In the winter months through March, the Menlo Park farmers market treats its patrons to a sensory overload thanks to Bill “The Bulb Baron’s” flowers. Visit and you are greeted by cheery narcissus of many varieties – and their wonderful fragrance.
Patrons, I dare say, may not appreciate all the love, patience, and art that have produced their flowers (and bulbs). Bill Welch has been growing and hybridizing narcissus for nearly 40 years. In fact, he knew that this would be his life’s work when in the 11th grade.
Today, he is one of the largest and most prominent growers of clustered narcissus bulbs and flowers in the world. Anyone who has made a purchase knows how special they are. Yet most don’t know that the Dutch essentially stopped growing and innovating these bulbs a century ago. As gardens and styles changed, they were at threat of disappearing.
But fortunately Menlo and other local market patrons can see the fruits of Bill’s labors. And those labors are manifold. Bill explained that from hybridizing a new variety (fertilizing seeds with another selected species) it takes four to six years for a bulb to flower. But to put a new variety into production takes roughly 20 years of work and love – 10 years to confirm genotypical attributes and hardiness and another 10 years to be grown in quantity.
Next trip to the market, stop by Bill’s stall and enjoy these treasures. And marvel at the patience and persistence that greets your senses there on the table. Producing even one new variety sounds intimidating to me. Yet, Bill has registered over 35 new varieties!
Bill also wants his patrons to know that he has an active bulb business. The bulbs are drought-resistant and resist squirrels. They can be purchased in the market and all year on his website. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.