How to: grow your own bulbs - and when

How to: grow your own bulbs – and when

We tend to think of bulbs as spring daffodils, ranunculi, hyacinths, freesias and anemones! But bulbs can bring reward all year round – and some can be planted right now, says Margaret Roberts.

Ginger is an unusual ‘bulb’ that’s fascinating to grow. Its luscious rhizome has been used in Asia, where it originates, for thousands of years. Plant it in September, and dig it out when the leaves turn yellow, about 8-9 months after planting.

It thrives in full sun and three-times-weekly watering. Ginger is also a cherished medicinal plant. To ease a cold and a sore throat, and for a bad cough, sip slowly on four slices of fresh ginger made into a tea with 1 cup of boiling water, and sweetened with a touch of honey. Try freshly grated ginger in ginger bread and ginger biscuits, and make your own ginger beer – they’re all delicious!


Taro or ‘madumbi’. Who would ever have thought of growing taro in their gardens? It resembles the elephant ear, and is grown as a food crop in the wetlands of Malaysia. Taroenjoys a shady position in the garden, and rich
moist soil. It does well in our local gardens with three-times-weekly watering. You can buy the rhizome or bulb from the greengrocer.

Look out for the large brown bulbs in June, July or even August. All parts of the plant are edible, including the huge leaves. We grow large clumps of taro at the herbal centre and it thrives. Known as ‘madumbi’ in South Africa, this fascinating plant is another healthboosting superfood. At the centre we show
visitors how beautiful it is in the garden and how easy it is to grow throughout the seasons. It’s a food feature that surprises everyone!

The sweet potato is also a bulb. A much-loved food, its leaves can be eaten as a delicious spinach! The planting
time is October, and it’s the rooted stems that start the new little sweet potatoes, so this is a very economical
crop to grow. By March and April, you can begin digging out the delicious bulbs!

We grow sweet potatoes at the Margaret Roberts Herbal Centre for the delicious spinach that can be cooked from the leaves. It’s a most worthwhile plant for every gardener. Leave a few small sweet potatoes in the ground to grow quickly for next year!


Garlic is quite a wonderful thing to grow! And how delicious to see a pungent, silky white, palm-sized
succulent bulb or ‘corm’ emerge in summer – all from a small ‘bulblet’ planted in March. Imagine the feast
of roasting it whole! To keep breath fresh, the intense smell can be lightened by chewing fresh parsley.

The Madonna lily is another unusual beauty for the summer garden – I cannot resist the fragrance of the
perennial white trumpets of one of the world’s most loved bulbs. It can be left to grow for years where
you plant it, dug deeply in rich soil. Planted in the cold months it will flower in summer, and it’s edible – if
you can bear to eat the beautiful flowers! This is the lily that’s still grown today in the cloister gardens of
churches to honour the Virgin Mary, and in ancient times it was grown as a medicine used by monks to
treat sores, burns, rashes and grazes. The flowers make a soothing skin cream.

See 100 new herbs by Margaret Roberts for further info.

Feature: Margaret Roberts and photos from

Joni van der Merwe

About Joni van der Merwe

Your Family’s Digital editor. Avid retweeter. When I’m not scrolling Instagram you’ll find me in my garden. Keen on DIY and I don’t believe there’s anything that can’t be fixed with some chalk paint.


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