This is the second (alphabetically) of a 20 volume set. I give the set as a whole very high marks, and this particular volume is one of the particularly good ones. There are, of course, books about bulbs which are hundreds of pages long, or focused on one particular species. But as part of this set, and with a broad overview yet keeping a great deal of specific information, this volume achieves good balance.
This volume, Bulbs, begins by giving a history of the use of bulbs for flower gardening. It is pretty interesting. Bulbs were originally only available to the very rich. Then the various kinds of bulbs are explained: true bulbs, corms, tubers, tuberous roots, and rhizomes. The next chapter is dedicated to landscaping with bulbs. There are examples of everything from sweeping displays of plants which grow from bulbs to small container gardens.
I find the next chapter particularly useful. It is called “Bulbs for All Seasons.” The climate zones are explained and then there is a large chart with various bulbs, their blooming seasons, and hardiness zones. This is really helpful since most bulbs are spring plants, but this can aid you in getting color later in the summer without buying so many annuals. Then there is a section about using bulbs indoors for special displays, and forcing them to bloom at certain desired times.
Bulbs require minimal care, but the next chapter tells you what you do need to do to keep your bulbs healthy. This includes propagation methods for many types of bulbous plants. Common pests are also covered in this chapter. There is a list of bulbs for fragrance, carpeting, moist areas, dry areas, partial shade, and accents.
The final 60 pages of the book are a plant selection guide. This lists species of bulbs and their features: each entry is rather specific since these plants can differ from each other quite dramatically. But there is a paragraph of text explaining how each plant has been commonly used, what type of growing condition it wants, often explaining several varieties of a species, and more. Each species has a picture of the plant.
Bulbs are fascinating, and easy to grow (if you can keep the moles and chipmunks under control!). This book does a really good job of giving you the information to know what you would like to add to your garden and the basics of how to care for many kinds of bulbs. I think that seeing the variety available in one volume (instead of scattered on multiple web sites) is really helpful on this topic. You can carry a train of thought along as to how you might combine various bulbs to build a garden with continual color.
This set of books was published in 1981 by Ortho for the American Horticultural Society. I signed up on one of those “get one book every 6 weeks and stop when you want” deals. I was determined to come up with the money to get the entire set, and managed to do just that. At the time each volume cost about $15. I now find that they are considered rare and the volumes I am able to locate on line are selling more in the $30 range. The books are richly illustrated with color photographs which do a good job of expanding the text.
Each book is 8.5 x 11.25 inches, hardcover, and 144 pages including the index. The bindings could be higher quality; they are tending to crack.
If you pick up the softcover Ortho books from the racks at your local garden center, you will find some of the same pictures, and some overlap of information, but this encyclopedia goes into more detail and covers many more topics than the Ortho series.