The Bulb Hunter
Left: Daffodils planted by some long-ago gardener are colorful reminders that this was once a homeplace.
Some things have to be done while you're still young--before you realize they're probably nearly impossible. Fortunately for Southern gardeners, Chris Wiesinger, 27, was brave enough to launch a nursery, The Southern Bulb Company.Left: Digging bulbs requires a strong back, a sharp shovel--and a good truck.
If opening a nursery requires a leap of faith, then opening a bulb nursery is a swan dive into the abyss. You have nothing to sell for a couple of years as you gather and propagate bulbs. What keeps you going is the thrill of the hunt--dreaming about what you might unearth on back roads and byways.Left: Chris marks a road map of heirloom bulb digs.
For a bulb hunter like Chris, the discoveries change with the seasons. In early spring, he's on the trail of daffodils and Roman hyacinths. Later, as the soil warms, it's time for tulips and gladiolus. Summer brings rain lilies and crinums, followed by drifts of surprise lilies that pop up at the end of the season just before oxblood lilies arrive to greet the fall.Left: This giant crinum bulb, with several smaller bulbs, is ready for dividing.
Chris got the idea for this adventure while studying horticulture at Texas A&M University, where he did a business plan for a wholesale bulb company as a class project. With the help of Bill Welch, also of A&M, he later modified his plan to focus on heirloom bulbs, scarce in nurseries but abundant on old homeplaces. These bulbs are special because they are adapted to the heat and humidity of the South. What was missing was someone to find the bulbs and ask landowners for permission to share them. Chris was up for it.Left: Rows of q and 'Grand Primo' narcissus thrive at The Southern Bulb Company's farm.
After graduation, he moved into a spartan cabin (no hot water) on a farm in Golden, Texas. Fellow cadets from the Texas A&M Corps sometimes skipped class to dig and plant bulbs with him. His buddy Brad Gaultney helped structure the business by creating a Web site and figuring out how to process orders. Whenever Chris's brother, John, wasn't flying for Delta, he'd lend a hand, as did other family members. Friends and family still offer their support.Left: During his first year in this rural Texas cabin, Chris lived off the fish he caught in a nearby pond. His bulb hunting companion is a fine Weimaraner named Fischer.
Spend five minutes with Chris, and you can understand why. The Southern Bulb Company is much more than a business. It reflects Chris's approach to life. He keeps a copy of the Bible in his truck, and he says he believes that faith is not a state of mind but an action. "You have to trust that your life is going to be all right," he says.
It's with that quiet confidence and optimism that the Bulb Hunter marches forward, seeking out beautiful flowers to spread across the South.Left: Favorite daffodil blooms from the farm include jonquils, 'Campernelle,' 'Grand Primo,' 'Texas Star,' and 'Golden Dawn.'
Visit www.southernbulbs.com to follow Chris's blog about his bulb hunting adventures. You can also order heirloom bulbs and botanical art.Left: Tulipa praecox lives for the heat and humidity of the South. Chris calls this one "the Texas tulip."