Bulbous beauty

I can’t decide if it’s just a matter of association, but I love the look of bulbs.  I’m not talking about the flowers (though I love those too), I’m talking about the bulbs themselves.  I love the feel of them.  The weight of them.  The texture of them.

Scan 2

I think I can go so far as to say that I get as much pleasure from the bulbs as I do the flowers they produce.  But I don’t think I’d get the former if it wasn’t for the latter.  It’s at least partially the sense of what’s locked up inside the bulb that loads them with such joy.

A few years ago I planted one hundred decent sized bulbs of Tulipa ‘Maureen’. Their flowering was followed by a wet spring, and planted as they were in a position of perfect drainage, during their die-back phase they bulked up like crazy.  When I dug them, they’d swollen to the size of small cricket-balls.  They were smooth and shiny, bore the weight of serious life-force, and nestled in your hand as if they belonged there.

Pleasure almost inevitably leads to a degree of greed.  At most, I’ll order a few hundred tulips.  I can’t ever remember ordering more than, say, five hundred, and most of those were for clients.  The box they arrive in is always disappointingly small.

I once put in a reasonable order of bulbs for a client, and she asked if she’d need a trailer to pick them up from me.  I’d have smiled if it wasn’t for the fact that I all-to-well knew the bathos she was facing when they arrived in a box about the size of a carry-on suitcase.


The box pictured here arrived the other day, and contains two thousand bulbs.  Admittedly they’re only small, being anemones and Brodiaea, but you really want two thousand bulbs to look like two thousand bulbs, don’t you?

I want to run my hands through them like some botanical-Scrooge.



  1. Took the words right out of my mouth. Bulbs, glorious bulbs!

    1. So nice to know that I’m not alone in this

  2. I know …. the best things come in small packages! what is more they just keep on giving year to year to year if you have chosen correctly! and they increase!!!
    Seed catalogues never give me the same thrill . That being only a reflection of my own preoccupations in the garden.
    The first of the Nerines , Colchicums and Crocuses are flowering now after an extremely tiring summer and they thrill me

    I found this quote last week …
    ” If you have never been thrilled to the very edges of your soul by a flower in spring bloom , maybe your soul has never been in bloom” Terri Guillements….

    Haven’t had time to look up the quotes origin and it may be obvious to others !!
    but here in Victoria i value the autumn bulbs after the summer hibernation!

    soon the Sternbergia !


    1. It’s funny, that. Seed catalogues are both satisfying and seriously tempting, but don’t have quite the same thrill. There’s too much fear, for me, associated with seeds. They’re way, way too dependant on me, and I’ve never proven my dependability to either the seeds or to myself. With bulbs the work is largely done…

  3. Just ordered some November lillies and giant freesias and had to restrain myself from overdoing it. I do envy those of you able to grow tulips etc. Western NSW just isn’t the place.
    Great to see you back Michael.

    1. I know. Tulips are a great prize. And one of the most effective consolations for firewood dust and grime in the house for seven months of the year, frozen windscreens in the morning, and tender annuals and perennials being turned to gelatinous pulp in the first week of April

    2. How very timely this post is, Michael. I arrived at Heathrow to snow on Saturday and have been wondering how on earth I reacclimatise to this cold weather. It seems, the answer, is tulips. Perhaps tulips and a trip to Great Dixter!

    3. Hi Janna
      We’re missing you here in Aus! Yep, tulips can go a long way to compensate for miserable weather, and indulgence can be statistically shown (well, I’m guessing that it can be statistically shown, given that stats can be forced to make any predetermined point) to be excellent for your mental health.

  4. Colourful catalogues
    Ridiculous wish-lists
    Agonising shortlists
    Retail therapy
    End of season bargains
    More therapy
    Arguments and lies about the bank account
    Exciting deliveries
    Hidden invoices
    Digging holes
    Making up pots
    Anxious waiting
    Months of admiration
    In vivo and in vitro (and sometimes in terracotta)
    I’m in a lather from January to October

    1. I absolutely love this. Particularly all the deception surrounding the purchase. No – it’s not the deception I love. It’s the passion behind the deception.

  5. Thank you all,those comments have greatly reduced my guilt over the tulip order I placed a couple of days ago. This is my first time growing tulips for myself as I am finally in a garden with lovely soil and cold enough winters. So excited, for me it is all about them being bundles of potential. I love the first sign of bulb shoots poking through the winter soil.

    1. I’m excited for you! I didn’t order any for myself this year, but have a box of 400 sp tulips for a client sitting in my office. I might just get them out for a play…

  6. Bulbs are like bad boyfriends – I love them but they don’t love me. After all this time and many catalogues later I’ve only got a few recalcitrant narcissus – maybe they’ll flower maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll flower and the flowers will droop into the grass. Or get eaten by some snail who is as surprised as I am to see a flower.
    There was a ‘gardener’ in England that I read about many years ago who was so frustrated by bulbs and gardening in general he ‘planted’ his front yard with cut-out flowers he made from plastic packaging and whatever else he could find. It was quite a wonderful installation and have to say he had the most gorgeous, and reliable, ‘daffodils’ and ‘tulips’. A garden without death or disaster, well I couldn’t get used to something as easy as that, but I understand the sentiment.

    1. Yeah, a friend of mine and I were looking at all the bulbs for sale at the Melbourne Flower and Garden Show a few weeks ago – amongst them, some really lovely things – and wondering where they all go? and given that every year bulb nurseries sell thousands – hundreds of thousands – of them, why aren’t our gardens crammed full of them? I’m glad no one keeps mortality stats. The bulb industry, based as it is on (false?) hope, would die overnight…
      Love your take on this.

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