Bulb

Can there be too many books about bulbs? Not for this bulbophile, especially when they are as beautiful as Anna Pavord’s latest contribution to the lexicon. Lavishly illustrated with color photographs, mostly by the renowned Andrew Lawson, this is a book that entices—even appealing to the experienced bulb grower.

Known for several earlier books, notably Tulip and The Naming of Names, Pavord is a devout bulb lover. In this grand tome, she writes about roughly 600 of her “favorite” bulbs, which she acknowledges should be more than enough to keep the average gardener busy for a lifetime of experimentation. She has personally grown these bulbs in her garden in Dorset, near the southern coast of England. This is a key point, as the bulbs she features are those that thrived in her garden. As a result, this book will be of greatest value to gardeners in the Pacific Northwest, in a climate more similar to her corner of England. Bulb lovers in California will find few of the native and South African geophytes that are such an important part of the garden palette in mediterranean-climate regions.

With an economy of words and an engaging style, Pavord covers the evolution, distribution, biology, cultivation, garden use, and propagation in the introductory chapter and in the chapters following the encyclopedia. Completing the presentation are a planting guide, noting bulbs best suited to specific uses, and a flowering calendar. Keep in mind that the calendar is based upon her experiences in the UK; the flowering times will need to be adjusted for other regions, but the sequence of flowering will change little.

Filling nearly 500 pages are discussions of the 600 or so favorite bulbs, presented in alphabetical order by scientific name. In delightful prose, Pavord gives a quick history of each bulb, be it species or cultivar, and a brief rundown on garden uses. Flowering season, USDA hardiness zones, and height are presented in a sidebar summary, along with concise habitat information. This latter is a highlight of the encyclopedia, as it includes both the geographic range and a description of the habitat type and typical elevation; this information is invaluable for the serious gardener who wishes to experiment with unfamiliar bulbs.

Bulb is a pleasure to read and peruse, though the sheer weight of the book precludes recommending it for bedside reading.

Richard G Turner Jr, editor