Garden Book: "Bulb" by Anna Pavord

Anna Pavord's Bulb published November 2009.png
Earlier this month, I was offered a review copy of Bulb by Anna Pavord and the chance to talk to the author on the phone while she was visiting the U.S. to tape The Martha Stewart show. I have to admit I wasn’t aware of her bestselling book, The Tulip, but as a grower of bulbs I agreed to look at the book with a passing interest. I’ve purchased books on bulbs before only to be disappointed in them. Sometimes, these kinds of specialty books only skim the surface of the variety of bulbs available. They seem to be published just to boost sales. When the UPS guy dropped off Bulb I sat the package to the side, certain that it would be disappointing, like so many other books on bulbs. Later that evening, I opened the package and when the book slid out and I held it in my hands for the first time… I was in awe. I carried it to my desk and gingerly sat it down. I sat at my desk with my face in my hands feeling like a school kid in the reference section of the library working on his first real research paper.

The weight of the book and the serious cover looked rather
intimidating. As I flipped through the pages I was put at ease by the
wonderful color photographs by Andrew Lawson and Torie Chugg. As I
slowed down and paid attention to the bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes
pictured in the book I realized Ms. Pavord had included some of my
favorite bulbs in my collection.

My favorites are too tender to survive
a Chicago winter in the ground, but that doesn’t stop me from growing
them. Pineapple lily, sprekelia, Peruvian daffodil, glory lily and the
Amaryllis that enchant me so much that I’ve devoted an entire blog to
them. Bulb is not an encyclopedia of all bulbs available for
cultivation, but there is enough there to keep the interest of any
gardener (indoor and outdoor) over a lifetime. This collection of bulbs
is even more impressive when you consider the fact that the book
started out as a series of notes on the bulbs the author grew in her
garden. While reading the book you get the impression that the author
genuinely likes bulbs. What could just be a dry compendium of bulb Zone
hardiness, bloom times, height and planting tips seems more personal.
How else could you explain 31 pages being devoted to the crocus or the
attention paid to providing the history behind many of these bulbs?

A few days after the book arrived I had the opportunity to speak to Ms.
Pavord, over the phone, while she was in New York promoting the book
before heading back to Dorset, England. Our conversation focused mainly
on the book, but I was delighted by how readily she spoke on topics not
directly related to the book.

As more gardening companies jump on the
iPhone App bandwagon I wondered where that would leave gardeners, like
me, who prefer books and magazines. Ms. Pavord stated that garden books
would go through a rough patch like newspapers and magazines are going
through, but would ultimately survive. She believes that smart phones
can’t replace the interaction a gardener has with a good garden book.
How does she see her latest book? Is it a coffee table book? Something
to be kept on a shelf and reference every so often? She doesn’t see
Bulb as a coffee table book, but a book that is dog-eared, opened and
referenced as a gardener looks through bulb descriptions in catalogs or
while planting. The many photographs in the book will certainly help
gardeners who shop via catalogs and find that a description (with no
photograph) or illustration isn’t much help when making bulb purchases.
Ms. Pavord gives her publisher credit for including pictures of each of
the 600 bulbs described in the book.

When I mentioned to Ms. Pavord that some gardeners I follow on Twitter
had been speaking positively about Bulb she was surprised to learn
there was talk of the book there since it had just been published this
month. Ms. Pavord is no Luddite, but she prefers to use the internet
for necessities like Email and research, so I offered her the chance to
send out a tweet through my account. When she asked what she should say
I suggested “Buy my book,” to which she let out a hearty laugh and
followed up by saying that perhaps that would be too “crass.” I settled
on a simple “hello” to the gardeners on Twitter that was returned by a
few gardeners who were fans of Bulb.

Towards the end of our conversation Ms. Pavord wanted to make sure that
I made a point to mention that she visited Chicago once during the
winter and was impressed by the conservatories (Lincoln Park
Conservatory and Garfield Park Conservatory) and the way we,
Chicagoans, utilized them to help us get over the winter months.

Anna Pavord may be too refined to come out and ask for the sale…but
I’m not. You should buy Bulb. It is available in bookstores and retails
for $39.99. Bulb could very well be the only book on bulbs any
gardener needs.


Leave a comment
  • I'm definitely going to buy "Bulb." I agree with you about most of the bulb books out there -- they tend to be pretty disappointing. I'm not anywhere near the bulb grower you are, but I've been planting more bulbs the past couple of years. I read "The Tulip" and absolutely loved it, so I'm really looking forward to reading "Bulb."

  • In reply to cvanderlinden:

    I didn't read "The Tulip" but now that I'm familiar with her writing, I'm going to have to check it out. Thanks for signing up for an account to comment Colleen. I really appreciate it.

  • How cool that you were able to interview Ms. Pavord - very nice post!

    I won the book in Kylee's giveaway on her Our Little Acre blog. It came on Friday - what a gorgeous book! I've just started reading it, and it's just the motivation I need to plant more bulbs in the garden. It may not be this year though, since so much of my garden got chewed up by rabbits or whatever this fall, and I don't know where most of my plants are now.

    This is a wonderful book and I echo your recommendation. Buy Bulb! You'll be glad you did. If you're not a gardener, it would be a wonderful, thoughtful gift for someone on your holiday list who is.

  • In reply to ssgardengirl:

    Thanks SSGardenGirl,

    How cool is it that you won this book? I had to write this post from memory because I've lost my notes in the middle of the remodel. There was more that we talked about, I just wish I could remember all of it.

  • In reply to ssgardengirl:

    Nice review and great that you got the chance to speak with the author. Of course I won't *buy* the book, but I'll certainly check it out from my library, or request they order it should they not have it. Thanks for the info!

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:


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