Bulbs and sustainable flower farming

If you're growing flowers in Britain for customers and floral designers, one of the reasons will be that you believe in local and more sustainable resource production.

Bulb planting always makes me question the sustainability decisions that we make. I like bulbs.  A bit like perennials, so long as you follow a few basic rules, you are almost guaranteed a decent flower at a predictable point in the season.  This is different from annuals which are much more of a law onto themselves.

As a grower, some bulbs are reused and some are composted. When bulbs are kept, some stay in the same place and naturalise which means that year on year they will produce more flowers for you. Other bulb that are kept need pulling up ever year and drying out to prevent them rotting or being eaten.  These are tender Perennials. To guarantee good quality flowers every year, some bulbs are pulled up and composted every year after they have produced their flower.  This is a decision that is specific to growing and not to gardening.  The reason for this is that when I cut the flowers, too much of the green growth is removed to support photosynthesis and re-feed the bulb for the following year.  If I leave the bulbs in the ground, the following year I get an unpredicaable combination of blind bulbs, no shows and unpredictable flower colours.

[If you're reading this blog and you're gardener, because you're not cutting the flowers before they have died you can leave your Tulips in the ground and it is also worth treating your Acidenthra like Gladioli.]

Treating bulbs like annuals is the least sustainable of the 3 approaches in my view.

Here is a list of the bulbs that we use that fit into each category.  This is not an exhaustive list.  I’ll add to it as we expand out growing range! I have put them in this order because to me Perennials are the most sustainable things that we grow. In the context of bulbs, Annuals are the least sustainable thins 


  • Daffodils
  • Alliums
  • Lillies
  • Fratillaries
  • (Tulips)

Tender Perennial

  • Gladioli
  • (Acidenthra)
  • Anemones
  • Ranunculus


  • Tulips
  • Acidenthra

In essence I have been asking myself whether growing any bulb that does not naturalise or get reused for the the same purpose is sustainable? I’d love to know what you think about this. Do email and let me know how sustainable you think bulbs are. Rebecca@silvergreyfoliage.com

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