Where the fields are



Van Engelen sent me a free bag of ranunculus bulbs with my
very first bulb order ever,
10 years ago.
  I looked at the bag,
read the instructions, and promptly gave them to my neighbor. They required
prior soaking and couldn't be planted outside in our zone except as annuals in
the spring. I don't know if she did anything with them, and, at that time, I
didn't even know what ranunculus flowers looked like, so I wasn't too psyched
about messing around with them.
was much more interested in my Darwin hybrids.

The way to truly appreciate ranunculus is to see them
en masse. You may have bought them at flower shops a few times, and received
them in gift bouquets, but you can't say you've really seen ranunculus until
you have visited the Carlsbad Flower Fields. An outpost of the huge Ecke flower
empire, the fields exist cheek by jowl with business parks, shopping centers,
and Legoland just north of San Diego, where we are vacationing.  (The flower fields used to take up much
more space, but the development gods called

One striking thing you notice about these vast fields is
that all the flowers are being picked by hand, and the workers seem to be
picking them right into big bouquets, as you see above. The blooms are big and
gorgeous (lack of scent forgiven here), but although many of these plants have
always been sold as bulbs,  there
is now
much less call for them in bulb form. Accordingly the ranch is making
its money through agri-tourism (we paid $10 a head to walk around), and other
flowers they can sell as cut flowers. I bought a gorgeous bunch of yellow
freesias, and wandered through a sweet pea maze.

Anyone who comes up with the idea of a sweet pea maze is a
hero in my book.

It is slightly disturbing to see such a wonderful local
industry on the decline, but heartening that residents have voted to ensure
that this part of CA remains in cultivation as long as economically
feasible. They don't want to actually need to ask—where have all the flowers gone.


(phone photos.)

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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 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 yahoo.com


  1. For those who live in mild temperate climates the ranunculus is a dependable year after year spring flower, unlike tulips and hyacinthus which require cold dormancy in order to perform year after year.
    They bloom about the same time as leucojums, native and other poppies and ornithogalums, which makes for a fantastic late winter garden show.
    Very affordable too.

  2. There’s a place in Italy where they’ve bred their own forms of ranunculus and anemone. I haven’t been there but a friend has and the photos are spectacular. The flowers are as big as a grapefruit and come in all sorts of odd colors. Me want bad.

  3. Ranunculus was my introduction to working with bulbs and rhizomes, and after thinking I’d ‘graduated’ to tulips, I went back to them.

    Very user-friendly and the results are great.

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