Call me jaded, but I am so over traditional gardening books, the ones which state in the most boring language possible:
- Plant this here;
- Do this particular design; or
- Here is a laundry list of plants which grow in USDA Zones 3 to 7.
Instead, tell me a story. Make me want that heirloom iris rescued from an old Texas homestead, or the tomato which bears the name of a friend and colleague long ago.
Chris Wiesinger, a/k/a the Bulb Hunter, and Cherie Colburn do just that in their book Heirloom Bulbs for Today. Unlike so many gardening books being published of late, Heirloom Bulbs is a big beautiful tome with loads of gorgeous photos. Many books are now being downsized due to printing costs which I understand. However, it’s nice to see generous macro photos along with landscapes in front of old homesteads and cemeteries to remind us of gardeners who have gone before, but who also had similar hopes and dreams.
Chris owns the Southern Bulb Company, and since 2005, he’s crafted his business by rescuing bulbs (with permission) from abandoned homes and farms throughout the south. With such a profession, you know there are going to be lots of stories. The South lends itself to storytelling and romanticism after all. Think of the great southern writers like Eudora Welty (my hands-down favorite), Reynolds Price, Clyde Edgerton and Tennessee Williams . . . the list is expansive. In southern literature, gardens often figure as part of the plot, or are at least play their part in set design.
In many places, this lovely book reads like good literature, and I’ve spent several evenings perusing its pages. All the factual information is here complete with botanical drawings of the bulbs by Loela Barry, a graduate of Texas A&M. The macro photographs of the bulbs were captured by Johan Kritzinger, who is Loela’s husband. Together they own JoLoe Art.
Chris is clearly in love with bulbs, especially those he can grow in northeast Texas where his farm is located. I’ve bought specialty bulbs from Chris over the years. He has always been extraordinarily kind, and in this book, it’s his kind voice that leads you down the path and into the story.
The book opens with the superstars, those bulbs which will grow and bloom for most of us. Lycoris radiata, one of my favorites, is listed first. According to Chris, the best display of red spider lilies he’s ever seen is in the American Cemetery in Natchitoches, LA, where Steel Magnolias was filmed. It is these details peppered throughout the book which make you feel as though you’re riding with Chris’ in his old pickup with his faithful companion, his Weimaraner, Fischer.
Lest you fear there is no botanical information, don’t worry. Each bulb has a page devoted to bloom, foliage, bulb or corm type and care. The botanical drawings are situated on this page so you can compare the written word with them.
It was a special thrill for me when Chris and Cherie wrote of the Hyacinthoides hispanica (Spanish bluebells) growing at Eudora Welty’s home, now a National Historic Landmark. I’m not kidding when I say I love Welty’s work. Eudora Welty Complete Novels: The Robber Bridegroom, Delta Wedding, The Ponder Heart, Losing Battles, The Optimist’s Daughter (Library of America) are excellent with Delta Wedding and The Optimist’s Daughter being two of my favorites. In Delta Wedding, the word “garden” is mentioned at least eight times.
All of my favorite heirlooms are in this book, and it is a wonderful reference, but the stories, ah, the stories are what drew me in and kept me reading. Cherie did a great job getting those stories down on the page, and her style is engaging. Do you like books to weave a tale too?
Note: This book was sent to me for review by Bright Sky Press. I liked it very much, so I’m glad they did. I wish Chris every success, and he is available for speaking engagements too.