The Cottage Smallholder

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Buying bulbs in bulk and a few bulb planting tips

Bosschaert - flowers in a vaseThis is the time of year that the shelves are groaning with Spring bulbs at the local garden centres. Tempting displays that usually draw me in. But not this year. These little packs of 10 bulbs for £3.99 are too expensive. I’m buying in bulk.

When I first moved to the cottage I invested in a lot of tulip bulbs that gradually died out over the years – I had no idea that most of them need to be lifted and stored over the summer. Since then we have invested in species tulips that spread gently in the tubs and borders. There are two types of daffodils that flower in the grass in the front garden (both bought in job lots from wayside stalls). We have small groups of snowdrops, muscari, miniature daffodils, scilla, irises, aconites and crocuses that are gradually spreading. Not to mention the bluebells, whitebells and pinkbells – I’ve discovered that these last quite a few days in water if tips of the stems are conditioned for 20 seconds in boiling water.

Now we are selling flowers it’s a great excuse to invest in more bulbs. I ordered quite a few tulip bulbs in early summer from Thompson and Morgan. Red tulips sell well and can be left in the ground from year to year – at 16.99 for 60 bulbs they were a snip. I also invested in some of the tulip collections that give 40 days of flowers and was tempted by the Rembrandt mixed tulips. Stunning tulips that we see in the paintings of the Dutch Masters

My friend Jo mentioned Leucojum bulbs last Spring. These last well as a cut flower and look like a giant snowdrop.  I couldn’t find them on the T&M site which was a stroke of luck as I discovered this wholesale site Gee Tee Bulbs. The one thing to note is the delivery charge is £10 per order and the prices do not include VAT. However if you are interested in buying in bulk it’s well worth checking out this site. For example Anemone de Caen are £4.50 per 100 (exc VAT), Pheasant’s Eye Narcissus ( Poet’s) are £7.50 for 50 bulbs.

I bought Leucojums, Pheasant’s eye Narcissus (and old much loved favourite that has died out in the garden), double late Peony flowered tulips (just £8.50 ex VAT for 50 Carnival de Nice), Gee Tee also have a shop for those that wish to buy smaller quantities – VAT is included in the price and the standard delivery cost is £3.95.

Standard sized tulips need to be planted at least 6” deep and 5” apart. Shallow planting may result in lack of flowers as the bulbs need to be deeply frosted to flower well. Most of ours will be replacing the dahlias so will be planted after the first frosts when the dahlia corms are lifted. Tulip bulbs can be planted from October in the UK but November is the best time as it reduces the chance of the tulips getting fungal diseases. I’ve also planted tulips in late December with good results.

Narcissus (daffodil) bulbs are usually planted at a depth of 6” and 6” apart (this leaves space for the bulbs to develop and multiply) for a standard sized bulb in September or October. Later planting will give you poorer flowers.

Leucojums are planted from September to October at a depth of 4” and 4” apart. 
Anemone de Caen can be planted in mild areas in September for flowers in early Spring, in April for flowers in June/July and in June for flowers in August/September. The corms need to be soaked in water overnight before planting. Plant at a depth of  2” and 4” apart.

Most bulbs need a reasonably well drained soil in a sunny spot (although some varieties of Leucojums prefer shade). It’s worth taking the time to dig in some compost or leaf mould to get good results. To achieve an informal planting effect I gently scatter the bulbs on the borders before planting. I also sprinkle some bonemeal in the holes to give the bulbs a head start.

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  1. Amy Carter

    Hi Judy
    For my birthday I received a very good friend a gerbera. How many times a week to wet?

  2. Leucojum prefer a moist but not soggy site. Will do well in a wet meadow. Damp site – they’ll take full sun.

    Remember not to mix daffodils and tulips in the same flower vase. Cut daffodils give off a slime that causes tulips to collapse and drop their petals. Tulip stems continue to lengthen after they are cut and arranged in a vase, so I find them better for informal arrangements.

    Do you have any Arum italicum, aka lords and ladies in your garden? They grow in shade, send attractive foliage up in autumn that remains through the winter, go dormant in spring. Charming as a filler, or in combination with pussy willow branches coaxed into early growth.

  3. Kooky Girl

    I’ve never really got into bulbs, or known much about them, but I certainly cannot say that now ! Thank you for a wonderfully informative article. Although I don’t have much room for bulbs, I think I will head to Costco and see if they have any bulb packs in my local store.. Worth a try, no?

  4. muscari and spanish bluebells are momementarily a lovely welcome in the dull spring grey garden, but after a while, I too get rather bored of them. the leaves on the bluebells are so big, and sightly, that I pull the bulbs up each yr, and ‘freegle’ them to others… When I discovered my bluebells weren’t the native kind, I was shocked and just wanted to rid of them. Surprisingly, there’s a fair few ppl that want them, but I also tell them they’re not the English variety… or else, their wildlife patch isn’t as authentic as they intended.

  5. I’m a bulb-lover too. In the past, buying bulbs from the likes of garden centres/supermarkets/Wilko’s are long gone now. I’ve discover J Parker’s and T Walkers wholesale catalogues, where I bought masses of narcissi (fragrant, multi-headed ones) and tulips. Yes, the delivery charge is about £5 and you need to add VAT on it too.

    There’s also COSTCO, the cash and carry retailer (membership only) where I was this Monday at the Coventry store, and surprisingly saw various 50 bulb packs of 2 varieties of narcissi or tulips for £8.99. All of the varieties I’ve never heard of, but they do look good (not your average daffs or tulips that you see in ordinary gardens!). I didn’t buy any as I’m only after certain varieties! Bulb-buying every late summer for me is an addiction, and terribly expensive!

    I’ve noticed in some garden centres, there are ‘All-You-Cram’ Narcissi for about £3.99/4.99 either in a paper bag or little bucket. I’ve filled a bag with Narcissus’Acropolis’ and cunningly, made sure I’d got the noses of the bulbs inverted to the layer underneath, so as to maximise the space in the bag. This I got 35 bulbs for £4!! it weighed a fair bit too!

    Atm, my cyclamen are flowering once more in my east-facing pots. such delicate pinks brightening up my path with their beautiful fragrance!

  6. The previous owners of our house were fond of muscari; what a nightmare! They look good for about 3 days, then the rest of the time they’re just messy, and are almost impossible to get rid of because when you try digging them up all the little bulbils break off and the next year it’s even worse than before. Roundup’s not even particularly effective.

    I’m busy putting in pheasant’s eye narcissi for next year. 🙂

  7. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Magic Cochin

    I hadn’t heard of lare’s bulbs – must check them out for Spring! Coffers are bare at the moment 🙁

    I love alliums too.

    Hello Kate

    I’m going to plant the red tulips in the kitchen garden – all the Summer hardy annuals that edge the borders have really brightened everything up down there.

    I planted quite a few summer flowering bulbs this year in the herbaceous borders and they have been a joy.

    I’ll check out Peter Nyssen – thanks for the suggestion.

    Added note – I’ve just checked out the Peter Nyssen website and they stock the Karma Dahlias that I’ve been looking for for weeks (these dahlias have been bred to last 10 days as a cut flower!) So double thanks.

  8. You can never have too many bulbs in the garden. I put a load in amongst the veg patch for cutting as well. Peter Nyssen ( I think they have a website now as well) are great if you’re ordering in 50’s or more; extremely good value and the quality is always good as well.

  9. Magic Cochin

    Timely reminder…

    I bought some Allium bulbs at the weekend as the ones we have are so beautiful and I wanted more!

    BTW have you ever bought from ?

    I always mean to, then I forget!!!


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