for bankruptcy protection. According to a spokesperson for the three, “The horticulture industry is challenging and highly seasonal in the best of times. As the general economic situation declined starting in 2008, demand for luxury, non-essential purchases dropped sharply. . . . Seeking court protection and restructuring is clearly our best option for returning to a position where we can focus on delighting our customers.”
We wish our colleagues at Wayside, Park, and J and P all the best as they face the challenges ahead. We can’t imagine American gardening without them. (May 2010)
Laughing Locally: Arlo and Janis Grow Their Own
Last week my favorite comic-strip couple did what a lot of us are doing this spring: they planted vegetables. And, as usual, they not only made me laugh, they got me thinking. You can enjoy their week-long adventure at comics.com/arlo&janis/2010-04-12/. Click on the arrow by the date above the strip to continue to the next day’s installment. You could also ask Comics.com to email “Arlo and Janis” (or dozens of other comics) to you every morning. It’s free and, like gardening, laughing is good for you. (May 2010)
Eating Locally: The Year’s First Asparagus
On one of our first dates, my wife Jane took me searching for asparagus growing along the roadsides out by her family’s farm. Unfortunately, we’d picked just two stalks when our car got stuck in the mud and we had to call a tow truck. That wasn’t a lot of fun, but it’s a happy memory now and we laugh about it every spring when our favorite vegetable finally comes back into season here in Michigan. From mid-April till we can’t get it anymore, we eat asparagus from our local Farmers’ Market every single day. At first we just want it steamed or grilled (perfection!), but eventually we get around to recipes like this easy one from the old “Cartoon Kitchen” (anyone remember that?) which we hope you’ll enjoy:
Pasta with Asparagus
asparagus (1/4 lb. per person)
rotini, penne, or similar pasta (two handfuls per person)
grated Parmesan cheese
butter (one pat per person)
black pepper, salt to taste
Bring salted water to boil while washing asparagus. Break stalks into 2-inch pieces. Cook pasta according to directions. Steam asparagus for 3-4 minutes. Drain pasta. Put pasta and asparagus in serving bowl. Add butter, Parmesan cheese, and black pepper. Stir until butter is melted and serve immediately. (May 2010)
109-Year-Old Bulb Burning Bright
For a different kind of heirloom bulb, check out the illuminating website of Livermore, California’s Centennial Light Bulb. Installed in a firehouse in 1901, it’s the longest-burning incandescent bulb in the country. You can’t plant it, but that kind of longevity is impressive no matter what! (Feb. 2010)
Narcissus Stamps to Celebrate Year of the Tiger
For centuries, cluster-flowered tazetta narcissus much like our ‘Grand Primo’ and ‘Avalanche’ have been an important part of New Year’s festivities in Asia. Their gold cups symbolize wealth, and if they bloom on New Year’s Day, it’s said you’ll have luck and prosperity throughout the year. To celebrate New Year’s Day for the year 4707 which is coming up February 14, the post office is issuing a bright red 44-cent stamp decorated with these traditional narcissus. Take a look! (Jan. 2010)
Bulbs Gone Wild: Craving Spring
If you’re already looking forward to spring, this poem’s for you. Written this past March by our good customer Stephani Franklin of Tulsa, it’s so far from smarmy it may deserve a warning label, but we love how it captures the desperate exuberance that all of Nature seems to feel as spring gets near. (Stephani added in a post-script, “Don’t worry, it melted, they all survived.”)
by Stephani Franklin
Icy morning penance
Catches revelers off guard
To their sorrow;
Of their canon.
Snug under a blanket of
Mulch and warming earth,
Smug, biding their time
Reciting pious axioms,
“Good things come to those who wait.”
“Patience is a virtue.”
I lament the carousers:
Heads bowed, freezing;
Icicles dripping from
I craved spring.
They felt my longing and obliged
Bad influences, egging each other on
“It’s spring somewhere, let’s get this party started.
Laissez le bon temps roulet!”
Skulked in the alley.
For a few short days
They were the life of the party;
First krewe in the parade.
Leaning on one another
Lifting their shirts
With a boozy wink,
“Throw me some bead, mister!”
Thumbing their nose at forty days
Of ash and deprivation
And me cheering them on
From my kitchen window.
