Popular Springtime Favorites - Hyacinths
A treat for the senses
These powerfully-scented flowers are a welcome sight in the garden as some of the very first spring flowers to bloom after winter. They are most effective planted in blocks of a single colour along a path, or in containers near the house where their fragrance can be fully appreciated. Specially-treated, winter-flowering bulbs are also available in time for indoor Christmas displays. After flowering, these forced bulbs can be planted outdoors in a sheltered spot.
Hyacinths were originally cultivated in Europe by the ancient Greeks and the Romans. Hyacinths take their name from the Greek Hyakinthos, a handsome young man from Greek mythology. However, this early hyacinth, H. orientalis, was a rather simple species that was only valued for its scent. Despite its simplicity and small flowers, the delicious scent of the hyacinth was still enough to ensure that, when introduced in 17th century Holland, the bulbs were exorbitantly expensive and only available to very wealthy flower collectors.
The hyacinth was so popular in the 18th century that more than 2000 cultivars of H. orientalis were developed, producing plants with large, fragrant flower spikes in shades of red, blue, white, pink and yellow. Today, all hyacinths found in the modern garden are a result of this centuries-long 'fashion make-over' as man-made hybrids of the original species. They remain a firm favourite in formal bedding schemes and patio pots.
Hyacinths perform best in an open, sunny or partially-shaded position with fertile, well-draining soil. When selecting bulbs, make sure they are not damaged or drying out. Plant bulbs in the autumn before the ground freezes, in order to ensure proper root development. Plant bulbs six to eight inches (15-20cm) deep and about six inches (15cm) apart. Spread a small amount of bulb fertilizer in the hole during planting, in order to encourage bigger blooms. After blooming, it's important to allow the plants to continue growing until the leaves die off, as the leaves send energy to the bulbs for next year’s growth.
For winter flowers you can force bulbs by potting them up in early autumn, then keeping them cool and damp for several weeks to ensure they develop an adequate root system development. When the shoot tips appear, move the bulbs into a temperature of 10°C (50°F), and then into a warmer environment as more shoots appear, giving them as much light as possible. After forcing, keep in a cool place to finish growth.