Saving the Gardens for Miss Margaret

Honestly, it's hard to find the desire to go outside in 118 degrees. The heat is unrelenting and environmental pressure cooker. The gardens just stare at me as if they are saying  "Make it stop!!!!"  Bright yellow leaves are falling all around, as flowers just  hang their faces towards the earth.

Gardeners  know that it is impossible to fight Mother Nature during extreme heat waves. Drought, hard freezes, storms and floods are simply part of weather cycles.   

As a "bulber" (That's slang for someone who lives and breathes bulbs) I am grateful that heirloom bulbs see beyond the elements. The present day triple digit temperatures will soon be just a fleeting thought for these old bulbs. I imagine these old bulbs as old Texas ranchers. "Remember the heat wave and drought of 1953? Ah yes, good times!" Heirloom bulbs are in it for the long haul. In fact, I'm always amazed at a bulb's sheer will to live.

I recently visited Rockdale, Texas. In the 1900's, Rockdale was a thriving town full of historic homes and gardens. Milan County has a rich German heritage, and Oxblood Lilies can be found naturalizing in old homesteads.

One particular house that always caught my eye. A stately, two story, brick home that boasted architectural features that were pure 'eye-candy' for this architect's daughter. Dark wooden, spiral staircases, elaborate crown molding, and stained glass made this house look like something right of Martha Stewart's imagination......but the gardens were truly something to behold.


The gardens of this old house were known throughout Milan County. Spider Lilies and Oxblood Lilies lined quaint brick walkways, which wove their way around the house. Paperwhites and a variety of Daffodils grew around the front porch, greeting people with year-round garden cheer. There were Crinums, Iris and Star of Bethlehem planted lovingly around old, historic trees. Certainly, this was a deeply adored home and garden.

Then, one day, the house grew silent......

Weeds grew up and choked the landscape.

Shutters fell and hung raggedly onto the house.

Years of summer heat waves and drought went by.......

Lightening struck, and fire swept through the historic house. 

The old house was left exposed and in ruins. 

Rumors of the tear down simply broke my heart. The house semed to just give up. Little life was left in the property......that is, except for the heirloom bulbs. 

The bulbs seemed almost oblivious to the falling down, vacant estate. The old bulbs just  kept on happily blooming, just like they had for the past 100 years. Over the next few years, the Masters Gardeners, Historical Society and flower lovers, like myself, tried to salvage as much of the old house and gardens as possible. 

My final visit to the old house felt like saying goodbye to an old friend. I stood in silence and surveyed the barren property.

The trees were gone. 

The little brick pathways were gone.

The stained glass and spiral staircases were gone. 

The entire property had been flattened, and all that remained of the stately old house were piles of dirt and debris.

There is an erie silence when trees have been torn down. The birds seem to understand the loss, and stop singing their songs that once filled the air. All I could see was brown piles of rubble and little green things sticking up like grass.


"Wait......What? Little green things?"

I had to just shake my head and smile.

Of course these bulbs would survive a bulldozer!!! Why wouldn't they? They are heirlooms! A little cut here and there is no match for a 100 year old bulb. So I began to reach down and started pulling up the bulbs, one by one, to freedom. The little grass-like foliage was like a bulb hand reaching up through the debris.  Many of the bulbs were completely broken and  damaged. To most people, easily discarded.....but I still picked them up. 

Over the next few months, I loved seeing the ways the bulbs continued to live. Most of the damaged bulbs started putting energy into making new little baby bulbs, eventually putting all the bulb energy into the next generation.....literally, saving itself through it's offspring.  Parents do that for our children......I just had no idea a bulb would too. Lots of life lessons, my friends.....too many to share in just one flower blog. An heirloom bulb is the quintessential example of something that will beat all odds in order to live. The poster child for strength, perseverance and fortitude. A good example to all of my other flowers on how to handle the heat and drought!!!  

Some locals came by amazed at the girl in the dirt, digging broken bits of bulbs on a very hot Texas day.

They just smiled.....

"Miss Margaret sure did love her gardens."

I smiled too. I knew that her beloved bulbs from her gardens would be well preserved. 

"Want some bulbs?" 