The virtuous will see the sunrise
On Easter morning.
They always do.
But I won’t need them
They’ll emerge in a din
Azaleas, quince, iris, peony,
Sunday morning congregation
Reverently filing in
Just another fancy hat in the pew
I will remember my good time friends;
The lovely drunks
Singing a little too loud,
Swaying in my yard
At the tail-end of winter.
Who came out when they shouldn’t
Who knew better.
But did, anyway.
“Now is the Best Time of Year to Be a Gardener”
Would you agree? Our friend Jessica Walliser made that claim recently in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. See what you think:
“Right now is the best time of the year to be a gardener. The weather is getting cooler, the grass is about as green as it gets, the zucchini finally have stopped torturing you (and your neighbors), and you get to start planting again.
“Autumn weather is made for planting. The soil is still warm and perfect for supporting good root growth, and the cooler air temperatures encourage only moderate top growth. These are ideal conditions for establishing everything hardy – from shrubs and trees to vines and perennials. And, let’s not forget about planting the pinnacle of popularity this time of year: bulbs.”
Radio host and author of Grow Organic, Jessica also praised us for the “unmistakable joy and intriguing history” in our catalog, for holding the line on prices, and for getting so many of our bulbs from small American farmers. (Oct. 2009)
Laughing with Bulbs: Doonesbury’s Zonker
Even Doonesbury’s Zonker Harris is planting bulbs this fall. For six days of laughs, go to doonesbury.com/strip/dailydose/index.html?uc_full_date=20090928. Click the “Next” tab at the top of each comic to see them all. There’s also a link just above that to “Latest FAQ: Why do bulbs keep coming up in Doonesbury?”
We bet you’ll recognize a bit of yourself – and us – in the strips. Happy laughing! (Oct. 2009)
New Hope for Zone-Stretching Gardeners
A brief note in the current April issue of Garden Gate magazine tells of a new development that could have North Dakota gardeners growing cannas year-round:
“Scientists at Miami University and the University of Alabama have developed a spray called Freeze-Pruf which improves a plant’s cold tolerance by 2.2 to 9.4 degrees F, depending on the species. This solution works kind of like antifreeze by lowering the level at which a plant’s tissue is damaged by cold. . . . [It also] prevents ice crystals from forming in a way that damages plant cells. It’s been used successfully on palms, house plants, bananas, citrus plants, and a variety of flowers, . . . [and] it’s safe for vegetables, too. Spray Freeze-Pruf once in the fall, right before a freeze, to extend your tomato [or dahlia!] season. Or improve your temperature zone by about 200 miles for your favorite banana. . . . Developers expect to have Freeze-Pruf available for purchase within the year.” (Apr. 2009)
Buying Local: Our Bulbs Help Feed Your Neighbors
When you buy your bulbs from us, you’re giving a whole lot of your neighbors right here in America something better than a bailout – a job that allows them to continue paying their bills and feeding their families.
Unlike virtually everywhere else you can buy bulbs, we’ve always sought out American growers. In fact, this spring a whopping 85% of our sales are for bulbs grown for us here in the USA.
When you buy our dahlias, for example, you’re supporting 13 full-time and 12 seasonal workers at a family farm in Oregon.
Our glads support 12 full-time and 80 seasonal workers at a family farm in Michigan, 5 full-time and 20 seasonal workers at a family nursery in West Virginia, and a husband and wife team in Maine.
Our cannas and daylilies support 4 full-time and 6 seasonal workers at a family farm in Missouri as well as 7 full-time and 30 seasonal workers at a family farm in Oklahoma where the owner emailed us recently: “We are thankful to do what we do and that this business generates income for many families in our rural area.”
When you buy our ‘Mexican Single’ tuberoses, you’re supporting 2 full-time and 15 seasonal workers at a family farm in Illinois. Our iris are grown and shipped by 25 full-time and 150 seasonal workers at a family farm in Oregon. And our montbretia and St. Joseph’s lilies are nurtured by a very active retired couple in Alabama.
And then there’s us. Not counting Charlie (since he’s a cat), there are 7 of us working here year-round and another 9 during our two busy shipping seasons.
