Plant the Best Spring Bulbs

October 23, 2008 | By | Comments (17)


Right now into December is the perfect time to plant daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, and other spring bulbs. But if the pathetic selection offered by home centers leaves you cold, do I have a name for you – an outstanding mail-order nursery specializing in easy-to-grow heirloom bulbs you can’t get almost anywhere else.

It’s called Old House Gardens and since 1993, it’s been headquartered in a quaint old house in Ann Arbor, Michigan. That’s when its founder and “head gardener,” Scott Kunst, photocopied his first bulb catalog at Kinko’s and mailed it to 500 people.

“Strangers sent me hundreds of dollars,” he recalls. (Hmmm…maybe Grumpy should do his own catalog. Cat House Gardens?)

The Old House Difference
OK, so why should you buy bulbs from this place? Two reasons. First, Old House Gardens offers dozens of rare, beautiful bulbs that have been handed down from generation to generation. Because mass merchandisers shun them, they survive today only because enlightened gardeners like you grow and share them. Second, unlike most bulbs companies that buy nearly all of their bulbs from growers in Holland, Old House Gardens gets many of its bulbs from small family farms and growers throughout the U.S. These bulbs do well here because they’re time-tested in our climates.

You Deserve the Best
Because I think Grumpians deserve only the best plants for their gardens, I asked Scott to suggest a variety of favorite, old-fashioned bulbs that thrive in the South. (Many of them do just as well elsewhere.) Scroll down to see his expert picks (the photos are courtesy of Old House Gardens). If you like what you see, order soon, before they’re sold out.

(FYI – The Grump gets no kickback for his endorsement. He does, however, get a kick from champagne.)


Lady or Candy Tulip (Tulipa clusiana). I love this tulip! Striped red and white like a candy cane, it stands 10 inches high, blooms year after years, does great in containers and the ground, and is perennial from Boston to Mobile. Beat that!


Blue Roman Hyacinth. Cultivated since at least 1562, this beauty needs almost no winter chilling, so you can grow it in Florida and throughout the South. Its slender blooms are more delicate than the fat, plastic-looking blossoms of regular Dutch hyacinths and you often get several stems per bulb. Happy Roman hyacinth also multiplies readily, forming drifts. Grows 12 inches tall.



Twin Sisters daffodil (Narcissus x medioluteus). “Generally known everywhere,” wrote herbalist John Gerard in 1597. The absolute latest daffodil to bloom in my Alabama garden, usually in May. Gets its name from the fact that each stem carries two fragrant, white flowers with small yellow cups. Grows about 14 inches tall.



Byzantine glad (Gladiolus communis byzantinus). Usually found blooming in spring in cemeteries and old home sites, this screaming magenta, hardy glad is gaudier than Liberace at Moulin Rouge. Increases every year to form clumps that don’t need staking. Scott sells the best and rarest form, so don’t be shocked by the price. Think of it as single-malt Scotch for your garden.



‘Early Louisiana’ jonquil. When I first visited Celia Jones at Sisters Bulb Farm in Louisiana, I was amazed at the tens of thousands of incredibly fragrant, yellow jonquils that had naturalized across the fields. Celia calls them “Sweeties.” So do I.



Antique freesia (Freesia alba). Freesias were the flowers that Princess Saralinda, heroine of The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber (Grumpy’s all-time favorite book), wore in her hair. I always thought these fragrant, white beauties weren’t hardy here, but Scott says this one comes back year after year from the Lower South down into Florida. It’s my second favorite alba, second only to Jessica.


  1. 6 Gardening Tasks for Hubby at Halftime – The Daily South | Your Hub for Southern Culture

    […] Plant some spring bulbs, like the hyacinths above. He doesn’t have to plant a whole acre. Halftime is plenty of time […]

    November 4, 2012 at 6:01 am
  2. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    This may be a longshot, but I think you may be thinking of Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica).
    What damage are the squirrels doing?

    May 17, 2010 at 8:23 am
  3. Ellen

    Help me! My husband is sitting outside ready to shoot the squirrels. I know they can be pesky, but i like watching them frolic. What should I do?