That moment started the 'Great Oxblood Giveaway'  To date, Miss Margaret's bulbs have been sent out, free of charge, from Oregon to the Carolinas, and many states in between. Miss Margaret's gardens became a beautiful example of hope, inspite of what might  happen around us.

The will to live is in all of us.....even in flowers. The heat, the drought, the storms and the tear-downs of life can really effect a flower's will to live. Some of us, like flowers,  have more 'grit' than others and  really do stand against all Miss Margaret's  heirloom bulbs. A bulb's perseverance and endurance is a beautiful reminder to all of us, whether is storm or in garden favor.....

We are all just waiting for our season to bloom. 

Happy gardening, my friends. 

For the Love of a Bulb

Keenan FletcherFor as long as I can remember, I've had a love affair with flowers.

I suppose I was a bit of an odd child.....I spent most of my time outside. I loved flowers, and everything that went along with the garden. Flowers were collected, flattened, worn or eaten, all the worms had pet names, the pill bugs had secret villages under rocks, and the snails were ancient remnants of oceans that I, alone, knew of.  I spent my early years almost entirely outside, daydreaming the garden days of my Montana youth away. 

Some of my earliest memories were spent in the rose garden of an elderly Rabbi and his wife, who lived down the street. I spent a lot of time with Mrs. Horowitz, and she always greeted the "Scout" looking child with rose clippers and a vase. Mrs. Horowitz spent hours teaching me about her heirloom roses, which came from clippings from her Mother. I can still see her gardens in my mind.....arbors and draping canopies full of antique roses, poppies, daffodils and peonies. The Horowitz garden was a magical place for a child. I never got over the sheer beauty of her heirloom flowers. 

Those early garden days are long gone, and I have my own children now. Over the years, I have made it my life's goal to create the gardens of my memory....if not just for me, but for all the children who deserve to have garden wonderlands to explore and enjoy. The idea of establishing roots and grow something for future generations seems a bit foreign at times. Our society has become so fast and furious....quick color has replaced the heritage rose or bulb that blooms just once a year.  I found it particularly challenging to locate the heirloom flowers of the Horowitz garden, especially after moving to Texas. Peonies just refuse to grow in the heat, and I truly felt a hole in my soul for the gardens of my youth.......that was, until I saw my first Oxblood Lily. 

Oxblood Liles

The beauty of an Oxblood Lily is intoxicating. Imagine a blood red tripod of lusiciousness. The lily appears out of the ground like a dream. The red lily is bold and striking, and yet elegant and embracing.

Oxblood Liles came to Texas by way of German Settlers in the 1800's. A true heirloom. Many early settlers came to the New World carrying few possessions, except the few treasures they could not live without. I saw a list of items brought to an old family ranch, which included a corset, a Bible and a lily. Oxblood Lilies were truly prized bulbs, and can still be found on old homesteads growing strong, surviving  years of drought and neglect. 

Oxbloods are known as a type of rain lily. The Oxblood Lily will bloom just once after the first heavy rain in the fall. Oxbloods have signified the starting of school for many of these small Texas communities, blooming within the first week of school. A common name for these lovelies is the School House Lily.  Sometimes when moved, the Oxblood Lily might sulk, and choose to bloom the following year. Let's face it.....our flowers are really the ones in control. 

Oxblood Lily Narcissus

As with all bulbs, Oxbloods enjoy their growing season to the fullest. The rich, green grass-like foliage will be food for the following year's bulb. Do not mow down.....many an Oxblood has lost blooming energy due to an unsuspecting mower. Oxbloods will grow through May, and then the bulb will begin to rest. The foliage will brown and the plant will look dead.....but it is not. The bulb is just sleeping. Oxbloods like to be dry during their resting state. 

Then, just like magic....after a long rainfall after the summer heat, the Oxblood blooms. 

Through the years, I have given many lectures about heirloom bulbs, and I am frequently asked the sane question........

"You mean, you wait ALL YEAR for just one bloom?!" (It kind of makes an heirloom bulb lover sound a bit crazy)

I think about my life as a gardener and lover of flowers, especially heirloom bulbs, and I just smile. 

"Why yes. Yes I do."

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