An invitation to share in my madness



There are several categories of bulb buying, I’m guessing.
First, there are those who just don’t bother. Maybe they have a persistent clump
of daffodils somewhere or maybe they don’t. Otherwise, they’ve given up on the
bulbs that deer and other bulb predators like to eat or mutilate, or they prefer
other types of plants.

Then, there are the ones who buy a couple bags in Costco or
Lowes and plant them in a perennial bed where their declining foliage or
possible failure to return will not be noticed.

We also have the connoisseurs, who buy only interesting
varieties of colchicum, galanthus, or species tulips, or perhaps those who
focus on North American bulbs like camassia, calochortus, or erythronium.

I’d guess too that certain gardeners just think of bulbs as
elements in a particular design and choose whichever color, shape and size will
work best. And, of course, all of us have to restrain ourselves a bit according
to whichever types our particular zone and conditions will support.

Then, there’s me. I buy over 500 bulbs every year. Some of
them go outside in the ground: mainly species tulips, ephemerals, and tight
groupings of hybrid tulips that will be pulled after bloom. Many go into big
pots in the garage and are brought out in the spring. Many more are forced
indoors, and are brought out from the root cellar in December through February.
The one thing I’ve learned from years of bulb planting is that you really need
a lot to make an impact—even the small ones should be widely scattered to have
that early spring wildflower effect.

What sort of bulb gardener are you? I’ve collaborated with
Old House Gardens to put together a bulb giveaway: a beautiful selection of hyacinths
and tazettas that will be sent to someone who comments.

The winner will be announced tomorrow by 5 p.m. (BTW, I chose hyacinths and tazettas thinking that I could encourage more people to try indoor forcing, but of course both can be grown outside.) 

IDs on what you see here: These are mostly hyacinths I have ordered from Old House (Mulberry Rose, Double Madame Sophie, Menelik, King of the Blues, Double Hollyhock). The middle one in the bottom row is Woodstock, which I have ordered from John Scheepers.

Previous articleSeduced by Fritz Haeg’s Edible Estates
Next articleA Maggot is Born!
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. Well, I’m the kind of bulb-buyer who buys bulbs for the dog to dig up, who buys bulbs of types that haven’t done well for me in the past, who buys bulbs because that firt outside bloom makes me so happy that winter is finally,fanflippin’tastically over – in other words, a bulb buyer of hope!

  2. I’m crazy about the really early stuff, dwarf irises, crocus, galanthus – I love having stuff blooming when the weather is still freezing here in CT. New house this summer means LOTS of new bulbs to buy, I’m thinking 500 sounds like a reasonable number!

  3. I love tulips, but so do the deer. I’ve taken to planting drifts of daffodils that bloom in succession, early, mid-season and late. They make a cheery showing, and the deer leave them alone. I overplant with daylilies, which have a 50/50 chance of being deer entrees.

  4. I started out (1988 to 1995) naturalizing daffodils, grape hyacinth and crocus, with tulips in my beds. I’ve always bought hyacinths for their lovely fragrance. My next period (1995 to 2005) was minor bulbs, such as species tulips, snowdrops, anemone blanda, chionodoxa, galanthus, scilla, etc. Now I’m buying bulbs suitable for cutting for my business. What I have now is a mix of blooms coming up where I’ve forgotten I’ve planted the bulbs or where the critters have moved them.

  5. I am the son of Bulbarella. Witness to bulb madness. If the varmints won’t eat it, then she must have more, more of every variety. Come spring in the high mountains there are 10,000 daffodils, an equal number of minor bulbs like crocus, galanthus, chionodoxa, pushkinia, scilla and a bit of muscari. Summer brings lilies in a rainbow of colors.

    In August holes are pre-dug for the fall planting. More bulbs are ordered. “Oh, I don’t have that one.” Daffodil clumps are dug and spread further. Hyacinthoides seed that was collected is scattered. Will this be enough? Not likely.

    In all these bulbs there is one lonely hyacinth. Don’t you think that needs to be corrected?

