What’s a Hyacinth? I think I recognise them, but aren’t they a bit old fashioned??
Stop that right now! Hyacinths are amazing, and a very rewarding spring bulb to grow. They are indeed mostly recognised for their strong fragrance, a fragrance which often sees them banished to the spare room after a week in the home! But, take a moment, and I’ll show you that there’s more to them than migraines and PVC pink.
How did the first Hyacinths look?
The ‘chunky candle’ Hyacinths that we now know are far removed from the original species, Hyacinthus orientalis. This spindly specimen calls the eastern Med its home (specifically south Turkey to northern Palestine) and has a measly 7 or 8 blooms on each stem. Today’s hybrids have more than 25!
But, that’s not like the Hyacinths we know and love!
In the 18th century, Dutch growers were trading more than 2,000 varieties. Varieties that were so expertly bred that there weren’t any gaps between the florets, and the colour range expanded away from just blue.
Who are they related to? Haven’t they got an unusual relative?
Can you believe that Hyacinths are related to Asparagus?! They are in a sub-family called Scilloideae. When you get up close, you can see that family resemblance… check it out!
How popular are they nowadays?
Well, these days we can enjoy Hyacinths in almost every colour of the rainbow, and there’s even a black one too! Careful selection for extra petals has also given us double-flowered varieties, and there’s even a few striped ones too (although all is not what it seems with those… more on that later!)
Where should I plant Hyacinths in the garden?
Hyacinths make excellent border and container plants, and will bloom quite early in the year, way before those lazy Tulips! Plant Hyacinth bulbs from September to October, and always start off with good quality bulbs, dry and free of mould. Drainage will be key to success, so mix some fine gravel into the soil before planting.
There will be NOTHING you need to do with your bulbs until spring, just leave them in situ. Once the weather begins to warm a little in February, they’ll bust through the soil with foliage crowns, housing that flower stem in the centre!
Would they work well in combination with other bulbs?
YES! Well spotted. This is where Hyacinths come into their own. It could be expensive to plant up a huge border of Hyacinths (a la Keukenhof) but why not partner them with smaller, carpeting bulbs such as Anemones.
When planting your bulbs, your hyacinths will need to go much deeper than the Anemones (any bulb should be planted 3 times its own depth). You’ll find yourself planting them ‘lasagne style’… makes me hungry just thinking about that!
And, how do I grow them as an indoor plant?
Easy! The key is to grow them cool. You can either start off your own bulbs at home, or buy a ready-made arrangement, often delivered whilst in bud!
That’s fab, mine always get too leggy and smell SO strong though..
Ah, that’s because you need to grow them in cooler conditions. Indeed, the fragrance will be less pronounced in the cooler rooms of your home. And, a tip for keeping them stems straight, slip some wire down the middle!
What else can I do with Hyacinths, how can I get creative?
Hyacinths make a great cut flower, and can bring the spring indoors for you! Make up a posy of your own, displaying it in your poshest vase, or just a simply jam jar!
I’ve seen one particular creation that I’m not sure about though..
Hmm, you may be right! These gift-boxed Hyacinth florets are pretty, but I’m not sure many people will pay for that. Always fun to see these ideas though.
Oh, but hang on, have you seen those creations from North Holland??
Oh yessss! Every year, there’s an event called ‘bloemendagen’ held in Anna Paulowna, the heart of the bulb growing district. Growers and their families create the most amazing collages with fresh hyacinth florets. Isn’t it absolutely incredible!?!
Oh, and do tell me about that famous BLACK variety..
Well, this is the big daddy! It’s black, and it has a SPICY scent too. Selected at a winter bulb show in Holland more than 20 years, Thompson & Morgan worked for 15 years to get this gem to market, by micro-propgating the bulbs. When I was at the company, it was my job to do the ‘PR’ on ‘Midnight Mystic’ and I enjoyed every minute. We even got it onto the Titchmarsh Show!
An, how about those stripes you mentioned..??
Well, it isn’t technically real, but it is kinda fun! These ‘magic hyacinths’ have been created by injecting ink into the stem, which then filters into each floret! It’s like a shortcut in plant breeding, I guess!
What a crazy world! You’ve definitely shown us that there’s more to the Hyacinths we know!
Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook – and writes a plant-focused Substack called Grow This, Not That.