I deleted the Facebook app from my phone this morning. I’m sure I will reinstall it sooner or later, but I need a break. I waste too much time on social media, and frankly more often than not it makes me feel worse about myself and the state of the world. Who needs that negativity?

That said, we can’t deny the incredible resources that are offered by a platform such as Facebook. The ASCFG Members Only group is reason enough to stay at least peripherally tuned in. Never before in the long history of flower growing has there been such a wealth of information available to growers with so little effort. You can literally use your magic little pocket computer to find technical growing information on some obscure crop, order seeds and supplies, and ask a question of another grower without even getting off the toilet. It’s truly a magical time to be alive.

At the aptly named “Flower Nerds” meeting in Oberlin back in February I had the fortune of stopping into the used book store downstairs from the ASCFG’s international headquarters (aka Judy and Linda’s office). I always check out the gardening and horticultural books in a used bookstore because you can find some real treasures. In Oberlin I snagged a 1961 manual on the topic of cut carnation production, and a 1962 manual on hybridizing your own cut flowers, complete with a chapter on sweet pea breeding! Evidently the sweet pea breeders of the late 50’s were working towards longer stems, with more flowers per stem, with more ruffled flowers in a wider range of colors. Coincidentally these are the exact goals of my breeding program. I didn’t invent the concept.

Sixty years ago the same goals were in mind and were being achieved before sweet peas fell out of fashion, and genetic material was lost to cultivation. Luckily I was able to track down seeds of a few of these early varieties from Roger Parsons in the UK, and I look forward to growing them this season and using them in my breeding projects.

I would never have found this information on Facebook or anywhere else on the internet, but there were these pearls of wisdom, just sitting for decades in a dusty book waiting for the person who needed this information. Did you know that in 1914 there were nearly 3,000 acres of sweet pea seed production in California alone? Thanks, old book, for holding this information!

From time to time I have farmer friends tell me they are getting bored with their crop lineup. They want something new and exciting. I would argue that the best place to find new ideas is in old books. I recently found a copy of the 1920 edition of Principles of Floriculture, written by Edward A. White and edited by Liberty Hyde Bailey. There are more than 450 pages of dense information all about the professional cultivation of cut flowers and potted plants in America for the American market. Growing flowers is not new. The horticultural needs of various species don’t change much over time, and by and large this information can be trusted. Bored with your lineup? Maybe it’s time to bring back violets, or mignonette or wallflower! It seems they were viable crops in 1920!

Speaking of old books, the Holland Bulb Forcer’s Guide is an invaluable resource for anyone growing bulbs. It was prepared by the late August de Hertogh from research performed at North Carolina State University in conjunction with Dutch bulb growers and suppliers. It was last printed in 1996, and you can still find copies from time to time. I found mine on Amazon a few years ago for about $100, but the price varies. I’ve seen it offered for more than $1000, but I’m sure somewhere in America there is a $5 copy sitting on the shelf of a used bookstore. Take time to check. In this day and age publishers are far more likely to produce books with mass market appeal than they are to publish books with solid, well-researched, concise information.

In July 2019 I took a trip to England to attend a sweet pea show put on by the UK-based National Sweet Pea Society. Shows these days are a fraction of the size they were even 20 years ago, when even members of the royal family would be in attendance. The participants are keenly aware of the average age of their membership and the fact that these traditions won’t be with us for long. Just like the old books, there is precious information stored in the minds of these older enthusiasts who may have been growing sweet peas longer than I have been alive.

Plant societies need new blood to stay afloat and in many cases need help digitizing their newsletters and bulletins so the information is not lost. Participation in these groups can give you access to priceless growing techniques and variety information. You can speak to actual experts who love nothing more than to talk about their flower of choice. You can even find out about varieties before they reach the masses. If you were a member of the American Dahlia Society perhaps you would have seen the potential of ‘Cafe au Lait’ as a cut flower back when it was introduced in 1968! Dahlias, sweet peas, clematis, roses, orchids, daffodils, carnations, peonies, and so many more have their own dedicated societies, and a wealth of information can be gained by participating.

By all means, keep Googling, and asking those questions on Facebook, but when you’re ready for the full story look for a dusty old book that needs someone to open it, or find an actual human with your shared passion. Both are ready to generously share their information.

Bailey Hale

Ardelia Farm & Co.

[email protected]