  6. I try to buy at least 100 bulbs a year, since moving to West Virginia 4 years ago. Just yesterday, I was looking at a bulb website, trying to pick out which daffodils, tulips, and English Bluebells, oh, and saffron crocus…. oooh so many choices! Is it madness or love of things of that grow, blossom, & naturalize? This year,tulips will go in containers where the deer won’t devour them.

  7. The bulbs are the only thing that make it in my garden. I travel a lot for my work in the summer and inevitably, the weeds get a firm grip by July. However, March (when the first of my lovely, lovely crocuses breaks through the ice) through June while the bulbs are in command, everything is beautiful. Passers-by stop and enjoy. I think my favourites are the crocuses, because they are so obliging about being up and at ’em before winter is over. The daffs are always jolly, but I think they’re nicest because they are complimented by the stiff tulips and little muscari. I also have a soft spot for my little joyce irises, which come up early and look great while they do it.

  8. Bulbs are a gift I give myself. Every fall in the midst of leaf raking, bed cleanup and house winterizing, I tuck a few bulbs in somewhere. I don’t keep records of what I have planted where, so when they pop up in the spring,I’m always surprised. Sometimes I’ve put them in the middle of a previously planted patch — that just adds to the treat. My plan is no plan, and the serendipity aspect of seeing what will pop up where is my reward for enduring a long, grey Ohio winter.

  9. I’m an aspirational bulb buyer. I look and search and make lists of all the beautiful varieties, until I have a list and price tag of spectacular proportions. Then I usually decide if I can’t have my ridiculous list, I just won’t have any. Then I might end up getting whatever is on clearance at the local store, which generally means I’m out trying to dig in the semi frozen dirt in early December… needless to say, my bulbs are usually not terribly successful.

  10. Geez, give it to Christopher’s Mom.
    But anyway I am bulb type 2. Not yet confident enough to know I can handle it and put bulbs everywhere, instead I have specific places and I normally just pick up bulbs from wherever (recently those children’s money-raising things)

  11. Looking at bulbophilia is like looking at the stages of gardening from a beginner through an intermediate level and all the way to a certifiable plant nut. Though a lot of people start down this path with a bean in a dixie cup, I started with an iris tuber and a kind neighbor at some point before kindergarten.

    As nutty as I am with bulbs in the yard I am just as crazy about bulbs in pots inside and on the patio.

    One day its all about the colors, in the petals or on the leaves, alone or in combinations; and on other days its all about fragrance.

    Plants and Diet Coke are my only vices.

  12. I am an Absolute Beginner when it comes to bulbs. After years in the TX Hill Country, where my primary gardening tools were a pickaxe and crowbar, and the shovel hit rock at two inches with a dispiriting “clunk”, I finally live in a place THAT HAS DIRT! Can’t wait to start witnessing all the new things that involves, and have already put in a few impulse big box purchases.

  13. I have some in the yard that came with the house. I have received some from friends (oxblood lilies), I have bought some at the box store and I have wanted to buy some at the local mom and pop nursery but have been overwhelmed with the choices. So I walk out with one new amaryllis bulb for Christmas and I have done this for 2 years in a row now.

    Bulb talk reminds me of the Daffodil Principle… found this blog that had the story laid out perfectly with photos…

  14. We live in the heart of deer country, which eliminates tulips from the mix right away, unless I want to be spraying continually with deer sprays. So I go for daffodils mostly. I have two long borders that explode with color every spring and give me enough daffs to bring bunches into the house. I buy them from my local independent garden centers.

  15. I find that I’m becoming attracted to the more rare varieties. After years of looking at the same selection over and over in the standard catalogs, I’ve turned to small rare breeders, many of who seem to be affiliated through the Pacific Bulb Society. Prices are higher, so I’m ordering fewer, but it does make people stop and say, what kind of flower is THAT?

  16. Planting bulbs for me is somewhat akin to planting dollar bills- I am still hyper aware of the per-bulb price, and get disappointed when they don’t come back. I still order about 100 dollars worth a year.No deer, so I do get to enjoy tulips.