Final tally = 79 full-time and 322 seasonal workers who are VERY glad when you buy your spring-planted bulbs from OHG. On behalf of all of us, thank you! (Apr. 2009)
“In the Dirt”: A Gardener’s Song for Tough Times
Our good customer Karen Savoca is a gifted singer-songwriter whose funky, melodic, highly personal songs have gained her a loyal following across the country. If she and her guitar-wizard husband Pete are ever performing anywhere near you, go! They’re mesmerizing, and a whole lot of fun. One of Karen’s songs has been echoing through my head recently, and she was happy to let us share the lyrics with you. We hope you’ll find it a helpful tonic for these challenging times. (You can listen to it here or buy it from iTunes for $.99!) (Mar. 2009)
“In the Dirt,” by Karen Savoca, © 2005 Alcove Music/BMI
gonna dig down in the dirt
get it all over my skin
sleep real well and up with the sun
do it all over again
dig down dig down
way way down in the ground
gonna dig down in the dirt
feel it between my toes
gonna find out what every farmer knows
there down in the dirt
dig down dig down
way way down in the ground
gonna dig down in the dirt
plant good things to eat
gonna heel it in with my own two feet
way down in the dirt
dig down dig down
way way down in the ground
gonna dig down in the dirt
where all the good things grow
gonna have a long talk with mother earth
she knows how to soothe my soul
dig down dig down
way way down in the ground
whatcha gonna do when you've had enough
when the bills pile up
when the water's too deep
when the hill's too steep
dig down dig down
whatcha gonna do with a head full of bees
when you're tired of sayin' please
when the motor won't run
when you're feelin' done
dig down dig down
whatcha gonna do when the baby can't sleep
when you're too tired to weep
in a world full of schemes
to remember your dreams
dig down dig down
Got Too Many Plastic Pots? Try This!
If your pile of empty plastic pots and cell-packs is getting dangerously high because you hate to send them to the landfill, here’s an earth-friendly solution. Last fall our friends at Milwaukee’s Boerner Botanical Gardens and UW-Extension hosted a Plastic Pot Recycling Weekend. They invited local gardeners to bring in their empty plastic pots, cell-packs, garden trays, hanging baskets, fertilizer and mulch bags, greenhouse poly film, irrigation drip tape, and landscape edging to be shredded on site by a company that makes plastic lumber for decking and outdoor furniture.
With the help of 50 Master Gardener volunteers, the event netted a staggering 21.5 tons of plastic! Another weekend is already in the works, and we’re hoping maybe you’ll be inspired to help get one started in your neck of the woods. To learn more, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 414-525-5638. (Feb. 2009)
Mourning Ed McRae, Champion of Lilies
American gardening lost a great friend with the passing of lily expert Edward McRae late last year. Born in Scotland, Eddie moved to Oregon in 1961 and spent the rest of his life growing, hybridizing, and promoting lilies. In 1995 he launched the Species Lilies Preservation Group, and in 1998 he summed up a lifetime’s worth of knowledge in Lilies: A Guide for Growers and Collectors.
Most importantly to us, Eddie was “our” lily grower, and opening his boxes of freshly dug, beautiful bulbs was always one of the highlights our fall shipping season. A small clump of his stunning red form of Lilium canadense soldiers on in our garden, and I’m sure we’ll enjoy it more than ever this summer, remembering and missing him. (Jan. 2009)
Happy 250th Birthday, Pittsburgh!
One of my favorite cities is celebrating its 250th birthday this year, as I was recently reminded by an insightful article from the Associated Press. Pittsburgh is a Rust Belt city that’s been doggedly transforming itself into a vibrant, livable 21st-century city without losing sight of its past. It has a spectacular natural setting; diverse, lively neighborhoods; the historic, revitalized Phipps Conservatory – and I could go on and on. Add it to your list of places to explore, and if you’re one of our many friends who live there, congratulations and Happy Birthday! (Dec. 2008)
Now Online: Extended Info on 8 Bulbs of the Year!
Only our most exciting bulbs are crowned Bulb of the Year. For a list of all 16, visit our brand new Bulb of the Year page. Click on the “Learn more” links there and you’ll be taken to our original press releases announcing eight of the winners, each full of information we just can’t squeeze into a catalog description. You might get so inspired you’ll want to put together your own Bulbs of the Year sampler. Enjoy! (Oct. 2008)
Don’t Bury Your Money in the Backyard, Plant Bulbs!
