Scented Garden : Hyacinths For Spring

By Elise Pearlstine


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



  • Rita: Yay, another flower post from Elise! Thank you for your information on forcing the bulbs. I always buy hyacinths and tulips ready to bloom, but they are expensive this way. I will give forcing bulbs a try! March 2, 2011 at 8:56am Reply

  • Maria145: Thank you for a lovely spring-themed post! I noticed that white hyacinths have the most delicate scent. I grew one heirloom variety that smelled like spicy tea roses. March 2, 2011 at 10:51am Reply

  • Olfactoria: My mother used to have many hyacinths in her garden, she loved them dearly. This brought back many childhood memories for me, thank you for a lovely post, Elise! March 2, 2011 at 7:10am Reply

  • sweetlife: Lovely, thank you! March 2, 2011 at 12:28pm Reply

  • Jen: Would you grow tulips the same way? I just love the smell of tulips. I laugh whenever I read that tulips have no scent, because they do! March 2, 2011 at 2:19pm Reply

  • Elise: So glad you enjoyed it. I have never had a yard where I could grow hyacinths so I enjoyed researching the lovely flower. March 2, 2011 at 3:42pm Reply

  • Elise: I have to admit I have never had much luck with forcing, probably because I forget to water the plants and it requires planning ahead. Maybe I’ll try next winter! March 2, 2011 at 3:43pm Reply

  • Elise: Good luck! There is a lot of information on the web too. March 2, 2011 at 3:45pm Reply

  • Elise: I was actually kind of surprised at how different the three colors smelled and yes, the white ones are quite delicate. March 2, 2011 at 3:46pm Reply

  • Elise: I think you could do tulips the same way. I’ll have to smell one the next time I have a chance! March 2, 2011 at 3:47pm Reply

  • LostArgonaut: Today I and my roommate were browsing in a local grocery shop, we couldn’t leave the area of potted flowers for a while. Both of us kept sniffing and sniffing again white potted hyacinth that was blowing such an addictive scent throughout the area. It reminded me of Uzbekistan, my home country, where spring doesn’t start without a splash of tree blossoms and spring flowers. While I’m now in the mountainous Colorado where long, snowy winters take up the place of spring, home never felt so wanted. March 8, 2011 at 11:34pm Reply

  • Victoria: You know, I spent some time in Uzbekistan, my dad worked there and both of us loved this country deeply. To this day my cooking repertoire is heavily influenced by Uzbek flavors–lagman is a family favorite!
    I know exactly what you mean about the smell of spring there. When all of those apricot trees bloom, it is so exhilarating! March 9, 2011 at 8:14am Reply

  • LostArgonaut: Victoria – it’s amazing that you’ve been there!! Yes, everytime my sister visited us, my Dad would ask her to cook laghman, hers was out of this world! You probably tried samsa, a pastry filled with beef or lamb and spices, and you know, I was so surprised to find that dish in a local grocery store – they call it “cabbage burger”…I also find here in the States my favorite fragrant flower we call “reyhan” and grow in the yard. Humble and not as attractive as most flowers, reyhan (basil in English) has a loud scent that makes any pretty flower shy. I wonder if there’s any fragrance containing basil extract?? March 10, 2011 at 12:22am Reply

  • Victoria: Most of Jean-Claude Ellena's fragrances contain basil. Try Eau Sauvage too! I love this note as well. So rejuvenating. March 10, 2011 at 7:29am Reply

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