One of the plants that has appeared out in my yard this week is the Hyacinth. Though they have an interesting appearance, this is one of the few plants that I grow just for their wonderful scent. I have a hard time resisting when I smell Hyacinths already blooming in the store, which is probably why I have so many growing in my yard right now.
Hyacinth is a genus in the family Hyacinthaceae which contains three species or fewer. Depending on who you ask, two of the species belong somewhere else, leaving Hyacinth orientalis as the only one. Also known as Common, Garden or Dutch Hyacinth, these flowers are native to the Eastern Mediterranean region and have been cultivated for more than 400 years.
A Greek myth explains the origin of the name. Hyacinthus was a beautiful boy, much loved by the god Apollo and also the West Wind, Zephyr. One day, Apollo and Hyacinthus were taking turns throwing a discus. After Apollo’s throw, Hyacinthus ran to catch it, but it bounced off the ground and hit him, killing him. Zephyr, jealous of Apollo, had made the wind blow the discus off course. Apollo tried all he could to revive Hyacinthus, but was not successful. Apollo refused to let Hyacinthus be taken by Hades. As his tears of sorrow flowed onto the ground and mixed with Hyacinthus’s blood, a new flower was created.
Hyacinth is hardy in zones 4-8 and possibly even zone 3. They should be planted in well drained, light, sandy soil in a sunny area. Too much moisture will cause the bulbs to rot. Hyacinth look very attractive when planted in groups, rather than alone. Plant them in September or October, in a hole 6 inches deep. The bulbs contain oxalic acid which can bother sensitive skin, so wear your gloves.
Hyacinth bloom in March or April, producing a single spike of colorful, highly fragrant flowers. Flowers come in a wide range of colors, from red, white and blue to yellow, peach and lavender. The blooms last for 2-3 weeks and are 8-12 inches tall. After flowers are spent, cut back the stem to prevent seed from being formed. Leave the foliage until it turns yellow because the plant is storing energy for next season.
Hyacinths are good for forcing to bloom early and also make good houseplants. When planted outside, they will grow thinner and smaller each year. For the best show, buy new bulbs each fall. I’m told that larger bulbs produce larger blooms. Bulbs can also be divided every 2-3 years to produce more plants and reduce crowding. The original bulb will produce smaller bulblets which can be removed and planted. It can be difficult to find the bulbs in the fall after the foliage is gone. Luckily, bulbs can be divided in the spring, even when plant is blooming.