In troubled times like these, flower bulbs are one of the smartest investments you can make. And what other luxury costs so little?
For a few dollars you get months of anticipation, weeks of beauty, fragrance, and pride when they bloom, and – as long as you meet their simple needs – they multiply happily year after year.
We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the Fed knows what it’s doing, but we’re also hoping that you’re like us – and that nothing’s going to stop you from planting some very special bulbs this fall. (Sept. 2008)
Anniversary Party Favors from the Hortus
To celebrate its 80th anniversary, the Hortus Bulborum has printed four snazzy bookmarks, each decorated with antique bulb illustrations, and they’ve given us 1000 of them to share with you. We’ll tuck one into every order we ship this fall that includes a bulb we get from the Hortus (while supplies last). If you see “from the Hortus” in the description of any bulb you’ve ordered – or will order – for delivery this fall, you’ll get a bookmark! (Aug. 2008)
An Unexpected Tote-Bag Testimonial
Our brand-new Heirloom Bulbs Tote-Bags are getting rave reviews from some very demanding critics: our staff. Twenty-something Renee Hytinen, for example, found a couple of unorthodox uses for it on a recent weekend trip to Lake Michigan.
First she filled it with ice and beer and lugged it down to the beach. That worked so well, she told us with excitement, that later on the ferry ride to Manitou Island when the waves got rough and she started feeling green at the gills, she kept it close at hand, confident that it would also make a leak-proof – and elegant – barf bag. (Jul. 2008)
Link of the Month: Historic Sewers
We’re not kidding. Sewers are essential to modern life and critical to the health of our waterways, wildlife, and all of Nature. They can be pretty darn interesting, too – as we think you’ll agree once you take a look at garden writer Adam Levine’s website The History of Philadelphia’s Watersheds and Sewers at phillyH2o.org/index.htm.
Adam is a smart, funny guy, an avid gardener, and an award-winning author. In 1998 he hired on as a part-time “historical consultant” for the Philadelphia Water Department, and soon he was hooked. Adam’s site is rich with historic photos and maps, compelling data, and plenty of laughs. The best place to start may be his article “Down Under!” which is subtitled “Tales from the city sewer system, or why I should have worn a raincoat.” Once you start, we bet you’ll read more, and before long you’ll have a whole new perspective on your own local watershed and sewers. It’s enlightening! (Feb 2008)
Inspired by OHG: A Holiday Carol for Bulb Lovers
Here’s a cheery little treat from our friend Linda Beutler of Portland, Oregon, author of the fabulous Garden to Vase: Growing and Using Your Own Cut Flowers. She writes, “Some of us here have started a little horticultural singing group, The Goddess Flora Chorus and Dead-heading Society. I’m their principal lyricist, and I was very much thinking of Old House Gardens when I penned the following. (For maximum pleasure, sing it aloud to a friend!)
“Catalog in Hand” (to the tune of “Winter Wonderland”), by Linda Beutler
Post man rings,
Are you listening?
In the box,
A beautiful sight,
On this autumn night,
Walking ‘round with catalog in hand!
Bulbs for spring time,
Order now, it’ll save time,
My order is long,
Hope nothing goes wrong,
Walking ‘round with catalog in hand!
On the internet there are more pictures,
But how to know the server is secure?
They all want my VISA information,
And I just want some tulips to endure!
A hot flash, by the fire,
There’s buyer’s remorse,
And no room of course,
Walking ‘round with catalog in hand,
In a meadow I could naturalize you.
Narcissus as far as I can see,
Lots of little crocus tantalize you,
But they don’t give those bulbs away for free . . .
If it snows
I’ll be knowing,
In the ground,
Bulbs are growing,
And it’ll be grand, a true wonderland,
Walking ‘round with catalog in hand! (Dec 2007)
Heirloom Tulip Wallpaper by Bradbury and Bradbury
This Arts-and-Crafts wallpaper frieze in ochre, olive, and sienna would be gorgeous even if it didn’t feature tulips. See for yourself at the website of California’s famed Bradbury and Bradbury Art Wallpapers. While you’re there, you may find the perfect wallpaper for your Victorian parlor or 1950s rumpus room, too! (Sept. 2007)
Garden For Tradition
The National Garden Bureau offers people eight great reasons to try gardening, starting with this reason which we found most interesting:
“Garden for Tradition – Old or New. Gardening has been part of the human culture for centuries. Not long ago most families still had a garden and relied on it to provide food for their family. Remember visiting grandma’s house as a child and picking deliciously scented flower bouquets – or the thrill of pulling on green tops and being surprised with a carrot to eat right from the ground? Recreate some of those memories for you and your family to enjoy again.
