Many kinds of plants have swollen underground parts, corms, tubers, and rhizomes as well as bulbs. All of them function as storage organs to keep the plant alive during the unfavourable season – winter for summer-growing bulbs like lilies and gladiolus, summer for spring bulbs like snowdrops and daffodils.
Flowers buds are usually formed at the same time as food stores are laid down. This explains their quick appearance, once growth re-starts.
The woodland bulbs – snowdrops, crocus, cyclamen, eranthis, daffodils, scillas, wood anemones and bluebells – are used to provide drifts of colour in spring before the leaves appear on woody plants. The woodland bulbs do well in light shade.
Other kinds, such as tulips, gladiolus, galtonias, camassias, nerines and lilies, are plants of more open ground. They are best used in small groups in open borders among border perennials and shrubs. Some kinds like dahlias and begonias are damaged by frost and are best treated as temporary border perennials, brought under protection for the cold season.
Being quick to flower, bulbs are ideal for use in containers, especially the spring bulbs, which can give a succession of flowers from January to May. Tuberous begonias can be sued in the same way in summer containers.