By Melinda Miller | Buffalo News Staff Reporter
on April 20, 2013 - 9:57 AM, updated April 20, 2013 at 3:09 PM
Call it a shopping frenzy for patient people.
It wasn’t a long wait to get in the door – even the earliest shoppers were at the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens a mere three hours ahead of time Friday.
But the prizes they carried home from the Black Friday Spent Bulb Sale – tulip, crocus and daffodil bulbs, at the deep discount price of $7 per shopping bag – won’t see blossoms again until 2014, when their bright blooms of yellow, pink, red and purple lead the charge into another spring.
Mike and Debbie Bakos from Batavia might take a nap in the meantime. They got up at 3 a.m. to be first in line with Jennifer Reid of Eden, setting up folding chairs next to the old garage behind the gardens’ conservatory at 5 a.m. The sale started there at 8.
They weren’t looking for anything special beyond a great bargain on bulbs.
“I just grab what I can grab,” Debbie Bakos said.
Inside the garage, in the calm before the storm, rolling racks four shelves high were piled with thousands of wilting flowers as a handful of staffers and volunteers conferred on their positions for the event – which could be described as 20 to 30 minutes of quiet, dirty chaos.
“[The bulbs] come from our spring flower show,” said Erin Grajek, director of marketing for the Botanical Gardens. “It’s our biggest show of the year, always around Easter time – and all the bulbs that are in that show are what we sell.”
The plants are all “forced” to bloom, Grajek explained, and are considered “spent bulbs” rather than “seed bulbs.”
“That means, when you plant them, they might not come back,” she said. “That’s why we sell them at a reduced rate.”
Outside in the slowly growing line – there were about 80 people at 7:45 a.m. – veterans of other sales said they have had good success with previous bags of bulbs, and were glad to be back for more.
“The first year we got over 1,000 bulbs,” said Sue Kloc of Blasdell, who comes with three or four friends. Friday, she was on a quest. “This is my fourth year, and I’ve never gotten a blue hyacinth yet. That’s what I’m looking for.”
She wasn’t the only one hot for hyacinths. Even though they were at the very end of the rows of bulbs, once the door opened, the racks of pink, white and purple hyacinths (no blue for Sue) were picked clean by 8:10.
Julie Feldman of West Valley knew enough to wear a hooded sweatshirt this time, to keep dirt from flying in her hair.
Larry VanNote has about three acres around his Strykersville home and has been to the sale three or four times.
“I had so many bulbs last time, I wasn’t able to plant them all, so I’m kind of starting over,” he said. “This year I’m here for tulips.” Later, he walked out with three full bags of them.
Others, some of them serious gardeners, hope to find something a little different.
“They understand they are getting really cool varieties that they can’t get other places,” the gardens’ Grajek said. Considering that elsewhere even conventional bulbs can be 50 cents to $1 each, getting a bag of 50 or more new-variety bulbs for $7 is “the cheapest price in the universe,” one volunteer joked.
As the doors rolled up at precisely 8 o’clock, the first buyers walked quickly in and surveyed the racks. About 20 people are let in at a time, a few minutes apart. Zigzagging up the aisles from rack to rack, the earliest birds get the best view of the merchandise, because many blossoms are still intact.
“A lot of years the petals are gone,” Grajek said. “They can actually see what they are getting this year.”
Soon after most of the customers are inside, the jostling and shaking had knocked off most of the petals. Some shoppers were carefully working handfuls of bulbs into the sacks – each person could buy three bagfuls – while others carried them in armfuls to jam in the bags at the counter.
By 8:10, everyone who was in line early was inside.
By 8:12, many sections were almost empty, save for a rack of orange tulips that was, oddly, still more than half full.
By 8:20, most of the shoppers were headed to their cars, with a little more than a dozen sorting through the remaining selections. Unlike previous years, enough bulbs remained to fill a few bags for latecomers.
Pamela Dortch of Buffalo was among the last to leave. She bought her house on the West Side two years ago, she said, and was ready to start landscaping.
“I wanted hyacinths, and tulips – I love tulips,” she said.
Not all the bulbs are going from the public gardens to private yards. Gail Huber and Marilyn Gallivan, both of Buffalo, are volunteers at Concordia Cemetery at 438 Walden Ave.
They are working to beautify the historic site, which was established in 1859, Huber said.
Gardeners who didn’t make it Friday have one more chance, Grajek said.
All the flowers along the Botanical Gardens’ walkway and front entrance will be pulled out in a few weeks, just in time for the Great Plant Sale on May 18-19.