“If you’ve never tried to garden, start a new tradition. You don’t have to dig up the entire yard. Begin with a small container or border area for flowers. If you want vegetables, get some large pots or create a small garden area and fill with easy-to-grow lettuce, delicious tomatoes, or rambling cucumbers. Gardening is a wonderful activity for parents and grandparents to share with the younger generation while creating pleasant memories for the future.”
For seven more reasons, click here. (Aug 2007)
Save the Pollinators!
Have you seen the beautiful new pollinator stamps? With intertwining images of four native flowers being pollinated by a bee, butterfly, hummingbird, and bat, they were released in June to celebrate the first annual Pollinator Week.
Horticulture magazine encourages gardeners to support pollinators by “planting native plants and heirloom varieties” – and we completely agree! A few pollinator favorites in our gardens are ‘Cloth of Gold’ crocus and camassia for bees, and Canna indica and ‘Atom’ gladiolus for hummingbirds. Please tell us about yours!
To learn more about pollinator-friendly gardening at www.pollinator.org and www.nappc.org. (Aug. 2007)
Sticker Shock in “Tulip City”
We’ve worked hard to hold the line on prices, but with the euro at record levels, Dutch-grown bulbs are costing more throughout the US this fall. In Holland, Michigan, that’s an especially big problem.
Founded by Dutch immigrants, Holland celebrates its heritage every spring with a week-long Tulip Time Festival that features six million tulips in bloom. Every fall, to keep things looking their best, the city plants about 400,000 new bulbs. Last year the bulbs cost the city $55,000, but this year the lowest bid was more than 20% higher, a whopping $66,393. City council finally approved the purchase, but not before taking a couple of weeks to recover from sticker-shock. (Aug. 2007)
Bad News for Tulip Lovers: Euro at All-time High
Once again we managed to hold the line and even reduce prices for many bulbs in this year’s catalog. Unfortunately, we also ended up raising more prices than we’d like, mainly for varieties grown in the Netherlands where the euro continues to soar. Not so many years ago the euro was worth about $.85, but as the Associated Press reported just last week, “The euro shot to an all-time high against the US dollar Tuesday, [reaching] $1.3738, its highest level since the 13-nation currency started trading in 1999.” (July 2007)
“Bud Burst” Wants Your Help Tracking Global Warming
You can help scientists investigate global warming in your own backyard! Gardeners and other “citizen-scientists” are being recruited to note when native plants in their area – including many common garden flowers – first leaf out and bloom. The data will help scientists track the arrival of spring, which since 1955 is coming about six days earlier in the Northern Hemisphere. Several universities and federal agencies are participating, as are elementary and high school students across the country. To find out more, visit http://www.windows.ucar.edu/citizen_science/budburst/. (April 2007)
Celebrating Linnaeus’s 300th Birthday
This May 23, how about lifting a glass of dandelion wine and toasting the 300th birthday of Linnaeus? This great Swedish botanist created our system for classifying living things into species and larger groups and standardized Latin names into simple “binomials” such as Lilium auratum instead of names that were often dozens of words long. “His contribution to our passion for plant life should make a great party mandatory,” writes Jim Black in the excellent new MasterGardener magazine. And, in case you’re hesitating, he adds dryly, “It’s unlikely any of us will make the Quadracentenary.” (April 2007)
David and Goliath in the Garden
A recent report says that 70% of all lawn and garden sales are rung up by Home Depot, Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, and K-Mart. We shop the big-box stores, too, but imagine this: If that percentage ever reaches 100%, how will that affect your gardening?
More than ever, thanks for spending some of your garden dollars with us! (Aug. 2006)
Heronwood’s Closing Prompts Laughter, Advice
Sometimes a little laughter is the best medicine. Mary Higgins of Cambridge, MA, emailed us recently: “Heronswood is closing? That’s horrible! I should have suspected something was up when those pig dogs stopped producing the print catalogue this year. . . . Please don’t ever sell Old House Gardens to Wal-Mart or Haliburton.”
