My obsession with bulbs

It has always been so. Before I even started my first garden, I was fascinated by the thought of buying and planting little round things in the fall that would burst forth into colorful life the next spring. Over the years, I’ve been known to spend $300 or better on tulip, lily, daffodil, and hyacinth bulbs—as well as miscellaneous other types. Usually, friends are the yearly recipients of my insane overbuying.

Do people plant as many bulbs as they used to? I tend to see them more in public plantings than in private gardens these days. (At one time, I tried to synchronize our whole street in tulips, but we used containers and had a hard winter, so most didn’t come up and that was the end of that.) Although I see no evidence in the media that planting spring-flowering bulbs is any less popular, I’m also not seeing as many bulbs each spring, at least not in Western New York. People here find it difficult to accept the fact that tulips are not really perennials, and when their first crop fails to return in force the next year, rather than plant new ones they decide not to bother. To me, the fact that tulips must be renewed is a good thing. It provides variety and negates the futile practice of letting ugly bulb foliage die back.

Some speculation on why bulbs may not be as popular as they used to be:
-no instant gratification here
-an increasing emphasis on low maintenance (bah!)
-more hardscaping and water gardens make less space for bulbs in quantity

Hmm. I’m not sure. They’ll always be one of my favorite aspects of gardening—which is why I have about 30-40 lily stalks dying back in my small courtyard right now.


Anonymous said…
We've had, and are having a discussion about this topic at
Angela’s Northern California Gardening Blog. Check it out.

I love bulbs and want to increase the awareness in the gardening public’s mind of this season, yet the trend is less familiarity with bulbs by the public. What to do?
mmw said…
Personally, I'm not interested in bulbs I can't naturalize, for the same reason I don't do much with annuals. I don't mind deferred gratification, as long as it repeats.

Another problem in the west is that the bulbs that do well here are harder to find than things that have been hybridized for continental climates.
Celia said…
I have planted a small number of bulbs (under 30) the last few years, but my yard is informal at best. This year, I planted some garlic cloves, too.

Before I did it myself, I know I had confusion regarding what got planted at one point (my glad bulbs went stale due to this).

However, very little makes me happier than to see crocuses come up in the Spring.
Carol Michel said…
I've always told people to consider tulips as annuals and they look at me like I am poor gardener. But, life is happier if we just accept this fact, and replant tulips each year.
firefly said…
I'm about to try to save tigridia bulbs (summer blooming) for next year. They bloomed so beautifully, it seems a waste to let them freeze. Hopefully I won't cut them all in half digging them up.

I see a lot of tulips around here (Maine), although all it takes is one of our usual spring rains and they're shredded. It's a shame, but it's almost not worth planting them, because they just fully bloom and wham! petals all over the ground.

The squirrels in my yard routinely behead the tulips planted by the former owner, too. Last year I planted several bunches of species tulips (I looooove species tulips) which went unmolested, so I'm expanding the planting this year.
David (Snappy) said…
I just planted two hundred spring bulbs in cold, windy conditions in solid clay soil!Thats the price to pay for masses of spring flowers after a cold winter.The signs of renewal warms the hearts of gardeners and non gardeners.Who doesnt appreciate masses of daffodils blowing in the wind?$300 gets you how many bulbs?
I will buy some bluebells and tulips tomorrow if i can find some.
Angela Pratt said…
I've always dabbled in bulbs, but became a full-fledged bulb fanatic after reading Keeyla Meadows' book, Making Gardens Works of Art: Creating Your Own Personal Paradise. I also had the pleasure of touring her garden and some of the gardens she's designed in Berkeley, CA and Oakland, CA. These gardens were bulb heaven... the most colorful gardens I've ever seen.

In her book, you'll see she also uses lilies to amazing effect later in the season. She uses all kinds of flowers, but I was definitely struck by her use of bulbs.

I added lilies to my garden and still can't believe what a huge impact they make and for so little effort. They're gorgeous and all I did was stick 'em in the ground and stake the really tall ones when they came up.

Daffodils are great too and often naturalize. Hyacinths? Love 'em. Freesia? Ixia? Love, love, love. I say plant all the bulbs you can and sit back and enjoy.

While you're at it, think of a gardening-impaired friend who could use something to look forward to and show up at their house with a bag of bulbs... and plant them.
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Anonymous said…
Amy G. said…
I inherited all kinds of bulb plants at my house, and I don't do anything with them... they all just come back: crocus, tulips of all sorts, daffodils, hyacinth... it is wonderful.

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