Having just read a series of books about nineteenth century (and earlier) estate gardens, I don’t find myself in the least bit envious of the expansive acreages that these property owners had to tend. But I do long for a refuge where I can enjoy flowering plants throughout the winter. Sure, I’ve got the usual houseplants that can survive central heating and the tender specimens I bring in for the winter, but it’s not enough. That’s where bulbs come in. If all goes well (it doesn’t always) I will have a series of bulbs in various stages of development from now through March. Tazetta narcissus bloom from the end of this month through February. Hyacinths kick in in late January and continue through Feb. Tulips begin in late February (depending) and go through March and maybe into April. (For some reason, forced narcissus (not tazettas) take the longest.) By April it doesn’t matter too much, because I have flower action outside.
Some tweaks to my bulb-forcing repertoire over the years:
•Almost anything can be forced. I’ve moved from the “recommended” varieties to muscari, iris, parrot tulips, and more.
•An unheated attic works just as well as a root cellar. In fact, I just use the steps—much easier to access the pots. (Old houses were designed for bulb-forcing.)
•The method of chilling unpotted hyacinths in a bag in the refrigerator is tricky for many and never works for me. I find they like being in soil or over water.
•Sadly, I am increasingly unable to use cheaper pots, including basic terracotta. It’s becoming an issue.
If I did have a conservatory rather than a small back room and lots of table space, I would have many large pots of tulips lining its windows, but even so, I should have 100 or so inside the house. Ironically, I live in the heart of the city where deer do not venture, because I’ve developed the perfect deer defense system!