Don’t worry, we won’t! But we do agree with this advice from Tony Avent: “What’s the lesson here? If you have a favorite nursery, patronize it. Are you one of those sitting there wishing you had sent in your Heronswood order earlier? Lesson learned: If you see a special plant at a mail-order nursery, don’t wait because tomorrow may be too late.” (June 2006)
Just in Time for Summer: Red Velvet (Lily) Cake Recipe
Red Velvet lily is wonderfully deep-colored, but I had always puzzled about its name because it didn’t match any red velvet I’d ever seen. Rachel set me straight, though, when she pointed out that it’s the color of old-fashioned red velvet cake. To see for yourself, try the recipe from our friend Matt’s Grandma Opal. Topped with white frosting and blueberries, it’s the perfect treat for a Fourth of July picnic! (June 2006)
Farewell to Flora Ann Bynum
Many of us who love historic gardens were broken-hearted when we learned of the death on March 17 of Flora Ann Bynum. One of the warmest, most genuine people you could ever hope to meet, Flora Ann was devoted to her family and a wide circle of friends in historic Old Salem, NC, as well as in the Southern Garden History Society and all across the country. She founded and worked tirelessly for decades leading the SGHS and landscape-preservation efforts in Old Salem. She had a special affection for Roman hyacinths, making herself the country’s leading expert on these all-but-lost Southern heirlooms, and her big, old-fashioned garden on Main Street became a local landmark. The garden history community has lost one of its brightest lights, the world has lost an amazing human being, and we have lost a good friend who we will miss forever. (March 2006)
Christopher Lloyd Now Gardening in Paradise
Open-minded and fun-loving, Christopher Lloyd was one of my favorite gardeners. He had the vision and courage to champion plants like Wyoming cannas and Byzantine glads twenty years ago when most people were scorning them, and he never lost his child-like sense of wonder. To read a great tribute to him by our friend Ken Druse, visit http://kendruse.typepad.com/the_newsletters/2006/02/farewell_to_the.html . For a look at his inspiring gardens at Great Dixter, and to help support their preservation, visit http://www.greatdixter.co.uk/index.htm. (Feb. 2006)
Vandals Uproot Historic Iris at Renowned Presby Gardens
Shocking news reached us in early August. In the words of Philip Read:
“It’s the botanical equivalent of attempted murder. A swath of New Jersey’s nationally known Presby Memorial Iris Gardens has been ravaged, with some 150 plants uprooted and tossed about like weeds. . . . The plants in beds 26 and 29, two of the gardens’ oldest, were discovered Wednesday afternoon lying on the grass after being yanked out of the newly restored beds. Worse, the metal spikes identifying their heritage were tossed too. . . . An Iris Restoration Fund has been established and a $1,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the culprits.” (Sept. 2005)
New Heirloom Flower Screen-Savers
Enjoy inspiring flowers on your desktop monitor with dozens of new screen-savers from our friend Suzanne Lewis. Suzanne is the award-winning photographer whose breath-taking calendars we offer every year. To view her brand-new Heirloom Flowers, Bouquet, and Cats screen-savers, visit http://www.secondnaturecd.com/suzannelewis.html .
And don’t forget our own OHG heirloom bulbs bouquet wallpaper. It’s gorgeous, free and extra easy to download with our newbie-friendly directions! (Aug. 2005)
Diversity Diminishes As Big Growers Rely on Unskilled Labor
Steve Vinisky of Cherry Creek Daffodils posted this message to Daffnet, the ADS’s email discussion group:
“One hundred years ago, over 400 named hyacinths existed. Today roughly 80 exist in the trade and of those, only 30 or so are available in tonnage. Crocus stocks, especially species, are being reduced severely as knowledgeable help to rogue the fields (weed out erroneous bulbs) is becoming a serious problem.
