Sunday, November 27, 2011
All winter long and as soon as they are available I buy potted hyacinth bulbs at the grocery store. White. All shades of pink. All shades of mauve and blue and purple. From January through April, there are generally hyacinths in my house. Sometimes a single bulb, often a pot of three bulbs, occasionally one of the large pots of five or more bulbs. It always amazes me that buying potted bulbs during the winter months is no more expensive than buying naked bulbs in the fall for direct planting into the garden.
Don't much care for the standard "Christmas" plants -- poinsettias in particular leave me cold, whether traditional red or the newer white, pink and marbled types. They last for ever, they can't with reasonable effort be brought back to rebloom, they silently reproach me if I throw them out . . . Cyclamen are a bit better (glorious butterfly shape hovering above the elegant foliage) but like poinsettias have no scent. Azaleas ditto.
Whereas the hyacinths (like the narcissus I potted up last weekend, which are growing half an inch every day) help me "set out to meet the spring". And smell glorious, scenting the whole house. And each floret is such a beautiful shape . . . remember "hyacinthine curls" on Roman Republican portrait busts? The only disadvantage of hyacinths has been their tendency to flop over, top heavy . . . but the newer cultivars seem to have that problem solved. And (unlike some contemporary rose variants, which have focused on repeat blooming at the expense of perfume) without any loss of scent or shape or colour.
Once my hyacinths have bloomed and faded week by winter week, I cut off the spent flower heads and water copiously, leaving the foliage which will renew the bulb's vigour, then put the pot down in our cool, damp Victorian basement. And forget about them, until late November.
So yesterday was the day. Hyacinth harvest. I fetched them all up, two green garbage bags full of pots and soil and dehydrated foliage. And took them out to the garden for planting.
Almost every bulb was showing signs of life: heavy, solid, sturdy ivory sprouts. I simply cleared away enough leaves in the flower bed to dig a hole, inserted the bulbs at the same depth, then recovered with leaf mulch.
We have lived here for some 25 years -- and there are hundreds of hyacinth bulbs from winter after winter of kitchen table fragrance, blooming and reblooming year after year. Squirrels leave the hyacinths alone -- tulips are the preferred munch, and that's why I don't have many of those. Squirrels simply won't accept my tacit deal -- chestnuts and walnuts for them, bulbs for me. If the squirrels don't eat the tulips bulbs within days of my planting them, they will eat the flowers as soon as they appear in the spring. I've given up on tulips.
Which is OK, actually: hyacinths smell better anyhow.
Winter: bring it on! I've recycled my hyacinths. They're promising me that spring will come.