Sunday, December 20, 2009

Up from the dungeon with the hyacinths

Part of my strategy for maintaining some semblance of gardening activity during the frigid months revolves around bulb forcing, which I’ve discussed here many times. But it’s always a new adventure, because I deliberately choose the stranger varieties of hyacinths: this year I have Raphael and Prince of Love, as well as the standbys Crystal Palace and City of Haarlem. City of Haarlem is probably one of the most reliable forcers, second only to Carnegie in my experience.

There is surprising variety among the cultivars. I’ve had terrible luck with Chestnut Flower, a pale pink, and some of the blue ones can be picky. The Prince of Love bulbs are huge and many have sprouts coming from the bottom. You can actually see some in the bulb at far left on the middle shelf, above. This means … I have no idea. Time will tell.

It may seem a touch early to take the bulbs from the root cellar, but they have been there 10 weeks, and are well-rooted—roots are coming out of the bottom of all the pots and are nicely filling all the vases. This is why I like to chill the traditional way, rather than chill the bulbs in the fridge separately, as many do. That’s a good method, but I like the old school way, and I may as well get some use out of our capacious but creepy basement.

I'd agree with many that hyacinths aren't at their highest and best use in the outdoor garden. If they're upright, they look sort of stiff and stubby, but usually they flop over. The more loosely-flowering Spanish hyacinths (hyacinthoides hispanica) work much better in the perennial border. Maybe that's why some bulb sellers say hyacinths aren't as popular as they should be.

For indoor forcing though, hyacinths are wonderful. They have what I find to be a light, fresh fragrance and it's easier to keep them upright. And they are a wonderful respite in February when they bloom.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Winter addictions

There is no way to recreate the idea of a garden inside a zone 5 house. And I think that’s why many gardeners in my situation just give up on houseplants altogether, unless they have attached greenhouses or Florida rooms. It’s just not the same, by any means. But I still find indoor gardening rewarding and fun. Inspired by local avid growers of these plants, I have begun to take up the amaryllis and orchid habits. Baby steps to be sure: I have 10 amaryllis (hippeastrum, correctly) and 7 orchids (phalaenopsis, dendrobium, oncidium, and cattleya).

Most of my winter gardening centers around spring bulbs. I have 40-50 hyacinths down in the root cellar and about as many tazetta narcissus either in progress or in bags waiting to be grown on stones and water. I think some of them will bloom in time for Christmas, but not all; they are all fancy types that take a few weeks longer than the traditional paperwhites. They are well worth the wait, and have a much softer fragrance.

Everything is ready, but nothing is blooming. For that, I rely on my old standbys (and by old, I mean plants I’ve had for 10-20 years): African violets, Christmas cactus, and cyclamen. These will bloom almost all winter. What perennial gives us as much bloom time as these plants, which are despised/overlooked by so many gardeners? Seriously.