HEIRLOOM BULBS: Unique, Endangered, amazing

Scott Kunst, Old House Gardens, www.oldhousegardens.com
536 Third St., Ann Arbor, MI 48103, (734)995-1486

HEIRLOOM BULBS: Unique, Endangered, Amazing

Scott Kunst, Old House Gardens, www.oldhousegardens.com
536 Third St., Ann Arbor, MI 48103, (734)995-1486

Why grow heirloom bulbs?  There are many good reasons!  Maybe most importantly:

         Older bulb varieties offer a living connection with gardeners of the past-your grandmother, the family that built your house, Thomas Jefferson, or even medieval monks and ancient Chinese emperors.  Gardening with heirloom bulbs helps root us in the timeless community of all who have ever loved to make things grow-and adds a whole new dimension of pleasure and interest to our gardens.

But that’s just a start.  Heirloom bulbs are often:

         Tougher and more vigorous (they’re survivors, after all),

         More graceful and wildflowery (many are wild plants, or one generation removed),

         Fragrant (adding another sensual dimension to your garden),

         Unusual (offering colors, forms, or scents you can’t get elsewhere),

         Period appropriate, suiting the age and enhancing the look of your old house,

         rare, endangered, and in need of your help.  The only way to reserve these living artifacts-and their incredible genetic resources-is to grow them!

Heirloom bulbs can enrich any garden, old or new, just as antique quilts or your grandfather’s rocker can add something special to the most modern house.  But if you’re aiming for authenticity in your historic garden, beware of the dates I’ve listed here.  They are either the first published reference to that bulb, the date of its introduction into western horticulture from other parts of the world, or the date of its introduction into commerce.  Most of these dates are based on European experience and references and so can only suggest when these bulbs were first grown in America.  A related problem Is that it was frequently many decades after a bulb’s introduction-maybe into a botanical garden in England or by a nursery in France-before it became available or common in gardens here.  Adjust accordingly.

And don’t forget that many heirloom bulbs survive in our own yards, in the gardens of older neighbors and relatives, in older and often run-down parts of town, at abandoned sites, and in the wild.  Though you may never e able to attach a name or date to them, they may be richly historic and wonderful garden plants just the same-well worth your care and preservation.

Why Grow Heirloom Bulbs?

They’re gorgeous!  Mixed spring bouquet, 1500s-1950s
tough and easy: “Prince of Austria” tulip, 1860
wildflowerery: Byzantine glads, G. byzantinus, zone-6 hardy, 1629
fragrant: bouquest of Victorian hyacinths
unusual: “Aureomarginata” crown imperial, 1665
genetically unique: “Negro boy” crocus, preserved in Latvia, 1910?
period appropriate: our old house with late-Victorian plantings
rich with history: Madonna lily, Lilium candidum, 1600BC

Forty Centuries of Bulbs in Gardens
locakl wildflowers: Narcissus pseudonarcissus, Lent lily, by 1200
sports: double daffodil “Van Sion”/Telamonius Plenus:, 1620
the Mediterranean: Madonna lily
the Islamic world: ”Lac van Rijn”, Tuliponmania relic, 1620
North Aamerica: red meadow lily, L. canadense coccineum, 1629
Central and ssouth America: double dahlia by Redoute
Asia: tiger lily, Lilium lanchifolium, 1804, tough and enduring
bedding out with hyacinths: mauve “Lord Balfour”, 1883; pale blue
“Grand Monarque”, 1863; dark “Marie”, 1860; double pink “Chestnut flower”. 1880; yellow “City of Haarlem”, 1893 pattern bedding with cannas and elephant ears formal garden with hyacinths, wild gardening with daffodils

Four Seasons: Spring’s Earliest Blooms
Eranthis hemalis
, winter aconite, Little Yellow Wolfe’s bane, 1578
common snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, 1597; & G. elwesii, 1875
Crocus tommasinianus, tommies, lavender and self-sowing, 1847
Crocus chrysanthus “Snowbunting”, by 1914, musk-like fragrance
“Mammoth Yellow”/”Golden Yellow”, C. xluteus, by 1665
C. vernusKing of the Striped”, 1880, patchwork purple and stripes
snake’s-head fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris, by 1572,checkered
Camassia leichtlinii, by Lewis and Clark, introduced 1853
Scott’s tip: protect newly planted bulbs with plastic netting

Daffodils: Inedible Delights
wild: N. pseudonarcissus in Arkansas cow pasture
poet's or pheasant's-eye narcissus, N. poeticus recurvus, 1597
tazettas: 'Grand Primo', 1780, a better-smelling paperwhite
Victorian beginnings: 'Conspicuus', 1869, vigorous, short-cupped
impostor king: 'King Alfred', 1899, widely subbed for since 1950s
triandruses: 'Thalia', 1916, "orchid-flowered"
double 'Irene Copeland', neatly coiffed, 1915
color advances: 'Mrs. R.O. Backhouse', 1921, the first "pink"
John Colwell's grandmother's daffodil, nameless but wonderful
Scott's tip: get and use a garden ruler; your bulbs will thank you!

