Nothing lifts my spirits on a wintry morning like a pot of hyacinths sitting on the dresser.
I can smell them as I write, their rich, spicy scent enticing me to the kitchen for yet another coffee and reminding me that some flowers really do have everything: they're beautiful, fragrant and easy.
I grow hyacinths for indoors every year, partly because I love them and also because our first baby was born in July so I do a pot for her to celebrate her special day.
It's possible to jiggle around any indoor bulb's flowering time but if you want something for July, hyacinths are super reliable and last in flower for up to a month.
Hyacinths (H. orientalis), tulips and ranunculus were the first exotic flowers to reach western Europe after Constantinople (Istanbul) fell to the Ottoman Empire in the mid fifteenth century.
Initially cultivated in the botanic garden at Padua, they were picked up by Dutch nurserymen who at one time offered double flowered bulbs at prices almost reaching the insanity levels of the 17th century tulipomania.
I've rarely seen double hyacinths but large, single flowered hybrids are readily available in the pink, blue and cream/white colour range and are lovely in the spring garden.
They are quite hardy - I grow them among deciduous shrubs as they like the combination of sun and shelter. They flower at the same time as the star magnolia (Magnolia stellata).
If you want to force hyacinths to flower indoors in winter you need to start at least 12-15 weeks ahead, the time they take from planting to blooming.
Buy the biggest bulbs you can find, checking carefully for firmness, and plant them almost touching, with their noses on the surface, in your container of choice.
If you want to force hyacinths to flower indoors in winter you need to start at least 12-15 weeks ahead...
Potting mix or compost is best if you plan to relocate them in the garden after flowering, otherwise bulb fibre, though bulbs may take a year longer to settle.
Narrow-necked glass bulb planters are fantastic for children, they love seeing the roots reaching down into the water, but this process exhausts the bulbs and in my experience they never recover.
Keep your bulbs in a dark cupboard where the temperature doesn't go over 9-10 degrees celsius, only too easy if you live in a weatherboard house on the NSW Tablelands.
Any warmer and the leaves will grow long and floppy.
After around 8-10 weeks, move them into the light but keep under 9-10 degrees until the flower spikes start colouring, when you can bring them into the warmth. Check regularly for dampness.
I'm indebted to Bill for my hyacinth mulch, a quartz pebble known as Cowra Gold, available in 14mm. and 20mm. sizes.
It's sold by bulk or in 35 kilogram bags, from friendly local landscape suppliers throughout NSW.
I trickle it round the bulb noses when they reach a couple of centimetres in height, in case the weight of the stones discourages them from pushing their way through.
Hyacinth bulbs are available in nurseries and by mail order from December to March.
- Please note that the wrong article was published last week. Visit www.theland.com.au to read to correct article.