It's the Plants, Darling

Resistance is futile: eight reasons I must have bulbs

Catalogs

After taking it easy last year, I now have orders in for 357 bulbs, with one order as yet unsubmitted. Excess is always preferable, but that’s not the only reason I go overboard on bulbs.

My relationship with bulbs goes beyond their obvious utility: i.e., you put the round things in the ground and they come up transformed into various flowers. There are many other reasons, and some of them have little to do with whether the bulbs successfully come up on schedule. Though I hope they will (and they usually do). I’ve assembled my justifications into a list, to save the time of logically weaving them together.

1. Bulb catalogs are heaven. Colorblends puts together their own tulip combinations, giving them names like “Stop the Car,” and “Romeo Foxtrot.” It should enrage me that they tend not to provide the botanical names, but the bulbs are inexpensive and good, and I treat tall hybrids as annuals anyway. Old House Gardens is at the opposite end of the spectrum, with plenty of historical information and references to the days of tulipmania. The Lily Garden always features pictures of the beautiful blonde Dutch women who run the joint; I like to check on how little Juliana van de Salm is coming along (hopefully I’ll still be ordering when she’s a teen).

2. Bulb-ordering takes the sting out of the waning summer. As I plan for the next spring’s flowers, it’s as if I’ve skipped over winter—in my head at least.

3. I force a lot of the bulbs, which means I’ll have tazettas in November and December, hyacinths in January, and tulips in February.

Tulips

4. Many of them go into containers to be stored in the garage and brought out in spring, making them very portable as garden décor, or useful as a source for cut flowers.

5. I hate fading bulb foliage, and buying new tulips each year means that I never have to look at it. The species tulips I buy as perennials have negligible foliage—and I avoid the big daffs.

Erythro

6. Every year there are scores of new hybrids to try, or species types I’d never noticed before. For example, this year Brent and Becky’s offers the erythronim revolutum (shown above), with white flowers and—interesting!—white and brown veined foliage. And every year, I look longingly at the alliums, especially flavum, moly, and carinatum, with their tiny, disheveled blooms. Sadly, they will not thrive for me—lack of sun, probably.

Bulbvase

7. Bulbs have accessories! I love to use the antique Victorian hyacinth glasses to force hyacinths, though they are getting harder to find. They’re old, but they’re tough; last year a bunch of them withstood the cold temps in the root cellar, and the water in them never froze. It’s also fun to use tiny pots for hyacinth forcing, and different types of decorative stones in clear glass vases for tazetta forcing. I can get all crafty with it. Obvious gift fodder here.

8. As reasons #2 and 3 imply, this is how I manage to garden year-round, though there are still slack periods. But I can always go down to the root cellar to check on the pots, make sure they’re moist, and so on. Bulbs are the last things to be planted in the fall and the first things out of the ground in the spring; forcing shortens this cycle even further. With all the bulbs I have inside and out, I remain connected with that cycle—even as the ground freezes around me.

Enough talk: here are some of my favorite bulb images from the last few seasons:

Bulbs_2

(Top row: T. tarda, turkistanica; T. clusiana; T. acuminata. 2nd row: Maureen, Perestroika; erythronium Pagoda; Perestroika, Blushing Lady; 3rd row: Golden Splendor trumpet, White Henryi; tarda)

Posted by on August 19, 2007 at 4:00 pm, in the category It's the Plants, Darling.
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9 responses to “Resistance is futile: eight reasons I must have bulbs”

  1. Carol says:

    And you would deny yourself a $50 bulb after going this far with bulbs?

    I’m with you on the hyacinth vases. I have 11 of them, none are antiques though. I need more.

  2. eliz says:

    Carol, they are getting very hard to find. I will email you links to any I come across. (I have seen your posts on these, and was happy to see another afficianado of hyacinth forcing.)

    As $50 is nothing to you, I am sure you won’t mind the prices of the antique vases! (sideways puntuation here)

  3. Susan Harris says:

    Wow, you’ve got me dying to try some forcing myself. Know of any good instructions?

  4. Becky says:

    do you do anything special to protect your bulbs from squirrels and other critters?

  5. Ellis Hollow says:

    Susan: Check out this forcing info: http://www.bulb.com/templates/dispatcher.asp?page_id=18671 (Then click on ‘Spring bulbs’ in top nav, then ‘Forcing flower bulbs at home’ in left nav.)

    Hard to get to, but the ‘Chilling facts … ‘ piece has the basics.

  6. Marte says:

    Good question Becky! I don’t even plan blubs because of the squirrels.

  7. eliz says:

    I’ve never found squirrels to be a problem. I do very occasionally sprinkle some red pepper on the front bulb beds, if it looks like they have been digging, but it’s not a big issue.

    There are lots of things you can do though–plant in wire cages, or even just stick wire netting over the top after planting (and then cover with mulch. Squirrels are not that persistent. What I’ve heard is that rabbits are the real problem, eating the young shoots as they come up in the spring. But we have few of those where I live.

  8. Marte says:

    Oh! Maybe it’s the rabbits, not the squirrels then. I have lots of both. :(

  9. Carol says:

    Eliz… just to set the record straight, I think $50 is a lot of money. But let me know about those antique hyacinth vases if you find any…

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