Hyacinths: Fragrant Rainbow
Roman hyacinth, Hyacinthus orientals, wild, zone-6 hardy, 1613
double 'Chestnut Flower', 1880, pink - and counterfeit
almost black'Menelik', 1911
’Gipsy Queen', 1927/1944, apricot
double hyacinth, unknown "found" variety that multiplies
Scott's tip: protect roots from freeze-thaw damage with winter mulch

Tulips: Icons of Spring
wild: true T. clusiana, red and white pixie, 1607
T. acuminata, last survivor of Ottoman Empire's Tulip Era?
"Broken" tulips: 'Zomerschoon', 1620, true relic of Tulipomania
'Due van Tols', 1600-1900: 'Due van Tol Rose', 1700, dwarf
Double Early: 'Peach Blossom', 1889, frothy pink and white
Darwin/Single Late: 'Clara Butt', 1889, first Darwin, hardy borders
'Philippe de Comines', 1891, dark mahogany
Parrot: 'Fantasy', 1910, pink, contorted and frilled
Dutch Breeder/Single Late: 'Titanic', 1939, "art shades"
Species tulips: 'Red Emperor'/'Madame Lefeber', 1931
Scott's tip: tulips return best when kept dry in summer

Lilies: Regal Drama
from Europe: martagon lily, Lilium martagon, 1568, mauve or white
from Asia: L. speciosum 'Rubrum', 1833, pink, favorite fragrance
Lilium regale, regal lily, 1904/12, white with gold throat, fragrant
hybridizing: orange 'Enchantment', 1947, 20th century's greatest?
'Black Beauty', 1958, ruby edged with silver, lily-beetle resistant
Scott's tip: for better bloom, apply any balanced fertilizer, anytime

Gladious: Farm-Stand Favorites
if they're good enough for Monet ....
"Carolina Primrose," 1910?, hardy, unknown, G. primulinusldalenii
'Atom', 1946, half-sized, red with silver picotee edging
'Dauntless', 1940, pink splashed with ruby, clearly not modern
'Starface', 1960, peach miniature, already at risk
Scott's tip: even one glad makes a gorgeous, long-lasting bouquet

Diverse Summer Exotics
tuberose, Polianthes tuberosa 'Mexican Single', 1530, rich fragrance
pink rain lilies, Zephyranthes grandiflora, 1825, traditional pot plant
Colocasia esculenta 'Illustris' elephant ear, 1902, black/chartreuse
caladium, Caladium bicolor, 1770’s? 1850’s? ‘Lord Derby’,1897

surprise lily, Lycoris squamigera, 1889, lavender-pink in August
Scott's tip: many of these grow best and are easy and fun in pot

Cannas: Resurgent Victorians
species-like 'Robert Kemp', 1900?, tiny red-orange flames
narrow-petalled 'Semaphore', 1895, saffron with bronze leaves
flamboyant 'En Avant', 1914, gold embroidered with red
'Mme. Paul Caseneuve', 1902, peachy pink with bronze leaves
'Bangkok', I960?, aka 'Striped Beauty', etc.; pin-striped foliage
Scott's tip: don't plant outside till it's really WARM, or start inside

Dahlias: Queen of Autumn
'Kaiser Wilhelm', 1892, extra-rare Victorian survivor, button-eyed
'Jersey's Beauty', 1923, most celebrated dahlia of the 20th century
'Bishop of Llandaff, 1927, almost single flowers, maroon foliage
dinner-plate: 'Kidd's Climax', 1940, pink and cream
cactus: 'Juanita', 1949, burgundy-red, quilled petals
November bouquet with yellow collarette 'Claire de Lune', 1946;
      bronze 'Jane Cowl', 1928; pink pompon 'Betty Anne', 1928;
      deep burgundy 'Prince Noir', 1954; and others
Scott's tip: no, you DON'T have to dig them up

Winter: Bringing Spring Indoors
Smith College conservatory, repro forcing vases, crocus hedgehog
"Chinese Sacred Lily," Narcissus tazetta var. orientalis, 1880s
St. Joseph's lily, Hippeastrum xjohnsonii, 1799, first hybrid

Old House Gardens: For Every Garden
our mission: Save the Bulbs! (brilliant 'Winsome' dahlia, 1940)
our headquarters: 1889 house, 1930s barn, 'Black Beauty' lily
our staff: including Charlie, our VP for Taking It Easy
our sources and partners: Hortus Bulborum, small farmers, etc.
our research: old catalogs and books, experts, our trial garden
our customers: Williamsburg - and you!


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This article is reprinted with permission from Scott Kunst

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