What beautiful hyacinths! I have just learnt to love a hyacinth. Mrs Allen used to take pains, year after year, to make me like them; but I never could, till I saw them the other day in Milsom Street;”
“But now you love a hyacinth. So much the better…And though the love of a hyacinth may be rather domestic, who can tell, the sentiment once raised, but you may in time come to love a rose?… The mere habit of learning to love is the thing; and a teachableness of disposition in a young lady is a great blessing.
It is thought that Northanger Abbey was begun sometime during 1797-98- the height of the Georgian period. At a time when the novel was being given a new dimesion, florists had also begun modifying and cross breeding familiar species. They imported flowering plants and bulbs from all over the world. Soon even cottage gardens could boast exotic blossoms and thousands of hybrids were being created.
Following the tulip craze of the 16th century, horticulturists experimented with other bulb flowers. One that was to become a favorite was the Hyacinth, imported in the mid 1500’s from the Ottoman Empire. By the early 18th c. the orginal, gracefully curving plant, similar to England’s native Bluebell, had been modified into its ‘modern’ form. Hyacinths reached the peak of their popularity during the 1700’s when there were over 2000 cultivators to choose from. Some bulbs were even more expensive than the infamous tulips.
While it was common to incorporate the blooms into outdoor landscaping (Madame de Pompadour had them bedded by the thousands at Versailles) the most popular method of cultivation was to root them individually in pots or glasses where ‘their roots were a most diverting pleasure to behold.’
This method is a particularly easy way to bring a bit of spring into your home before plants outside have warmed up enough to flower. You can use vases created especially for this purpose, or any jar or vase with a small enough mouth to support the bulb, without letting it fall in the water. The point of a forcing glass is to hold the bottom of the bulb away from the water. A bulb sitting directly in water will rot – but if the basal plate (the bottom of the bulb from where the roots grow) sits just out of the water’s reach, it will start to send down roots… and eventually send up a blossom.
- Hyacinth bulbs need to be chilled before they will bloom. Some bulbs can be purchased prechilled. If so, you can save weeks of waiting time. If not, place your bulbs in a marked paper bag- make sure the bag is protected from moisture- and leave the bage in a cool place for eight weeks. This can be your refridgerator, or some other cool, dark place where the temperatures won’t rise above 50 degrees- perhaps an unheated garage or porch if you haven’t spare refrigerator space. Begin the chilling process any time after October 1st but before November 1st for early spring flowers.
- Once bulb has been chilled for 8 weeks, you are ready to start the flowering process. Fill your vases with water so it just barely touches the base of the bulb. Make sure the tip of the bulb is pointing up, because this is where the flower will emerge. You might want to start several Hyacinths at different intervals for beautiful, fragrant Hyacinths blooming for several weeks.
- The key to developing full size Hyacinth blooms that last is to place the vase and bulb in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place (such as a garage or basement) for 6 or 7 weeks while the roots develop. Check on your bulb every so often and replenish the water so that it stays just millimeters away from the bottom of the bulb. You’ll see roots begin to emerge and fill the glass. Finally, you will see a little whitish-colored shoot emerge from the top. When the bud comes 3″ to 4″ out of the neck of the bulb, you will know that roots have developed sufficiently.
- Bring the vase into the light, though not direct sunlight for the first 10 days when the bulb turns green and grows rapidly. Filtered light in a room with temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees is perfect. After 10 days, vases can be moved into direct sunlight.
- Once the hyacinth flowers, it will last two to three weeks. You are likely to encounter only one difficulty- that the bloom may get top-heavy and topple out of the vase. With no soil to anchor it, this can be a bit of a problem.Bulbs forced in water should be considered disposable. Without any soil or direct outdoor sunlight to nourish the bulb, it will be exhausted when it is done flowering. To keep your bloom lasting as long as possible, take a bamboo pick or other skewer and stick it right into the bulb and tie the flower upright.
- Don’t foget to buy next year’s bulbs and start getting them chilled!