Bulbiferous Thoughts


4. Only the good die young.


I did not plant these, and I moved into my house in October of 2002, which ought to give you an idea of the staying power of these anonymous babies.  Not only have they hung around for four and a half years, I actively encourage my four and a half year-old to pick them for bouquets and then I unceremoniously rip their foliage out of the ground.  So their reappearance–yet again!–ought to be a tremendous argument for Darwin Hybrids.  The only problem is that I’m not interested in Darwin Hybrid colors, those reds, those taxicab yellows, those boring medium pinks.  All of my favorite tulips–oranges, purples, maroons, weird bi-colors, parrots, lily-flowers–look fantastic for a season, and then never rear their heads again.  No matter.  They are worth the trouble of replanting every year.

5.  Size matters.


Winter started so late last year that I clearly had too much time last fall to get into trouble.  I not only got all the bulbs I’d ordered from Brent & Becky’s into the ground, I had time to loiter around Lowe’s and buy up the stuff they had hanging around the shelves.  So I brought home a few bags of a mixture of two Triumph varieties, a pale yellow and a yellow streaked with lilac.  The colors are not bad, but the flowers are just too small.  I don’t know if this is a function of the size of the bulb or the fact that they were stored on a shelf in the blazing sun.  But tulips, unlike crocuses, ought to be as big and jazzy as possible.

The first tulips I ever bought, I bought from a failing country nursery owned by a sweet young couple.  I remember getting all of 16 bulbs–8 ‘Fringed Elegance’ and 8 ‘Apeldoorn.’  They came to about 20 dollars and as I paid, the young woman apologized, "Sorry they cost so much.  They cost us more than the Agway would charge you–but they’re really good bulbs."

Really good does not begin to describe it.  The blooms were as big as a baby’s head.  And since these were Darwin Hybrids (‘Fringed Elegance’ is definitely the exception to my no-DH rule), they lasted for years, the flowers getting smaller but more numerous.  I’d gladly pay a premium to get bulbs like this again, but never see them offered.  Another nursery owner told me that he could order super-premium bulbs from the wholesalers.  But generally didn’t.

Alas, my kingdom for another bunch of ‘Fringed Elegance’ of that size.

6.  Hyacinths are ridiculous and let’s not pretend.


Last year, I read somewhere that of all antique bulbs, the hyacinth varieties are the most threatened, thanks to the indifference of modern gardeners.  Well, that made me sympathetic.  Plus, I’ve always loved the fragrance of hyacinths, and like I said, had too much time last fall to get into trouble in Lowe’s.  So I bought a dozen and a half of a subtle yellow variety, planted them in little clumps of three and thought maybe they’d look natural that way.  Nope. Their heavy heads make them flop over idiotically.  The common hyacinths clearly don’t belong in the garden.  A fancy-assed pot is more like it.

7.  The daffodil’s a wild child.


I’ve planted them in my city garden, refined types like ‘Thalia’ and a fragrant double called ‘Bridal Crown.’ And they do zero for me.  On the other hand, the anonymous yellow ones I inherited in the country, placed in random clumps around my pond, make me smile.


  1. M, you’ve just NAILED bulbs – meaning I agree totally. Hyacinths look terrible in gardens (or possibly anywhere) but how about those grape hyacinths (muscari)? They’re small and perfect, like the crocus you described. Adn I’ve had a few of the exact dark pink DH and they just won’t die.

  2. Oh, yes, Susan I LOVE grape hyacinths. There is a little cottage down the alley from me that has a thousand dark blue ones in the yard–stunning! I just haven’t gotten around to them yet.

  3. I decided about a month ago that I simply cannot go another year without tucking several species tulips here and there in my gardens. I grow the big fat hybrids in pots as annuals and they were lovely this spring as usual, but those little clever species tulips? I MUST HAVE SOME. So, before the fall bulb ordering begins in earnest, what do you recommend?

  4. Regarding your white hyacinths, I WISH a rodent would do me the favor of eating some of the grape hyacinths that seem to come up everywhere and multiply here. I’m wondering if the moles might be responsible for spreading the bulbs to new locations where no sane person would plant them.

    I’ve decided to make the best of an annoying situation by ruthlessly digging the clumps up, carefully preserving the bulb clump intact with soil, so that no bulbets escape and return to irritate me for another season, and dump them into the shredder/chipper for use as a source of nitrogen in the compost pile.

    They wouldn’t bother me so much if their foliage would remain upright and just yellow and dry up as the season progresses, but instead as the flowers fade, the long leaves lie on the ground and remind me of seaweed at low tide, which looks great at the shore, but not in my garden. It also makes great cover for the slugs- too bad the slugs don’t seem to like them.

  5. MaryContrary( love the moniker!), I’m going to boot your question about species tulips to Elizabeth, since she recently posted about them. I’ve only got tulipa tardivas in my garden–crocus-like yellow and white flowers that bloom right after the crocus–and frankly, they are not nearly brassy enough for me.

    Ellen, what a lively description of a typical gardener’s problem! Tell you what, stick those muscari in an envelope and mail them to me and Susan.

  6. MaryContrary,

    I grow about fifteen varieties of the species. The greatest thing about them is that they bloom early and late, depending on what kind they are. You want to look at that first, and then the types. Since they are small, color clashing is not the issue that it might be with big hybrids (which, like you, I maintain in raised beds or pots and treat as annuals). I believe you need both.

    As for brassy–my t. acuminata had neighbors stopped dead in their tracks last year. I also recommend turkistanica, all the clusianas, the sylvestris, and the preastans. Some of these are multi-flowered, and many will multiply. And they come back every year with no dimunition. Brent and Becky’s has a great selection.

    Michele, the “instant summer” thing really pissed me off. Some of my early spring bulbs didn’t even bother this year–got frozen or whatever.

    I love hyacinths, but I force them in pots and glasses.

  7. Elizabeth, I frequently question whether we upstate New Yorkers–and let’s admit, it’s beautiful here–have the worst climate in the entire universe. Then I remember South Dakota.

  8. Hey, you left out a huge chunk of early, petite, and colorful naturalizing bulbs! I’ve had great fun with aconite (winter wolfsbane), scilla, chionodoxa, and anemone blanda (windflowers).

    The aconite comes up well before the crocuses, and the windflowers last and last, spanning from crocus season to the middle tulips and beyond. All of these just get better over the years if they are happy in their spot. They are great tucked under deciduous shrubs or jazzing up the peony bed while you wait for actual peonies to rocket out of the ground.

    Also, you are right, hyacinths blow unless you are forcing them.

  9. Perhaps all of you should live here in Wales!! All the excitement over bulbs is well and truly over – well over a month – 2 months ago. All we are left with are the miserable dry leaves of daffodils suffocating everything growing nearby. You can ‘see’ Crocuses here:
    and of course the wonderful Welsh daffodil our national emblem or one of them on:
    and a discussion on its origin as our emblem:
    Large modern day daffodils are – well – a real pain – I think of plenty of other words! The first bit of wind and they all blow over, the dead leaves – terrible. I have seen blue hyacinths planted in woodland in Portmeirion nearby and they look quite natural after their first year of growth.
    Now my Embothrium is just coming into its best! Eat your hearts out New Yorkers.

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