My sort-of conservatory


IMG_6088Having 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!

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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 sad to have a great idea, and no place to use it!

    So tell me more of this sad case, your inability to use cheaper pots: is it due to the subtle sublime seduction of the more expensive ones, being unable to stand looking at lovely blooms in relatively unlovely containers, or lack of success in the cheaper pots?

  2. I was struck by the remarks regarding “cheaper pots”. What did you mean?
    Are terracotta pots gone flimsy or something?

  3. I think I look forward to your bulbs almost as much as you do. I keep thinking ‘one day’ I’ll be able to do that too. The pictures are very inspiring!

  4. I love your bulb posts, and you inspired me to try forcing pots of bulbs in the past. Yours are lovely and I so enjoy seeing and reading about them.
    Interested in your comments about the cheap pots. Is the quality of terra cotta pots going downhill?

  5. When I did nursery production we potted the unsold bulbs in used plastic pots, set them outside on the dirt. The owners had sheets of asbestos we used as a cold frame. Leaves piled atop the pots 1′.

    Every pot grew & bloomed.


    Garden & Be Well, XO T

  6. Elizabeth,

    I’m a bit new to gardening so this was a fun read. It’s wonderful that you have such a timely collection of bulbs. Definitely sparked some ideas in my head about what I can do for my garden at my new house. I move in at the beginning of December so it shouldn’t be bad timing. Thanks for the knowledgeable post.

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