    May 16, 2010 at 7:46 pm
  4. Sarah

    What is the name of a spring shrub that blooms with small pink and white blossoms? There are also “spikes” on the stems. Is is the japonica? If so, please let me know where I can find a picture or ordering info.

    February 15, 2009 at 12:02 pm
  5. Grumpy Gardener

    The early worm gets the bulb.

    January 3, 2009 at 8:43 pm
  6. Ellen Wigginton

    You’re right. The truth is out—OHG is a gardeners best kept secret, but when they sell out 3 months before the planting season starts, don’t come crying to me. hahaha
    In all seriousness though, Scott and his crew give the best service and product, bar none! And best of all Scott does it from his love of preservation of the ancient gems and not for the money.

    January 3, 2009 at 3:58 pm
  7. Grumpy Gardener

    OK, Grumpians, the truth is out — Ellen won’t share! Ellen won’t share!

    November 3, 2008 at 7:28 am
  8. Ellen Wigginton

    How dare you tell everybody about Old House Gardens! I’ve been trying to keep it a secret for years.:)

    November 3, 2008 at 12:31 am
  9. Grumpy Gardener

    In Scott’s case, I think the “economic stimulus package” may have been some free extra bulbs. Now if you’re talking about the overall economy, an economic stimulus package reflects a country’s moronic attempt to ameliorate a financial crisis brought about by runaway lending by borrowing even more money. Grumpy

    November 2, 2008 at 7:56 am
  10. Debbie Robertson

    What is an economic stimulus package?
    We missed you at the GWA Region IV mtg in Athens, GA. Felder was there w/ truck Halloween decorations.

    October 31, 2008 at 4:12 pm
  11. Grumpy Gardener

    Hey! I wrote AN ENTIRE STORY about Old House Gardens and nobody sent me an economic stimulus package. I’ve been ripped!

    October 31, 2008 at 3:27 pm
  12. Dee/reddirtramblings

    I, too, ordered from Old House Gardens this year. I love their bulbs, and one of the things I bought was the economic stimulant sampler. He was very generous.~~Dee

    October 31, 2008 at 2:35 pm
  13. Grumpy

    Did you water your garden too often? Think of it this way — does it rain every day for a solid month?
    More plants die from overwatering than underwatering. Instead of watering shallowly 7 times a week, water deeply 1 or 2 times a week. This means leaving the water on a for an hour or two until you wet the soil 6 inches deep.
    FYI, wilting plants is not only a sign of too little water. It can also be a sign that the soil is too wet. Here’s an easy way to tell the difference. If the plant wilts when the sun hits it and then recovers when the sun goes down, the soil is too wet. If it stays wilted after the sun goes down, the soil is too dry.
    No, you don’t have to test your soil. You just have to start watering properly.

    October 29, 2008 at 1:39 pm
  14. maggie

    My husband and I had a garden this year.I think we watered it to much.How many times a week do we water?We watered ever day for a month.And then we realized it was to much because the peppers wilted and the zuchinni turned yellow on it’s leafs.We live in the middle of Tennessee and it is 90 degrees in the summer.The garden was in the sun all day.Do we need to test our soil.

    October 29, 2008 at 11:39 am
  15. Grumpy

    Personally, I would move them now, as long as you know where they are and you can dig them without slicing them up. Separate them into individual bulbs, then plant them about 6 inches apart in a sunnier location. If you wait until spring to so it, dig them after the foliage starts to turn yellow.

    October 24, 2008 at 3:53 pm
  16. Lianne

    This is great.
    When is the best time to move bulbs? Now or spring? I have some daffodils that are in an area that is too shady for blooming, so I want to move them to a better area.

    October 24, 2008 at 11:39 am
  17. Gardening With Confidence

    I just got my order in and they are already in the ground! This year, I’m adding Lent lily, N. pseudonarcissus. Plus, I got a personal thank you note for Scott…It’s always an added bonus when the owner takes the time to be personnally involved.
    Scott list Lent lily’s existance as “by 1200.” Now that’s preservation! Can’t wait to see them in the spring – I hope I’ll remember where I planted them.

    October 23, 2008 at 5:47 pm

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