My constant ranting about hyacinths at this time of year is veering close to the definition of insanity. Regular reports of my delight at how successfully they force and how much fun it is to have something to tend when the exterior garden is shut down don’t seem to be gaining many converts. As far as I can tell.
The idea of growing tulips in pots for outside use has gotten much more traction.
But yet I persist with the hyacinths. It is a bit of a mania, one which became embedded even deeper this year when I opened the root cellar door a week before Christmas and found that every single bulb down there – let’s say about 150-200 – had fat, healthy-looking buds emerging. Maybe Ma Nature knew there was a tough weather event coming. Maybe she wanted to help make up for the fact that we’d be spending most of Christmas week inside our house alone, unable even to see out the windows.
It wasn’t just the success of the bulbs. As they’ve begun to emerge, I’m finding radical and interesting differences between them.
I’m a sucker for any vendor offering anything “old-fashioned” or heirloom” and that goes for annuals and perennials too. If there’s a taller, less-compact, original version of some plant, that’s the one I want. For example, my hosta ventricosa is one of the few that will come true from seed, not that I’ve needed to test that, and its online descriptions end simply: “This plant requires no care.” That’s true with most hostas, but I like this one for its tall flower scapes.
I also prefer the tall woodland nicotianas to the shorter hybrids. And so on.
There are plenty of old-fashioned hyacinths; most offered by Old House Gardens; other vendors stick to the fat hybrids. Currently, I’m in love with Roman Pink (above). Some might call it spindly; I think it’s graceful. And there’s not much chance of it toppling over, as the hybrids will. The scent is delicious, totally unlike any hyacinth I’ve ever put nose to. It’s supposed to be cinnamon, but I catch some orange blossom, maybe a little jasmine. Not the fresh green you expect with most hyacinths. None of these scents tend to be overpowering, at least not in my drafty abode.
There’s also a Yellow Ophir which I think is this one (above). (One year I had labels.) The double Chestnut Flower is fabulous and my favorite white is Grand Sophie (below).
Hyacinths never seem to work all that well outside. In formal bedding arrangements, well, they look formal. In an ordinary garden, they tend to topple over; in a few years, they acquire a looser habit and then pretty much disappear. The hyacinthoides hispanica, which I’ve had a small group for more than 20 years, are clearly more persistent, though they bloom later.
What do I do when I’m done with them? Into the compost they go. Friends who have received them as gifts say that if planted outside when the ground is thawed, they will come back; I believe them.
Bottom line: hyacinth forcing is not super popular, though I know a few gardeners who do it, and, like me, collect the vintage forcing glasses.
I think we’re onto something.
Basic bulb forcing instructions here.
The scent in your house from January on must be indescribable! I rarely force hyacinths now, but this year I’ve got a few in the garage still. The yellow above is gorgeous. Just as an aside, when I was expecting my son, we put some pink and blue hyacinths in our window box and said that whichever bloomed first would tell us the sex of the baby due in June. They were blue and we had a laugh. Did it again for my daughter – they were pink, so obviously the method works. #science LOL. – MW
I LOVE “forcing” hyacinths indoors in winter. Maine isn’t quite as snowy as Buffalo, NY but one still needs flowers in January. I have only the fat hybrids. I keep the bulbs in small pots year round and they seem to get shorter each year. I don’t care, as long as the flowers smell good. That tall pink one is graceful. I might have to look for it. Thanks for the pictures.
Ah ha! Thank you so much for the long version of care. I am one of those save it if it has a speck of green yet gardeners – yeah I know it looks messy, leave me alone. 😛 I currently have 7 bulbs I’m saving over as I keep getting them gifted to me by my less plant crazy family when they are done with them. Now, I might get more than an occasional next season bloom as I was missing the fertilizing schedule bit. Thanks for the tips! PS. I really enjoy reading all of you on Garden Rant and appreciate the work and energy it takes to keep it up! Blessings!
trying it this year, kept bulbs in refrigerator 8 weeks and most are sprouting,,,gonna plant today,
I am in Colorado, I always end up forcing a pack of 25 hyacinths each year. I’m always annoyed in November when I have to deal with them along with everything else but happy in February when they bloom!
I love forced hyacinths indoors! They smell so wonderful. My parents potted up dozens every year and then my dad would plant them outside in a sloped, woodland area. They looked quite pretty there, although they got more and more leggy. Nowadays I tend to buy potted bulbs at the grocery store, because I always forget to pot them up myself in time.
The definition of ‘insanity’ from my perspective of living in the horticultural paradise of the Pacific Northwest would be to live in the northeast and not force something, anything, that would give me hope for spring. We are so fortunate to be living in our maritime climate where it is cold enough to make bulbs bloom naturally and yet mild enough to be surrounded by something in bloom 12 months a year. Sure, we piss and moan about the endless grey and wet days of winter (and far too long into spring) and so we do many of the same things as you northeasterners. I have a couple sprigs of Daphne odora that completely defoliated this winter but the buds seem to be just fine, so now they are in their shallow vase, stuck into a ‘frog’ and I am anxiously awaiting their opening and fragrancing of the house. No, you are not going insane, you are maintaining your sanity until spring arrives. You are in good company. Steve
How simply delightful! I’ve always hD them in the garden & been too lazy to force them. Might have to rethink that, since growing them indoors would certainly concentrate that delicious fragrance!
My hyacinth bulbs are still in the refrigerator for another few weeks. I went with “fierce mix” from Longfield Gardens on clearance – screaming fuchsia and purple ought to liven up the winter. In the meantime, I have freesias in bloom in the window and they smell absolutely divine. Highly recommend – no chilling or fussing, just have to watch out for aphids.
Ophir is a double yellow – very rare and also expensive due to shortage of bulbs – it was believed to have gone extinct. I have seen it in Alan Shipp’s National Collection (UK) in Cambridgeshire. Single yellows are likely to be City of Haarlem or Yellow Queen.
Can you grow the seed out of the flower? I took a flower apart and there is 1 seed in each flower. Can these be planted?
No clue. I am sure someone in this thread knows.