Guest Rants

Bulb Fever Thwarted

Guest Post by Sandra Knauf of Greenwoman Zine.Chionodoxa forbesii 'Blue Giantsmall'

I've had my share of bulb fever over the years. It's always the same, coming on in late summer, intensifying  with fall, eased only by hours poring over full-color bulb-porn catalogs and long, excited lists. I've splurged a few times, putting in big orders that included the practical (species tulips, muscari, Darwins) to the extravagant (parrot, fringed, and peony tulips, Allium 'Globemaster' and shubertii.)

And, I have loved them all.

For me, it began sixteen years ago, during the first fall in the home we live in now, with my first real garden. I wanted bulbs and lots of them. Early in November, eight months pregnant with our second daughter, I planted 180 in one day; dozens of fancy tulips for the front of our bungalow (most lasted one season), King Alfreds by the street, drumstick alliums, crocus, and blue Glory of the Snow. I remember my sister-in-law Victoria's charming comment on how the husks enveloping the daffs were their "little jackets for the winter." She helped me dig big holes and instructed me in proper bulb planting–sprinkle the holes at the bottom with bone meal, add enough bulbs to make a nice show.

I ended the day sore and happy. The next spring, in a new home, with a new baby and so much floral beauty, was glorious.

Looking back now, with the girls mostly grown and nearly two decades of gardening behind me, I realize what made it glorious was not really the bulbs. What filled my heart was springtime itself, our young family (I see it now as a mirror image of the youthful abundance then around us). In a word, love. The bulbs were just icing on the cake. I know this because three years earlier I felt just as happy sitting on a small porch in May, with no garden to speak of, and our first baby in my arms. That spring I fawned over what grew in a section of our cramped yard–a few scruffy grape hyacinths (not planted by me), scrawny wild roses canes that came from who-knows-where, beginning to bud, and the antics of a single robin. Simpler but just as sweet.

Sandrasmall2
That said, I know that hopping on the bulb-buying bandwagon is hard to resist. Gardening, for many of us, is a giving pursuit, and pleasure comes in delighting not just ourselves, but others. When I see a neighbor on our sidewalk, stopping, smiling, pointing at something I've planted, I am thrilled. If you are in the business, it's pretty much a duty to have a show-stopping garden and first-hand plant education. But for those of you who don't have money to spend on bulbs this year, and are feeling blue, to you I say, it's okay. Personally, my bulb catalogs are where they've been stashed for the last few years, in the "maybe" pile on the reading table, as in, if something happens where a ton of money comes my way, I'm gonna buy me a LOT of bulbs. It's not going to happen again this year, and you know what? It's fine.

When spring comes I'll enjoy those hardy bulbs that have persisted in my garden, grape hyacinths, the six 'Globemasters' that get smaller each year but are still fascinating, the few bright spots of Darwin tulips that always bring a glad surprise, and a patch of those prolific species tulips, the Tulipa clusianas. If I find I can't live without buying something this fall, it'll be a small purchase, maybe a box or two of those $2.99 bulbs I've been eyeing at the grocery store, or a fragrant hyacinth at the neighborhood garden center to force in a colorful glass (it is a lot of fun).  As the proverb goes, it only takes one to feed the soul.

Top photo by Paul Spielman; lower photo by Kim Gravestock.

Posted by on November 4, 2010 at 4:31 am, in the category Guest Rants.
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17 Responses to “Bulb Fever Thwarted”

  1. Anna Zeusler says:

    As much as I love to see the bulbs bloom in springtime, after a long, cold, colorless winter, I HATE planting bulbs! I will spend every weekend from April to September puttering around the garden. I planted alot of perennials late in the season this year but only a couple of bags of bulbs from the big box store. Bless those who spend hours digging in the almost frozen autumn ground. I’ll enjoy their efforts and they can enjoy mine later in the season! AZ

  2. Tibs says:

    Perfectly said, and perfectly describes my bulb situation . Came at the right time too, just got the e-mail from Van Engelen “everything 50% off!” I think I can reisit. Though I did buy some very expensive Queen of the Night tulips from my nephew’s gradeschool fund raiser.

  3. Lisa, Ontario says:

    I bought, and then I bought some more when they went on sale, and I bought some at the grocery store, and at the little independent place….But I didn’t have anything, so I NEED some to watch next spring. There is nothing so lonely as new flower beds in the spring without some bulbs coming up to watch with insane intensity every second of the day.

  4. Susan says:

    this came at just the right time. I have planted species tulips this fall, but keep eying the sales. No more- it’s like planting dollar bills.

  5. Tara Dillard says:

    I must admit to BULB GUILT. Buying, not planting, desiccation, onto the compost pile.

    Part of my pro bono last winter was planting Daffodil bulbs for a neighborhood. On my knees, realizing they will endure, more than most anything in my career.

