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1001+ Ways to Save Water–Beautifully


Why do I grow tulips in the woods?

I started growing tulips, and other spring bulbs, because I was living in a low-water situation. Ten people on a 2 ½ gpm well. For those of you not familiar with wells, that’s not a lot of water for ten people, especially if they have gardens. Several times a summer, the tank would run dry, leading to tight-lipped (sometimes not so tight) comments about whoever had let the hose run or the faucet leak. A snippy irascible atmosphere settled over the land. For half a day or more, we lived dirty, with dry faucets and hoses.

I was the last person to arrive, so I knew that any garden I had would have to be very low-water.

At first I planted natives and herbs, favorite friends of mine for a long time. Natives, of course, are bred for my rainfall  and climate. Mediterranean plants come from the same kind of climate,  where it doesn’t rain in summer. So they are also excellent allies in low-water gardens.

Herbs are great, but I began hankering after flowers. As usual, I turned to my stacks of catalogues and books to research. And what I found – one of the great “duh” revelations of my life – was that most of the popular spring bulbs were either Mediterranean, or California natives. Which meant they didn’t need any extra water from me.

What are the bulbs that fall in these categories?

Well, of couse, tulips







and narcissus (a daffodil is a narcissus, but not all narcissi are daffodils)













calochortus of various species, some of which are sold in major bulb catalogues, some of which can be found only in specialty catalogues, or grown from seed.


crocus (both the species and larger, showier kinds)




and a number of others, including alliums, ornithogalum, tritelia, and scilla.

There are some bulbs whose genus includes both bulbs that like moisture and bulbs that can handle a lot of drought (fritillaries, iris, and lilies are some), but you can’t go wrong with the ones I’ve pictured above. They love drainage and hate summer water, and if you grow them in pots, the way I do, you can move them out of the way when the foliage starts to wither.

There really are 1001+ ways to save water with spring bulbs, if you count all their different species, varieties, and cultivars. If you plan carefully, you can have a feast of beautiful, low- to no-water flowers for months, and get them back the next year.

And now is a great time to buy bulbs. (If you don’t know where to buy them, check out my Spring Bulb Shopping series for some of the places I think are the best.) Some catalogues are still offering discounts for early orders, and the selection is the fullest it will ever be.

Low-water gardens can be beautiful, floriferous and yes, even lush. Bulbs will lighten your mood, enchant children and neighbors, and put tiny bits of glorious other dimensions into your life. Get bulbs. You’ll be glad you did.

{ 9 comments… add one }

  • Frances June 30, 2010, 12:21 pm

    What a good salesperson you are, Pomona! Yes to bulbs of all types, so easy and so rewarding. Saving water with them is gravy. Some lilies have been ordered already, trying to hold out a little longer for other things on the list. Do you know if England has dry summers, for the tulips there were amazing. It was so rainy, hard to imagine it being dry there.

  • Town Mouse June 30, 2010, 7:58 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. My bulbs have rewarded me splendidly, especially the Triteleia and the Dichelostemma. Calohortus has been a little more iffy, but maybe I’ll try again, they are so stunning.

    (As for tulips, not enough frost down here…)

  • lostlandscape (James) June 30, 2010, 8:31 pm

    You make a great argument for bulbs, but also for how to help keep them happy and returning: no of limited summer water to rot the bulbs in the ground. This winter and spring, with the normal rainfall year we finally had, the dichelostemma were stunning, and now I have one little brodiaea that’s been blooming away happily for two or three weeks in a really hot, hostile spot. Bulbs rock!

  • Sylvia (England) July 1, 2010, 12:46 am

    Pomona, I love your tulips in the woods – they can just shine on the sunny side of the trees.

    Frances, we don’t have any consistent climate, our summers can be very wet or very dry and anything in between. The west is has more rain than the east. The tulips were lovely this year, I think that is partly because we had a cold (for us) winter followed by a dry (ish) spring and flowering was later than usual. I think it is safe to say that all the tulips you saw were from new bulbs planted in the autumn, the previous year they would have been grown in Holland (Netherlands) or a few are grown in drier parts of the UK (East Anglia, middle of the country on the east side some lovely tulips are grown).

    Thanks for an interesting post, Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  • Elephant's Eye July 1, 2010, 2:24 am

    Glad to see hyacinths. They do not grow in my garden. Need your cold, or have to be bought ‘forced’ which sounds too cruel for me. And I LOVE bulbs. Especially our South African Mediterranean climate ones. Yearn for a chequered fritillary. One of those flowers that can only be true, because it IS.

  • Cyd July 1, 2010, 5:17 am

    Pomona you do tulips so well, fabulous photos. Bulbs are the best, so faithful.

  • Pomona Belvedere July 1, 2010, 10:54 am

    Glad to be preaching to the choir of so many bulb enthusiasts – and I agree with Sylvia, Frances, my bet is that those gorgeous tulips in England were fresh into the ground the fall before. Most people do treat them as annuals; it’s just a few of us mavericks who quest for Eternal Bulbs.

    I’m so glad somebody else brought up dichelostemma because I realized I’d forgotten them – and though a small genus, they shouldn’t be forgotten, they are stunning.

    I admit a deep weakness for checkered fritillaries myself.

    But I admit I also suffer from disappearing calochortus in the garden, even though I get to enjoy the wild ones. Have to think about what soil or other conditions might be key.

  • Chris Maciel July 12, 2010, 5:41 pm

    are you growing tulips in pots? This is what I’ve done when I didn’t have a good place to grow them and not have them eaten by deer.
    I would also like to know which, if any species, were reliably perennial.
    Love your blog.

  • Pomona Belvedere July 13, 2010, 10:52 am

    Yep, I grow all my tulips in pots, for reasons of gophers, as well as deer. And for their health, since they hate being watered in summer.

    The reliably-perennial species thing is a huge project still undergoing research; if you want to see some of what I’ve got so far, try this post: http://www.tulipsinthewoods.com/bulbs/13-ways-to-get-your-tulips-to-come-back/

    Glad you like my blog! Thanks for saying so!

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