Fasten your seatbelts—we’re about to be hit with $6m of bulb marketing



If a freshly hatched marketing plan has anything to do with it, the words “Got bulb?” will soon be on the lips of formerly bulb-apathetic gardeners everywhere. According to an article spotted in garden industry trade mag Garden Center, a group of bulb companies affiliated with Dutch bulb industry group Anthos has asked the Woodbine agency to work its magic with their stagnating product. A three-year campaign is planned.

At least I assume bulbs are stagnating—or why would they be paying for all this brand revitalizing? Even though North America accounts for $130m worth of bulb sales annually, there must be room for growth, especially among younger gardeners who might be more apt to fill their first gardens with food crops instead of the chancy ornamentation bulbs offer, prone as they are to critter consumption or rebloom failure. And with the money spent on gardening activities declining (it decreased by 16% from 2008-9, according to the National Gardening Association), the competition between types of gardening will be fiercer.

So get ready. You are probably going to have to “like” tulips and daffodils on Facebook. And that will be just the beginning. There will also be emails. Lots and lots of emails.  Coming at ya faster than you can delete them.

Though I wonder how much of this marketing explosion we ordinary gardeners will actually see, once the agencies, social media consultants, re-branding geniuses, and garden-variety PR hacks take their cuts. I’m only partially cynical about all this. I want there to be a huge bulb blitz. I want everybody to love and want bulbs. I’m glad that the industry is trying to step up their game. But if it were up to me I would just buy enough copies of Anna Pavord's Bulb to send to everyone.

Somehow I don't think that's what they're going to do.

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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. Bulbs are not only stagnating, they are declining at a precipitous rate. Your right to bemoan the arrival of the PR people, social media consultants, re-branding geniuses, etc. They will all take their cut and bulbs will still be bulbs. They are still talking about the “got milk” campaign from 1993 as the holy grail of re-branding. As famous as that campaign was it was credited with increasing milk sales in California, but not the rest of the country. It was a $37 million campaign. The bulb campaign is $1.9 million a year. Peter Mitchell, President of Woodbine, the advertising company in charge of the re-branding efforts said, “This is a classic category revitalization opportunity for Woodbine and we are excited to get started.” Who say’s there is no money to made in this category.

  2. I live in city that lilies LOVE–super-sandy soil–and I keep telling my neighbors, when they express their confusion about what to stick into their semi-shady yards with the bone-dry soil–to plant lilies.

    Does anybody ever do it? No.

  3. I don’t miss bulbs as I did when I first moved to NOLA. My sense of color changed too. We do have some bulbs that work here, but I’d like to have a better idea of what once grew here instead of the imports. I planted a gardenia which sulks in the yard until I feed it, though they’re ubiquitous here. I almost planted a camellia but was saved from that by a camellia expert, who got excited after I spoke with him about it, telling me we’d dig a huge hole so it would have the proper soil, and how often I’d need to amend the dirt to keep the plant healthy – that’s when I realized I had moved farther away than I thought, and it was more than a temperature difference. Still, I get catalogs telling me how great bulbs would be here, but my ‘frig is just not that big.

  4. Even with deer in the field, I love and plant lilies. I also have many daffodils and little bulbs, scillas, grape hyacinths and snowdrops. Is this campaign just about tulips? all my neighbor’s tulip bulbs get eaten.

  5. Have the growers and the advertisers considered that the decline in money spent on bulbs and “gardening activities” may be because, given the economic downturn, people don’t have spare money to spend on such things, and in the worst scenarios, may no longer have a garden to plant in.

  6. Oh yes, and an advertising campaign will mean the price of bulbs will go up again – someone has to pay for it. For that money, why don’t the bulbgrowers cut out the advertising firms and send a free packet of bulbs to gardeners, or to city councils who probably aren’t planting thousands of bulbs while they try to cut back budgets and get out of debt.

  7. I am “bulb challenged”, and here’s how the bulb industry could get my attention:

    –Don’t flood my mailbox with fat catalogs overloaded with huge flower displays in yellow, pink, orange and red; it’s overload to my eyes, and I get too overwhelmed to make choices. Also, as a new plant for me, I’m not likely to buy 500 at a time, at least not at first. And show more pictures of the plants when they’re not in bloom (which is most of the year).

    –Include more info on planting and caring for the flowers, instead of constantly just telling me how easy they are to grow. They’re a plant, after all; they don’t grow everywhere.

    –Breed a deer-resistant tulip!

    –Any promotion of forcing bulbs should be required to include info on what to do with the bulbs after they’re done blooming; I’m certain most of them (especially those given as gifts) just get tossed. What a waste.

    Mostly, what this campaign is likely to do is raise the price of bulbs.

