Size matters



The paperwhite bulb on the left, purchased from Brent & Becky’s, cost about 60 cents more than the one on the right, a Ziva, purchased from Home Depot. It’s also a slightly different hybrid (discussed in this post) with a milder scent. Of course, a Ziva bulb from B&B would be equally sizable.

It’s not just that the mail order companies tend to use terms like “top-size bulbs,” and give you size ranges in centimeters. They may claim that bigger bulbs—well, at least bigger tazetta bulbs—perform better, but I wouldn’t care about their claims if experience hadn’t proven them to be true. I’ve found that the smaller tazettas tend to give fewer stems, fewer flowers, and the flowers tend not to last as long. Sometimes, small bulbs and plants are cool; in this case, they’re not what I’m after.

Sadly, my local nurseries seem to be sourcing their bulbs from the same places as the big boxes; it seems that offering fifteen types of heuchera doesn’t guarantee an equally sophisticated selection of spring bulbs. So it looks like I’ll be sending my bulb dollars to Connecticut, Virginia, Michigan, and Washington State for the foreseeable future. Though I’m still not sure I needed 430 of them.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. So true! These are not commodities. There are quality differences!

    The first tulips I ever planted were 10 “Fringed Elegance” and 10 “Apeldoorn.” They cost $16. I bought them from a little nursery that was just opened down the street from me by a sweet young couple. The young woman apologized when I paid for my bulbs, telling me, “I’m sorry they’re so expensive, but they’re really good bulbs. We pay more for these wholesale than the Agway sells theirs for retail.”

    The tulips were spectacular–I’ve never seen such large flowers again. They lasted five years, the flowers getting smaller and more numerous the entire time. Absolutely beautiful.

    Of course, that nursery went under pronto, and I’ve been searching for such “good bulbs” ever since. Brent & Becky’s gets my order because I find their stock bigger and better than their competitors. I’ve been disappointed, for example, by the size of Van Engelen bulbs in the past, even though they might really cut my bill down to size.

    But I can’t say I’ve ever matched those first 20 tulips.

  2. And I want to say that the phrase “crack me up” sounds absolutely ridiculous when you really think about it, especially first thing in the morning before coffee, or before even getting out of bed for that matter.

  3. Yes, I’m amused because you’re obsessed. I buy bulbs too, and I have my obsessions…

    It’s just funny to click over to Garden Rant, and, “Oh, a post on bulbs!”

    And sentences like this are particularly funny:

    “I’ve found that the smaller tazettas tend to give fewer stems, fewer flowers, and the flowers tend not to last as long. Sometimes, small bulbs and plants are cool; in this case, they’re not what I’m after.”

    The net effect of the bulbs posts, well, it cracks me up.

  4. Chuck B. are filling in for me?

    I thought I was the only Troll on here fighting against this horticultural revolution being waged by these four ladies from four corners of the continent!

    I must say your are the zealot though. I will never give up my morning coffee before going to battle let alone not getting out of bed first.

    Anyway on the subject of bulbs “top size” is a legitimate rating size for the largest size grown of a particular bulb in question. However that term like “low prices, great service, and first quality have been co-opted by the marketing world.

    The ((top) SIZE MATTERS)

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