The “Minor” Bulbs

Bulb book

Minor Bulbs? Seriously? How can there be anything called that?

Chances are you’ve heard of some of these, you just didn’t know there was had a special category for them.

In modern times, popular gardeners like Martha Stewart, Melinda Myers and Margaret Roach have all posted about their love of these tiny wonders. They are definitely an under-used and definitely a high impact category of bulb.

My book, above, was written by a North Carolina gardener in 1957. She talks about her garden and the garden of a Mr. Kippenger. You don’t really find out much about him except that he gardens under trees, which tells you how great these small bulbs are for woodlands (more in a minute!).

My edition of the book was re-issued in 1986. I probably acquired it in the early 90s, back in the day when I was planting literally thousands of bulbs every year. I still plant a lot because with most “minor” bulbs, you dig a hole and plant 5-10 at a time. It’s easy.

Which bulbs am I talking about? Well, as I said, you’ve heard of most of them, you just didn’t know they had their own special category. Crocuses, grape hyacinth, scilla, anemone, snowdrops, glory of the snow (chionodoxa)–even camassia are considered “minor” bulbs.

As you can see, most of these bulbs are early bloomers so they are perfect for planting under trees. I have some pushkinia that I planted under trees in a very dry sandy garden that have come back for 20 years now. They have outlasted those in my heavy clay–they like the well-drained sandy soil better than the heavy clay. And because they are so early, they bloom and the foliage fades before the maples leaf out in full.

Another delight with these bulbs–no deadheading of the bulbs and no removing of the foliage. It just fades away gracefully beneath whatever else comes up in your garden. The exception would be the colchicum, below, whose foliage is quite robust. But the foliage comes up in spring and the flowers come up on “naked” stems in the fall.

And the fabulous autumn blooming bulbs colchicum and sternbergia are also considered “minor” bulbs as well. If you haven’t tried those, you should! While it’s always a shock to see their foliage coming up in the spring, the blooms never fail to delight. When my colchicum bloom, people literally stop and stare!

Mine will be very late this year however because of our ongoing drought. But that’s okay. If and when the rains come, their flowers will come popping right up! It may be mid-October, but I will have color in the garden.

Here’s an article from the Washington Post about colchicum and sternbergia. I’ll post photos of mine (from a prior year) and more about them on Monday.

2 thoughts on “The “Minor” Bulbs

  1. The Chatsworth Lady September 12, 2015 / 11:52 am

    Do you grow your colchicum through a groundcover plant? I had ‘Waterlilly’ in my last garden and until the hardy geraniums filled in around them, the colchicum flowers were too big for their stem to support. But once the geraniums nestled up, they provided the needed support.

  2. gardendaze September 12, 2015 / 3:28 pm

    I do both. Some of the colchicums come up through nepeta ‘Walkers Low’ and some of the species colchicum like alba, which aren’t nearly so spectacular as ‘Waterlily’, just come up on their own. I think I’ve also got purpurea by itself –that’s what I have photos of for Monday. Similar color to ‘waterlily’ but not nearly so dramatic.

    But because no one expects to see anything like it, the walkers & dog walkers all stop & stare. It’s great.


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