    Humbling.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  6. Chris Upton says:

    I’m not young anymore, and am able to buy bulbs if I want to. I do buy some, but your post has stirred forgotten memories. For a prety good period of my life, when the boys were young and some time before then, late-summer through fall was always the leanest time of year. I remember feeling frustrated at my inability to buy the quantities of bulbs I craved. Of course we inherited some, bought more, in small quantities, and the garden eventually filled up. Now if we want to plant anything we almost have to remove something!

    Wonderful post. Thanks.

  7. D'Arcy Fallon says:

    Eloquently said. Makes me so nostalgic. I call those gardening catalogs, by the way, horticultural pornography. Great piece, Sandy!

  8. I appreciate the kind words, Chris. It is the leanest time of year with kids going back to school, the holidays coming, etc. I really appreciate the comments on this post (thanks to all of you!)

  9. D’Arcy, I’ve seen variations of “hort-porn” used a lot lately, but I heard it first, years ago, from YOU.

  10. Deirdre says:

    I was eight months pregnant with my second child when we bought our first house, too. And I also bought bulbs. Unfortunately, I did not have help, and those bulbs got planted in February. They came up late, but they came up, and they settled into a normal routine the following year. Money is tight this year, so I didn’t do any massive orders, but I bought a few things. I can’t imagine spring without bulbs to look forward to. I also look forward to the 500 bulbs I planted last year multiplying and spreading.

  11. Dancedancekj says:

    Buying a 90 bulb pack of daffodils at Costco for $19.99 was good enough for me. I’d rather have masses of hardy, reliable bulbs (even if they’re a bit bit ordinary or common).

  12. carpetbag_garden says:

    Reading this made me run to Van Englen and start throwing cheap bulbs in the cart.

    And then I realized that I live in a rental house and I will be moving in mid December.

    *sigh*

    One day, one day….

    PS. Have you looked at TyTy’s website? That’s real (plant) porn.

  13. Laura Munoz says:

    Ah, I would buy bulbs/corms/rhizomes again if they would grow here, but I’ve wasted so much money on those that were supposed to work in warm climates that I’ve given up. The scilla melted. The species tulips dwindled away. The one kind of lily that coulda/woulda/shoulda made it didn’t. The warm-climate species gladiolus FROM Texas never returned (never even grew), and the heirloom irises melted. There were many more sad passings. You get the idea. Only crinums, heirloom daffs, and white cemetery irises seem to handle my growing conditions. I sure wish your fond memories were mine.

  14. Lisa Ueda says:

    What a sweet sentiment, you brought a smile to my face. Thank you :)

  15. gardengeri says:

    Based on the first few comments, I think you are getting your bulbs shipped too late!
    For me there are few things more delightful than planting bulbs in prepared earth on a golden day when the autumn sun is slanting down warm on my back. Such pleasure! and anticipation!

  16. I do not see this bulb infatuation as anything healthy from template USA.

  17. Peg says:

    Really lovely post, thank you.

    I moved to a new house this year, and the only evidence of bulbs were a few clumps of pale, boring Ice Follies daffodils. So I knew I’d be buying bulbs this year. And my husband had already agreed I could spend a fair amount on plants for our new place. Still, I always try to be as thrifty as I can.

    I also plant bulbs for some gardening clients (I have a small landscaping/garden design business based in Albany, NY), and will sometimes grab a leftover daffodil bulb here and there, so I can get them going in my yard, and eventually subdivide and transplant them elsewhere, including in my guerilla gardening work in the city. I also plant gardens at my campground in western NY, for the visitors to enjoy and to help the owners maintain a nice looking property. I do this at my own expense and entirely voluntarily. It’s gratifying in terms of the ideas of giving pleasure to others that you discuss above.

    I thought I was done ordering bulbs (from John Scheepers and Van Bourgondien), then found a half off coupon for Van Bourgondien. Then the 40% off sale at Van Engelen happened! So I got more. Here’s a list of the bulbs I planted this year: daffodils (Delnashaugh and Fragrant Rose), hyacinths (Gypsy Queen, Jan Bos and Sky Jacket), grape hyacinths (Valerie Finnis), Cote d’Azur Asiatic lilies, crocuses (Twilight and Blue Pearl), and English bluebells.

    I still have a few things to plant and am happy for the warm weather this week to finish up. I spent a couple of hours today volunteering my time planting tulip bulbs in the Delaware Avenue neigborhood, with bulbs donated by the city. Tomorrow, my yard will receive my end of season purchases: Foxtail lilies (Cleopatra and Pinnochio), Asiatic lilies (Landini), Camassia (Caerulea), Azure alliums, Pulchellum alliums, City of Haarlem hyacinths, and Moonstone peonies.

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