  17. I’m an herb/vegetable gardener who is being seduced by bulbs. A few popped up unexpectedly in a corner of my yard. “What is *that*? It’s beautiful!” I was told it was a day lily. “I must have more!” So I’m currently in the process of relocating two shrubs and probably killing a third outright for the sake of create a whole bed devoted to bulbs – day lilies and others. I’m doing research online so that I can create a lovely bed without having to make do with whatever the big box stores happen to have.

  18. I’ve progressed rapidly from buying a few daffodils at the big box store to obsessing over catalogs, planning an order list, looking at the cost and carefully pruning the list to fit the budget. Then I’ll end up going to a local bulb retailer in the fall, forgetting what I’ve already ordered, and spend the budget again. Then I’m at the big box store for something else and see that large bag of daffodils and go, wait, I didn’t order any daffodils, did I?

    Forcing? Uh-oh. I think I forgot to order bulbs for forcing! Where’s that catalog…

  19. Unfortunately my new furnace had to come before bulb purchases this year. Last year I just moved in and there was nothing here. My very wonderful aunt gave me quite a number of daffodils and fritillaria. There is a clump of assorted varieties of daffodils that clash with each other, but beggers can’t be choosers and I can always cut some of those to make the arrangement better.

  20. I have daffodil clumps galore in the beds around my house (too many for my taste, but I can’t pull them up for all that early Spring cheer), but after craving tulips and planting them for a few years, only to feed the deer, I’ve given up. Ironically, the strays that have popped up out along the wild fringes of my property the deer seem to ignore (what’s up with that?), and I find I love finding them serendipitously on my walks, like a special treasure.

  21. Every year I look through the bulb catalogs with longing. I can resist the tulips (never do anything but rot in my terracotta soil); I can resist the crocus since it doesn’t get cold enough here for them to bloom the second year. No, it’s the narcissus, iris, freesia & hyacinth that do me in. Beauty, & often fabulous, intoxicating scent as well. I squeeze them in where I can, each year swearing there’s not another spot to put them.

    And this year I was certain – no more room for bulbs.

    But then I thought, “I have been meaning to move those messy Anigozanthos – too much for front of the house I think.” The soil would be grand, too – loose & fertile from all of the amending I’ve done. And everyone passing by could admire them; all my visitors would be treated to the fabulous scents …

    Am I just making excuses so I can satisfy my bulb lust ? Likely so. But that doesn’t mean I won’t go through with it anyway.

  22. I force Paperwhites and crocus in the house every winter. For the yard, I pick up a few bags of bulbs at Bi-Mart and plant them around the yard. I have middling success with those. Once, I purchased (online) some expensive crocus bulbs to try harvesting my own saffron. The green came up but they never bloomed, and they never ever grew again after that. I’d love to add to the colchicum (sort of like a fall crocus) that somebody planted in my yard over 30 years ago, but I can’t seem to find them for sale anywhere…
    BTW, thanks for the link to the old house gardens! I might have to rethink my idea about on-line bulb buying!

  23. Having a small garden, I’ve been adding only a few bulbs (one or two dozen) each year and letting them naturalize. And while it’s true that in a larger garden, bulbs have to be planted in large quantities for effect, in a small garden, just a few bulbs planted in clumps here and there can look quite good. Daffs are my favorite, with iris a close second, but I’ve also started adding hyacinths.

  24. I bought a couple of bags of tulips at Costco a couple of years ago, my eyes were bigger than my garden. I put as many as I could fit in my perennial garden, leaving the bags in the garage. The next spring I found the bags, and buried the rest of the bulbs out in the back forty, figuring they were compost. They didn’t do anything that year but the next year, I stumbled on a gorgeous field of tulips.

  25. When we moved to NC a few years ago (from the arid west), I went daffodil crazy – seemed like every one had them and after winter they just looked so darn cheerful. Bought a bunch of King Alfred golden yellows and went crazy.
    Sadly, they bloom just about the same time as our neighbor’s weeping cherry and the combination of the strong gold and the delicate pink isn’t one of the greatest…so now I’m adding more white and blues to mellow the scheme. Every spring is becoming a surprise to see how well I’m doing!

