A tray of Dutch bulbs brought in from the cold frames, ready to force in the greenhouse.
Forcing bulbs, sounds a bit affected, in the sort of way one might say " Taking a tea" or "release the hounds". It's very British. An, indeed, we have the British to thank since the idea of 'forcing bulbs' dates back to the 1700's when the trend began, as exotic were being brought back by explorers from Turkey and South Africa to be 'introduced' at Kew, and ultimately, being 'collected' and 'forced' into bloom in proper British glasshouses.
Today, we continue to force bulbs into bloom, but not exactly with the same passion or tools that the great British horticulturists did. In America, the idea, like many things today, has become diluted and simplified. The art, one might say, has lost it's panache, no longer a romantic folly of the wealthy and privilaged, who might have wooden coldframes, greenhouses and gardening staff who can take the time to pot up clay pots of Dutch bulbs in October, bury them in sand within the protection of a cold frame, and then, brought into the glasshouse in late winter to be forced into bloom.
Rather, we are advised that we can still 'force' bulbs, but often advised to take the easy route, and, the less romantic. Use plastic pots so they won't crack, buy bulbs at the supermarket on sale in the fall, pot up the bulbs in potting soil from Home Depot, bury the pots in black plastic garbage bags full of leaves that you raked up with your kids, tie it off, and stash it under the deck until mid-winter, and then, bring the pots into the house to force in a sunny window.
Hey, it works, but it still isn't quite the same experience. May I suggest a few options, to help improve the experience? I shall.
1. Buy bulbs anywhere, but enjoy perusing the websites and catalogs, and plan a little. Planning on what bulbs to purchase is almost as pleasurable as the actual 'forcing' part.
2. Raise the Bar on the Experience Level at Every Step - Look, you are not forcing bulbs just for the flowers, you hopefully are doing it because you love gardening, so why ruin and waste the entire process jsut to enjoy a few days of tulips after a long day at work? Use clay pots ( or plastic, and then bury -hide- the pot in a clay pot once brought indoors). Plastic pots won't crack if they freeze, but if you do have a real cold frame, and if the pots are buried in sand and covered with a thick layer of leaves, they will not freeze, and you can use clay.
My best advice is to - amp up the experience at every step. I prefer real wooden cold frames with glass lights, real clay pots preferably hand made, nice sand, nice imported english heirloom trowels, real Haws brand copper watering cans, elegant labels.... make every touchpoint a pleasure. Buy interesting bulbs, experiment with odd, new or rare bulbs.
3. Lastly, exhibit the pots. I designed a bay window over my sink to function as a display window. I had lights installed, so that I can dim the hallogen spot, or increase them at different levels, and every weekend, I can set up a display of pots that I bring in from the greenhouse just as a retail store or a botanical garden might. Silly? Maybe, but I don't think so. I invest alot of time and effort, and dollars into my greenhouse, the care of my plants, and in selecting what to grow, I might as well enjoy the results!
Lachenalia cultivars almost ready to bloom.
Tulips will tell you that they are ready to be brought into the greenhouse but how long their shoots are.
Find the sunniest spot on a windowsill in a cool room, or in your greenhouse to allow the bulbs to slowly emerge into bloom.
These Hyacinths are ready to bring indoors where their intense fragrance will make the kitchen smell like a spring flower show.