Resistance is futile: eight reasons I must have bulbs


After taking it easy last year, I now have orders in for 357 bulbs, with one order as yet unsubmitted. Excess is always preferable, but that’s not the only reason I go overboard on bulbs.

My relationship with bulbs goes beyond their obvious utility: i.e., you put the round things in the ground and they come up transformed into various flowers. There are many other reasons, and some of them have little to do with whether the bulbs successfully come up on schedule. Though I hope they will (and they usually do). I’ve assembled my justifications into a list, to save the time of logically weaving them together.

1. Bulb catalogs are heaven. Colorblends puts together their own tulip combinations, giving them names like “Stop the Car,” and “Romeo Foxtrot.” It should enrage me that they tend not to provide the botanical names, but the bulbs are inexpensive and good, and I treat tall hybrids as annuals anyway. Old House Gardens is at the opposite end of the spectrum, with plenty of historical information and references to the days of tulipmania. The Lily Garden always features pictures of the beautiful blonde Dutch women who run the joint; I like to check on how little Juliana van de Salm is coming along (hopefully I’ll still be ordering when she’s a teen).

2. Bulb-ordering takes the sting out of the waning summer. As I plan for the next spring’s flowers, it’s as if I’ve skipped over winter—in my head at least.

3. I force a lot of the bulbs, which means I’ll have tazettas in November and December, hyacinths in January, and tulips in February.

4. Many of them go into containers to be stored in the garage and brought out in spring, making them very portable as garden décor, or useful as a source for cut flowers.

5. I hate fading bulb foliage, and buying new tulips each year means that I never have to look at it. The species tulips I buy as perennials have negligible foliage—and I avoid the big daffs.

6. Every year there are scores of new hybrids to try, or species types I’d never noticed before. For example, this year Brent and Becky’s offers the erythronim revolutum (shown above), with white flowers and—interesting!—white and brown veined foliage. And every year, I look longingly at the alliums, especially flavum, moly, and carinatum, with their tiny, disheveled blooms. Sadly, they will not thrive for me—lack of sun, probably.

7. Bulbs have accessories! I love to use the antique Victorian hyacinth glasses to force hyacinths, though they are getting harder to find. They’re old, but they’re tough; last year a bunch of them withstood the cold temps in the root cellar, and the water in them never froze. It’s also fun to use tiny pots for hyacinth forcing, and different types of decorative stones in clear glass vases for tazetta forcing. I can get all crafty with it. Obvious gift fodder here.

8. As reasons #2 and 3 imply, this is how I manage to garden year-round, though there are still slack periods. But I can always go down to the root cellar to check on the pots, make sure they’re moist, and so on. Bulbs are the last things to be planted in the fall and the first things out of the ground in the spring; forcing shortens this cycle even further. With all the bulbs I have inside and out, I remain connected with that cycle—even as the ground freezes around me.

Enough talk: here are some of my favorite bulb images from the last few seasons:

[Sorry, the photos in this post were lost in an early site move.]
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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 regular 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. And you would deny yourself a $50 bulb after going this far with bulbs?

    I’m with you on the hyacinth vases. I have 11 of them, none are antiques though. I need more.

  2. Carol, they are getting very hard to find. I will email you links to any I come across. (I have seen your posts on these, and was happy to see another afficianado of hyacinth forcing.)

    As $50 is nothing to you, I am sure you won’t mind the prices of the antique vases! (sideways puntuation here)

  3. I’ve never found squirrels to be a problem. I do very occasionally sprinkle some red pepper on the front bulb beds, if it looks like they have been digging, but it’s not a big issue.

    There are lots of things you can do though–plant in wire cages, or even just stick wire netting over the top after planting (and then cover with mulch. Squirrels are not that persistent. What I’ve heard is that rabbits are the real problem, eating the young shoots as they come up in the spring. But we have few of those where I live.


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