  26. Bulbs….do potatoes count? GARLIC! I love garlic bulbs!

    I’m mostly a vegetable gardener, I have 12+ raised boxes in my small suburban front yard (no sun in the back) in additon to all the traditional foundation plantings.

    I’ll take any ornamentals; I have some pass-along daffodils that I enjoy seeing come up in the ornamental/bird/butterfly section of the garden. I’d love to do some bulb forcing this year. January is a cruel month!

  27. I, too, am a newbie. I do not have a lot of bulbs but adore the ones that grow happily without needing much water in zone 10. Not being able to grow galanthus (snowdrops) I am happily adding to my leucojum (snowflake) each year as they remind me of my childhood in England. I adore narcissus, here they are mainly pale shades which are as beautiful but not as golden as daffodils. Iris are happily for me, quite happy in this area. Crinum do very nicely as do hippeastrum (most of whom used to be called amaryllis) and the true amaryllis, the naked lady. Alstromeria grow very nicely and have many color combinations. I have some scilla peruviana that need a better location. As I re-read this, I am surprised to see how many bulbs I have. Oh I would love to have more. (Please send the bulbs to a zone where they will do well.)

  28. I’m a professional bulb buyer purchasing at the wholesale level for my clients gardens.
    Many hundreds to just a few dozen depending on the client and the property.
    Van Engelen suppliers has a very impressive catalog for the average traditional bulb lover ( tulips narcissi, iris allium, ixiolirion) .
    For other bulbs, tubers and rhizomes that are more climate appropriate for our mediterraean climate I purchase those from local importers.

  29. I’m the impulse buyer in the Home Depot garden dept. I always buy a few bags, plant them and then forget where I put them. This year it will patio pots. That way I won’t forget the poor things.

  30. Daffodils are what started my love of gardening. We had tons in our backyard, from the previous owner. When they just started poking their noses out in March I turned into a militant child, screeching at the other kids to stay out of the daffodils, and enforcing the rule with kicks in the shins or a general thumping. Next bulb love was snowdrops. Saw them blooming on my walk to grade school and fell in love. They were my first bulb purchase ever, a little bag at the grocery store.

    I used to buy lots of bulbs each year (No where near what Elizabeth buys!), smowdrops, crocus (tommies), and daffs. But due to change in jobs and kids in college blah blah blah, I have restrained myself. So far this year I ordered black tulips from my nephews’ school sale. Over 20 years ago I ordered some from their mother’s school sale, yellow and red and those things have naturalzied and come up each year. Hopefully I will be as lucky with these. My theory of gardening is you can never have too many spring bulbs or too much sandstone.

  31. My wife does not have a very big area to do anything but, put them into pots. She loves to do that though. I hope that one day, we will be able to have a yard that she can do anything that she wants to in it. She loves to read about what she will be going to do. She will know every type of plant and where to plant it before I know it, too.

  32. You lost me at hyacinths. I do like the old wild varieties, in the garden – but I’ve never grown them. Do they STINK as badly as the hyped-up hybrids that are sold for forcing?

    I loves me some old school tulips (species and early varietys.) Fields of daffs. Squill, muscari, camassia and all things blue. And Fritillaria persica, along with all the little frits.

    Oo, and there’s crocus and colchicums.

    Sadly, I don’t grow any of these in the low desert of Phoenix.

  33. I am a bulb scavenger. As a volunteer for a native plant salvage nonprofit in the Pacific northwest, we go to sites that are going to be developed to remove and reuse plants. Although the focus of the organization is on promoting use of native plants in landscape and restoration projects, sometimes we work at abandoned homesites that run riot with naturalized bulbs. I’ve gotten daffodils, bluebells, crocus, snowdrops, trilliums and colchicum. Since they are free, I love to sneak them into public places and the gardens of friends. Guerilla gardening.

