The first step is admitting you have a problem

This is the initial pile (partial view).

At this moment, two things are true. I still have 4 boxes of bulbs—maybe 250 or so total—sitting in the back room. And when I opened the door of that room and stepped outside this morning, I walked into 10 inches of pre-Thanksgiving winter wonderland.

This is also true: There probably wouldn’t have been that many bulbs left over if I had ordered a few less than 1900. Even with selling some to a friend and planting and potting all I could, I still have to find a place for a whole mess of hybrid tulips.

Some of the tulips I don’t even remember choosing. Why did I get 100 Ballerina, lily-flowered? “Few can resist her,” say the Van Engelen copywriters. I should have. I don’t like the lily-flowered types that much, and I hate calling plants “her.” What’s with the 350 doubles? Doubles can be troublesome to grow in pots. (I force many tulips and hyacinths and grow hybrid tulips mainly in pots.) Why 100 Bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder?’ It’s a decent species type but 10–20 would have been fine to mix in with the other species I have.

I must have been in some kind of late summer frenzy. It wasn’t alcohol.

I don’t know too many gardeners that get as obsessed with bulbs. Bulbs are among my earliest plant purchases; I remember choosing from the Van Engelen catalog the summer after we moved into our house and had our first real garden. And regardless of how that garden has changed over the years, with many makeovers, bulbs go in every year. It must be because they’re a sure thing. Perennials don’t always perform as expected; I am positive I’ve planted dozens that have faltered and ultimately have vanished. For at least one season, bulbs are perfect, usually even better looking than their pictures. They’re great for an impatient gardener who doesn’t really want to wait through the sleeping and creeping. And who isn’t troubled by deer. Though I know many suburban gardeners who succeed with tulips in spite of deer. There are ways.

Perhaps I focus on bulbs because they distract from the real work my garden needs. Perhaps I make big holes in the beds and throw bulbs in to avoid thinking about how they should be reorganized. Or at least weeded.

This year, I went too far. I admit it. I won’t go cold turkey. But maybe next time, I’ll have a designated reviewer of my order before I hit “proceed to checkout.”

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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. Love your article. It’s still not to late to dig in…unless your soil is frozen! Or better yet, you could pack them up and ship them to me, ha! I live in Tampa and have an extra fridge with bulbs cooling now. This is my only way to enjoy tulips. Daffodils grow nicely here.

  2. Now I don’t feel so bad. All my tulip bulbs are planted with just 30 crocus bulbs and 100 scilla that I have yet to get into the ground. And just like you, we are covered in 6″ of winter. It all seemed like such a good idea in September

  3. I had to laugh when I read this post. I watched you order all of those, and I went and ordered some more too each time. I just found a bunch more ‘Nir’ and ‘Wintersun’ paperwhites. Good grief! What was I thinking? I also planted a lot of tulips in pots this year to avoid hurting my shoulders digging 400 holes in the garden. I still have 300 or so left. I’ll put these next to the garage border, I think. Why don’t I buy more of the little bulbs you can just tuck in here and there? I get overwhelmed by the online websites and catalogs. I think I have a problem too.~~Dee


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