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Spring Bulb Shopping 3: Brent and Becky’s

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My catalogue cover has white streaks through the dark green. That’s because I handle it so much.

Brent and Becky’s was my primer for serious bulb study, and I’m still learning.

I started reading their catalogues back when they were still  the Daffodil Mart, a large-format catalogue that was all print and no photos. Because of the way their catalogue is set up, I started learning about the different classes of daffodils and tulips, with their different bloom times, so I could spread the flowers out over time, and learn which types were most fragrant, lasted longest, took semi-shade. I was amazed by the huge varieties of bulbs they carried. I hadn’t know there were that many.

Here’s where I found out that you can lengthen your season by getting early, midseason, and late daffodils and tulips, not to mention fritillaries, alliums, and a host of other bulbs. Here’s where I learned that there was such a thing as species tulips, like Tulipa batalinii ‘Apricot Jewel’.

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And that’s just the beginning. The catalogue has a center insert with a detailed table of bloom time of all their bulbs, so you can plan ahead for maximum bloom.  Bloom time, of course, is relative: your garden isn’t their garden. But if you know that trumpet daffodils bloom before triandrus narcissus, chances are good that you will have a longer daffodil season. It’s also more fun if you want to plan for things to bloom together, for instance, late and diminuitive ‘Hawera’ narcissus with early and flamboyant ‘White Emperor’ tulip.

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Their summer bulb catalogue-a thick and comprehensive selection of bulbs that don’t take freezing (dahlias and cannas, for instance) has the same handy chart. So you can have bulbs through most of the year, if you plant it right. Certainly through most of the garden season.

Brent and Becky Heath come by their love of bulbs naturally. The Heaths are from a daffodil-breeding family; some of their own daffodils and narcissi are in their catalogue-and some of them are in many other catalogues as well. So they really know what gardeners need to know, and they do their best to provide that in their catalogues, past and present. Their current catalogues feature color photos, mostly taken by Brent and Becky themselves, from their many trial and show gardens.

Being serious gardeners, the Heaths know a lot of other serious gardeners and breeders, and sometimes Brent and Becky’s catalogue is the first time the public gets to see new varieties. Grant Mitsch is a perennial favorite. But there are also surprises from smaller-scale breeders, especially in the daffodil department.

The Heaths travel to bulb breeders in the Netherlands and walk the fields. If something catches their eye, it goes in the catalogue. This means that you’ll find some commercial varieties that aren’t common in the U. S. market, something just a little different.

But new offerings don’t come at the expense of the old standards: there’s a plethora of old favorites and heirlooms in this very comprehensive catalogue. So, while you may find expensive exclusive show-quality breeds in Brent and Becky’s, you will also find good deals on more well-known bulbs, plus occasional excellent deals on landscaping-quality bulbs in quantity.

And the deals at Brent and Becky’s really are good, because their bulbs arrive in absolute top shape, just when they’re supposed to. By top shape I mean: they are all fat, round, and healthy, as opposed to having occasional moldy, flattened, withered, or otherwise less-than-choice looking bulbs in the bag.

All of which means, when the season’s ripe–if you get them in when you should–flowers will be inexplicably springing out of a round brown bulb and into a whole new dimension.

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Kathy August 10, 2008, 9:06 pm

    I placed my first order with Brent and Becky last fall and was very pleased with my order when it arrived and with the flowers this spring. Everything bloomed, even the last batch of daffodils that I ended up dumping into a large hole because I didn’t get them in when I should have, due to a back injury. These daffodils were amazing in spite of the treatment they got when planted!

  • Pomona Belvedere August 12, 2008, 3:35 am

    Daffodils are amazing. I was very encouraged this spring when I found one of my Real Gardener friends planting them in February (because I was still planting them then, too!) . Even if they don’t bloom that year, a lot of times they will gather their strength and flower the following year. Bulbs truly are amazing. Easy to see why they survive.

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