  34. Last year, I planted more than 500 bulbs. Most in the ground, some in pots. I’d do it again this year, but with the economy the way it is, I can’t. I put together bulbs list, sigh, and try to forget about them. It takes large quantities to have an impact. I’m digging up bulbs already here, and dividing them instead. What’s particularly heart breaking is that I had planted masses of trout lilies, trilliums, and winter aconites in one corner of the front. I was looking forward to even more of them next spring. Then, some idiot (without insurance) took the curve too fast, ran through the fence, across the garden, and into the front porch. What with repairs, replanting and replacing of shrubs and trees, and installing REALLY BIG ROCKS in that corner, I don’t know if anything will come back. I hope some of it will.

  35. Last year, I planted more than 500 bulbs. Most in the ground, some in pots. I’d do it again this year, but with the economy the way it is, I can’t. I put together bulbs list, sigh, and try to forget about them. It takes large quantities to have an impact. I’m digging up bulbs already here, and dividing them instead. What’s particularly heart breaking is that I had planted masses of trout lilies, trilliums, and winter aconites in one corner of the front. I was looking forward to even more of them next spring. Then, some idiot (without insurance) took the curve too fast, ran through the fence, across the garden, and into the front porch. What with repairs, replanting and replacing of shrubs and trees, and installing REALLY BIG ROCKS in that corner, I don’t know if any of them will come back. I hope they haven’t all been buried.

  36. 500!! that’s so great, my dad said i was nuts to get 200. I have a 1/10 acre and i tried to limit myself until i have some sort of plan for the yard so i put 100 in a planting strip with mixed perennials and i have another 100 for pots. please tell us what the name is of the bottom middle magenta colored hyacinth is, i totally need to buy it!

  37. I am a mass bulb gardener. I’ve planted a few hundred daffodils, crocus galore and alliums in abundance. I love hyacinths and their lovely spring perfume, but they don’t love me back! I have to be very careful in handling these bulbs to avoid itching like crazy. Several years ago, my daughter and I were breaking down a bulk bulb order into individual orders for a 4-H fundraiser, and we both started itching at the same time. What a great way to experience mother-daughter bonding!

  38. Crocuses, daffodils and tulips. Crocuses because I live in a frost pocket. Everybody’s daffs are always blooming before mine do, and I needed something early so I won’t feel sorry for myself. Daffs because there’s nothing that fills the garden and the vases with such glorious riotous blasts of sunshine. And tulips because of the infinite rainbow of colors. I’ve finally got more daffs than I ever thought possible, and they’re naturalized along our 1/4 mile lane. The crocuses are scattered everywhere. But the tulips? Buy them, buy them, and then buy them again. Worth every penny.

  39. Here in northern Florida (zone 9), I’ve had to adjust to no tulips and few daffodils, but boy do I have a great selection of crinum and calla lilies and my hurricane lilies have just begun to send up their spectacular naked red flowers. Love the place you’re in!

  40. I’ve slowed down on bulbs. I used to buy so many every fall that I had a hard time getting them all planted — sometimes I was still digging all the way up to the first week of December (we can get away with that in the South).

    I used to over-buy bulbs for forcing as well, leaving little room in my fridge for food.

    So now I’m more restrained. I love the little bulbs for outside, and nothing is easier to force than paperwhites indoors — so cheerful, and so much fun to watch them shoot up and develop buds and flowers!

  41. In Dallas, while I might long for tulips, it makes no sense since you have to put them in the refrigerater to make them think it has been winter and then they are only an annual anyway. So I stick with daffodils and some bulb iris — picking up another hundred each year from whatever source is handiest. That way I have a pretty good show even if the hundreds from years past don’t bother to reappear. Given unlimited money and space, — I would be like Mrs. Lee who bought a train car load in the 50’s and planted them over 800 acres where they have naturalized.

  42. My garden practices are dictated by my studies, being a creative horticultural critic I can no be into this kind of fads.

    Just Flora/Fauna wild, related vegetation is worthy of me garden.

    ON the other hand IN PUERCORICO,USA there are no places to buy any vegetation of merit…

    The end.

