The bee bumbled out of nowhere in the early morning light, heading straight for the intense purple of the hyacinth. Not the white and not the pink but the dark, luscious, spicy, intense color and scent of the purple hyacinth. I had a selection of pink, white and purple beauties lined up for the photograph you see above; as I arranged the shot the bee was getting drunk on “her majesty of the dark purple”. A comparison of the scents reflects the three colors. Purple hyacinths are in-your-face floral, spicy, sweetly green yet with a bite. White is floral, slightly elegant and refined, while pink is pretty with just a bit of spice and quite lovely.
Wild hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis) are native to the eastern Mediterranean including Turkey, west Iran and Turkmenistan but have been cultivated since the sixteenth century, mainly by Dutch breeders. In their native habitat they are perennial and may spread rapidly, filling a wooded area with masses of rich color. The original wild varieties had spikes of six or so pale blue blossoms but they were soon bred to produce larger spikes of purple but also white and pink flowers. After that, it took about 100 years to get nearly 400 varieties of this popular bulb plant, eventually producing yellow and lilac flowers as well. There are now about 100 varieties remaining in a variety of colors.
Potted hyacinths are now available in a store near me; the blooms fill the house with their scent. They can be enjoyed while they bloom and then planted outside in areas where the winters are cold enough to stimulate re-growth. They enjoy sunny to partly shaded areas with good drainage and can be planted in sandy soil. In northern climates they should be planted in the fall and in areas with warm winters they should be refrigerated for about three weeks before planting in the late fall. In all areas you should see sprouts in the early spring. Unfortunately, hyacinths have a tendency to have fewer blooms as the years go by. Splitting and re-planting the bulbs with some fertilizer may re-energize them.
If you would like to force a bulb (encourage it to grow and bloom indoors earlier that normal) you can do so in either soil or water. The bulb must be chilled in order for it to grow, keep it in a cold place for about 12 weeks to simulate cold winter months. For water forcing, select a heavy glass container or vase that will hold the mature plant with a large bloom spike. Support the bulb with pretty rocks and add water to cover the bottom section of the bulb. Keep the bulb in a cold, dark place until leaves appear and then place in a cool, sunny window. Blooms will generally appear in six weeks or so. The process for forcing bulbs in pots with soil is very similar except that the bulb should be covered about ¾ of the way up with an open soil mixture. Keep the soil damp but not wet. Bulbs that have been forced in water are often exhausted after they bloom and generally will not flower again.
Extra reading on hyacinth notes in fragrances: Spring Flower Bouquet ~ Hyacinth.
Photography by Elise Pearlstine