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.