  43. My Sternbergia lutea just started to bloom this week!  Water usage is restricted where I live in Southern California, so I started planting bulbs that could survive on winter rain alone.  I have an excel spreadsheet that lists all the bulbs I’ve ever planted, where I bought them, etc.  I have another that lists new bulbs I want.  I have annotated photos to show where all bulbs are so I don’t accidentally dig them up, and so I know where I can squeeze in a few more. There’s no winter chill in my climate, so tulips and hyacinths take up a large portion of my fridge from October through December. I’ve been able to keep hyacinths coming back (increasing and blooming) for 3 years by digging and rechilling.   Tazettas can naturalize here.  I have 200 plus bulbs on order, but I can find space for more and promise to take good care of them.     

  44. Up until this year, I’ve been fairly restrained, mostly limited to crocus and daffodils. But I so love how they herald spring. So, I went a bit mad this fall, and have ordered 1500 muscari and daffodil bulbs for mass effect. I do hope my husband will be understanding and won’t think I’ve gone totally mad when the order arrives.

  45. I buy hyacinths and tazettas to force and others, mostly narcissus but sometimes species tulips to plant in pots or in the ground. Planting in the ground is problematical; I can’t always remember what bulbs are already in that spot.

  46. I grow South African bulbs. They love it here. Amaryllis belladona, the Giant White Squill Urginea maritima, a bulb the size of a bowling ball with a 6′ flower spike, Massonia, Babiana, and of course Freesias of the heavenly fragrance.

  47. My favorite bulb: ALLIUM. There are dozens of different varieties and it is the most amazing thing to see several giant allium jumping up in the spring like a pack of alien heads nodding in the garden. Very sci-fi/fantasy – love it!

  48. I’m a bulb-salivator. That is, I look at them in catalogs and drool. I read about them in gardening publications and drool. I stare at photos of them on blogs and websites everywhere, and well, you know. In spring, I visit every public park and garden with a bulb display and take dozens of photos. Tulips are so beautiful, I wish I could eat them, especially at that starved-for-color point in early spring. I’m a passionate gardener without a garden these past few years (I move too often to plant more than a container or two), so all I can do is look and drool. Which I do. With pleasure.

  49. Here in Edmonton, Alberta it is pointless to plant early bulbs such as crocus and snowdrops as we would never see them buried beneath the snow that leaves only in April/May. I know that sounds bad but it is, for the most part, true. I do love to buy tulip and muscari bulbs. I found a species tulip, white with the pointiest tips, that I absolutely love. I will be looking for more of these to plant this fall.

  50. I LOVE, LOVE bulbs. I just planted 100 galanthus nivalis, am waiting to pickup my 1000, (yes that is 1,000) crocus tommasinianus, and lets not even mention all the narcissus, and other small bulbs I have ordered from three different bulb companies. Every year, the madness continues….

  51. We spent more money than I want to tally fencing our property (including a driveway gate) so we could have any plant, tree, shrub or bulb we wanted! Ha, we say to the deer. So, last year we put in about 1800 bulbs…not by digging in our concrete-like clay soil, but by creating raised berms of topsoil and manure and topping with a thick layer of mulch — iris, daffodils, tulips and 4 kinds of allium. Now that we’ve solved the “I’m tired just thinking of having to dig 6″ deep holes for all these bulbs!” problem, I look forward to expanding our collection!

  52. I’ve loved bulbs for years. Now that I have a house and a dog – the dog’s love for them seems to grow too. He loves to root around in them and assuming everything gets growing he’ll decide to run full speed through them and snap them off. Right now I’m working on getting crocuses in my front yard (away from doggy) to add in some color while the snow melts away.

  53. Being a renter sometimes means that you don’t want to invest too heavily in pretty plants for the outside—but what if that investment were free? It would be awesome!

  54. I ordered 1050 this year, mail order. Then I bought 100 more from Wal-mart. Then I got 50 more from Lowe’s.

    Um. I like bulbs. But that does sound a little ridiculous, wouldn’t it!

Comments are closed.