The people who came up with the Dig.Drop.Done. promotional campaign (I posted on this a couple weeks back) are explaining on the Woodbine agency blog that they avoided showing a lot of flowers. Of course not. How obvious. Why would you want to talk about flowers in an effort to get more people to buy bulbs? See, this is why they make the big bucks, and I don’t.
Bah. It was therefore with great pleasure and relief that I recently spoke to somebody who loves bulbs even more than I do. I asked him what he thought the problem was.
Here’s what Scott Kunst, owner of Old House Gardens, my favorite heirloom bulb company, had to say about the faltering market for bulbs: “One of the things I like about gardening is that it teaches you patience and reminds you of the joys of anticipation. When I was a beginning gardener I didn’t want to wait, but now the waiting is really a pleasure. For me, in my life, there is enormous pleasure and sustenance in thinking about bulbs all winter long and anticipating them. The industry is worried that the culture is evolving to be more and more impatient. The big sellers say everybody wants something you bring home and plop in the ground and it’s already big and blooming.”
OHG is the only place that carries Erlicheer, my favorite forcing daff. Unlike ordinary paperwhites, it needs a real chilling period, though brief. OK, I am reminded via comment and tweet that Brent & Becky's also carries this. They list it under doubles,which is why I hadn't noticed; I always look at their tazetta and forcing categories. For me, this is a forcer.
It’s funny, because the fact that they came as little brown balls was what I really loved about bulbs when I first started planting them. It seemed crazy. Maybe they would come up and maybe they wouldn’t; that seemed cool, somehow.
Kunst agrees with all the stuff we’ve been hearing in surveys for years now: “Most gardeners are not like you and me. They don’t read about it, and they don’t know the names. This promotion is saying bulbs aren’t a lot of work and that this is easy.”
Well. I hope the campaign helps bulbs. It is not speaking to the market reached by Old House Gardens—more-or-less dedicated gardeners who want the bulbs you’ll never see in a Lowes or Home Depot display. This year, Kunst is excited about the “broken” tulip Insulinde (at top), which he was able to get in enough quantity that the average gardener can buy them for $4.50 apiece. Still pricey, but OHG had already sold more than half of them when we spoke and they fully expect to sell out. Authentic broken tulips are caused by a virus—Insulinde belongs to the Bijbloemens color group. It changes from ivory feathered with rose to what you see here (according to the OHG website).
“I really do think gardening is a very inexpensive luxury,” Kunst remarked toward the end of our talk. It is. A $700 pair of designer shoes would set me back financially for some time, and I might wear them twice. That much spent on bulbs will keep me busy planning, digging, potting—i.e., involved—for months, with a big pay-off at the end. That’s why marketing bulbs like fashion makes no sense to me. It leaves out the process—the best part.
Whatever happens with the DDD project, I am comforted by the fact that companies like OHG can still flourish. It means there will always be great bulbs available for my demo, the one the marketers take for granted.