It may look as if I’m talking about two catalogues here. But really, they are big sister and little sister.
John Scheepers is the catalogue to go to for trying things out. You can buy in quantities of ten (sometimes even fewer). You can also buy in larger quantities, 50 or 100.
Jan Ohms, who heads up the company, is related to the Scheepers family, tulip breeders since at least the 1920s or 1930s. Many of the tulips they’ve bred from that era are still very popular, and the work keeps on. Another catalogue lists several of their tulip breeds as “Scheepers Sports”, and says they are among the most sought-after tulips.
You won’t find them under that name in the Scheepers catalogue, but you will find them under their cultivar names, as well as a lot of tulips named after Ohms and Scheepers family members, and other relations who are tulip breeders. While the catalogue business is based in Connecticut, there’s clearly a strong Netherlands connection here. Which is cool, because if you read this catalogue carefully (yes, this is another of my catalogues that goes floppy from wear every year) you can learn a lot about what’s happening in the Netherlands bulb-breeding world.
Because the Netherlands is probably the foremost bulb-breeding center in the world (though there are important bulb-breeders in several other areas), you can also find bulbs here that you won’t find anywhere else, along with a huge selection of old standards. And a surprisingly large selection of species narcissus and tulips.
And if you’re a hog about it—if you really really have to have a hundred or more Apricot Beauty tulips or Mount Hood narcissus-then you want Van Engelen, the big-sister catalogue.
It’s called a wholesale catalogue, but their minimum order is only $50, a mere nothing for a true bulb enthusiast. By wholesale, they really mean, “in quantity.”
Bulbs in quantity. In flower, starting at bottom left and going clockwise: Annie Schilder tulips, Purissima tulips, Hawera narcissus, West Point tulips and more Purissima tulips, garden hose, Invasion tulips. (Not all of these are from Scheepers/Van Engelen, but most are available there.)
If you’re a landscaper (or a fanatic bulb homeowner), you can even find some of the more popular bulbs priced per 250 or 500.
Quantity prices mean that you pay a lot less per bulb than you do when you order them in smaller amounts. I won’t lie to you: I’ve found the occasional withered or flattened bulb in my quantity bags, and they aren’t always all the same size. But in general what I get from my Van Engelen bulbs is a good show for a really good price-and enough bulbs to give some away without feeling I’m denying myself.
The Van Engelen catalogue doesn’t have photos, so if you want to see what the flowers look like, you must either have a Scheepers catalogue by your side, or go on their web site. I don’t consider this a hardship, but you’ve been warned. This is a catalogue for readers and addicts.