  8. I love bulbs. My mom always had tons of them around the house &, growing up, I envisioned my eventual adult home similarly. Alas, I didn’t know then that grown-up me would move to the land of hardpan mere inches below the land surface. So I make do with irises, which are very nearly surface dwellers (and yes, I know – NOT bulbs), and a few measly beds of heavily amended soil that host muscari & freesia & callas. When I’m driving around the older parts of Sacramento, where the soil is more likely loamy silt from long-ago floods, I feel pangs of envy seeing lilies-of-the-valley & tulips & daffodils in naturalized clumps in the yards of those charming little bungalows.


    We make our choices & have to live with them. But some day I want to own a house like that, not as much for the architecture as for the soil.

  9. I am one of those younger gardeners, and I grow tons of bulbs, but that’s because I grow EVERYTHING. (Yes, I am a plant collector type—or a plant hoarder. It depends on who you ask.)

    Many of my friends see bulbs as being far too costly and an investment they don’t feel like waiting for when they can have their gratifying and satisfying vegetables.

    Curious though to see if the campaign changes any of them.

  10. Having worked for a bulb company as a graphic designer for years (and still freelancing for the industry), there is always the question as to weather consumers understand this product. Do they know what to do with it, how do we make it easier for the consumer to get it? I had one company who didn’t want me to show people digging, saying it implied that it was hard work.

  11. “I’m only partially cynical about all this. I want there to be a huge bulb blitz. I want everybody to love and want bulbs.”
    If you are granted your wish maybe we’ll re-live the Dutch Tulip Mania of 16-whatever.

  12. Some of the companies I buy from, like Colorblends, have lists of bulbs that are critter resistant, grow in shade, or naturalize. I think that’s the way to pitch them to young gardeners; by function. Emphasize the ease of bulbs. Show lots of them growing in pots. You can’t get much easier than bulbs in pots.

  13. “show more pictures of the plants when they’re not in bloom”

    Erm…in most cases when a bulb is not in bloom there isn’t anything worth showing. The beauty of bulbs is that they are ephemeral.

  14. Bulbs don’t do well in my yard. It’s depressing so I will not be planting them no matter how they are marketed. I’ve tried them all over a 10 year period including the ones recommended specifically for Central Texas. I do have Oxblood lilies, living daffodils & cannas but they sulk. The 30 some daylilies simply didn’t bloom and dwindled away. Four of the five recommended Peruvian Lilies died. The four amaryllis including one heirloom version died. The two Stars and Stripes Crinum died. The other crinums sulk and stay yellow. Forty irises (rhizomes, I know) died. The seven sunset rainlilies died. The two henryi lilies died. The glads died including the one that’s supposed to do well in Texas. The crocosmia & “watsonia” (sp?) died. The antique freesias died. The first set of species tulips failed to naturalize and died. Not sure how the second set is doing if they are still alive. And many, many others. The ones I dug up and put into pots (daylilies) are all still alive. Since I like living plants and not wasting money I’ve give up.
    I have caliche and bulbs don’t like caliche much.

  15. I think dependability and repeat performance are major issues. If it’s only going to do it’s thing for a short time before fading away then it better pop up looking every bit as splendid as it did on the picture, year after year. Have people lost faith in bulbs because they have been burned by unreliable cultivars? Perhaps it’s time locally climate-appropriate species bulbs, and a more naturalistic incorporation of them into the garden, were emphasized.

  16. Bulb sellers need to be more honest about what you can grow in your region. Where I live, in MD, early daffodils do well and late ones wilt as soon as they bloom. Camassias love our heavy clay and thrive. They’re gorgeous! If I get one tulip or lily blossom I’m amazed- the deer eat them all and break my heart every year. People wouldn’t give up on bulbs if they planted the right ones in the first place.

  17. I am a gardener, and I have to say I don’t understand what the fuss is over a media campaign to promote bulb sales. I also used to work in advertising, and I know that the amount being spent in the media ($5.9 million over 3 years as stated in the press) is reflective of the dollars going directly into media buying. (What the advertising agency will make is most likely a separately negotiated fee.) And I did a little research and a lot of the dollars are (Dutch) government funded.

    Bulb sales have been on the decline in the US for a number of years because younger people are buying them at a much lower rate than the older population. If that continues, that could spell death to bulb growers.

  18. Bring it on. When all the nongardeners realize bulbs don’t bloom all summer and you have to let the foilage get all brown and yucky I will siddle up to them and offer to remove their bulbs for free.

  19. For a small fee, like say, oh, a measly $100,000, I’ll let the main PR firm hired for this come take all the video and pictures they want of the Bulbapaloozathon when 10,000 daffodils and a greater number of the minor bulbs of every description bloom en masse on a North Carolina mountain top. They can even interview Bulbarella for another small fee. She’ll tell them how easy it is and what a reliable, multiplying show it produces every year.

    This does not include tulips. Tulips suck. They’re just food for the varmints.

  20. A decline in bulb sales is bewildering to me – I’m smackdab Gen X and can’t see anything more time-saving and easy in my garden as bulbs: plant once, forget, get flowers, they die-back and shed on their own. Bonus: they multiply in future years. What is not to love?

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