“During a visit to Holland a couple of years ago, I asked my grower host friend why there were so many Russian Lada automobiles parked along many bulb fields. His embarrassed reply was that field help appears seasonally from all of the former eastern block countries as illegal farm labor which skirts the Dutch social welfare laws (and cost burden). Knowledgeable Dutch housewives were the traditional labor pool for hundreds of years. As in the USA, a farm wife in Holland today is probably employed outside of the home. Fewer cultivars makes it far easier for unskilled, casual laborers, to maintain plantings without being knowledgeable about what it is that is actually being grown.” (Nov. 2004)
RED SOX WIN with a Little Help from Us!
Our good customer Mary Higgins of Cambridge wrote us last week after the Red Sox had beat the Yankees to win the American League pennant:
I have to tell you that I think your bulbs are responsible for breaking the Curse. I was unpacking them on Tuesday night during the sixth game so I left them in the exact same spot during last night’s game. On behalf of Red Sox nation, I thank you! Perhaps you could rename one of the heirlooms? Ortiz tulip?? (Oct. 2004)
Celebrate Our Aztec Tuberoses with Antique Chocolate
The tuberose, our 2004 Spring-Planted Heirloom Bulb of the Year, is one of the Aztecs’ great gifts to the world. Chocolate is another. And now you can taste chocolate the way it was enjoyed back in the days of the Aztecs!
A sign at Zingerman’s, our local, world-class deli, caught my eye: “Antique Chocolate.” I picked up a bar and read the label: “Xocoatl . . . was introduced to Europe by the Spanish in the 16th century, who had learned the process from the marvelous Meso-American people. Since 1880, the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto continues to make this chocolate with the same ingredients and methodology that was passed on from the ancient Aztec civilization.”
I had never tasted chocolate like this before! Enraptured, I sampled another old-style chocolate from Oaxaca, Mexico. Zingerman’s description fits both well: “The texture is coarse, with little sugar crystals exploding in your mouth and a dark, subtle, cinnamon and smoke flavor.”
For your own taste, visit our friends at zingermans.com and enter either Bonajuto or Oaxacan in their search box. Tell them we sent you, and enjoy! (April 2004)
Plant a Little Hope
Is there anything that makes the cold, dark days of winter speed by faster than knowing that you have some new bulbs tucked underground preparing for the miracle of spring? And couldn’t we all use a little extra hope and beauty these days? Plant bulbs, plant hope! (Sept. 2002)
We’d like to second this advice from the September 1892 edition of The Mayflower magazine:
“Try ordering your bulbs early this year. No home can afford to be without the refining influence of flowers.” (2000-01 catalog)
Why Save Old Bulbs?
“Each time we permit an old variety to become extinct, we sacrifice part of our heritage. Those who ask why we need more than a few varieties of beans or corn [or bulbs] might as well wonder why a library needs more than one book on a subject.”
– Carolyn Jabs, The Heirloom Gardener, 1984 (2000-01 catalog)
Another Reason Why Modern Bulbs Often Disappoint Gardeners
Don Egger writing in the 1998 Lily Yearbook of the North American Lily Society explains:
“Before tissue culture. . . of lilies was common, new varieties had to be carefully propagated by scaling or. . . seed, [so] it took years to multiply commercial quantities. . . . During this time viruses and disease would take their toll. . . . Only the [toughest] of new varieties lasted long enough to be offered to the trade.
“Tissue culture technology has changed that. New clones can be micro-propagated with such speed that clones are on the market before they can succumb to virus. . . . While providing us with a vast assortment of new varieties to grow, it has made it all too easy to produce vast numbers of lilies that are not well suited for the home garden due to their virus sensitivity. . . .
“It’s obvious why the best varieties have been around for such a long time: they are inexpensive to propagate, and easy to grow, and virus tolerant. These old-timers have proven that they will survive for many years in the garden without pampering.” (2000-01 catalog)
The Thrill of Something New
If snowdrops bloomed for months, would we love them more? Here’s a thoughtful response from one of my favorite garden writers in Henry Mitchell on Gardening:
“In the garden, at least, you soon grow almost sick of flowers that bloom endlessly . . . . Floribunda roses can become boring after a while; so can marigolds. They are nice enough, it’s just that after a few months you wish they would look a little different. It is otherwise when the snowdrops bloom. Wow. Look at that. Right through the snow. Nobody ever gets bored with snowdrops or crocuses.” (1999-2000 catalog)
For articles on other topics, see our main Newsletter Archives page.