Hyacinthus orientalis

Purple hyacinth flowers.
  • Common name: Hyacinth
  • Type: Bulb
  • Height and spread: 20 to 30 cm
  • Aspect: Sun or partial shade
  • Hardiness: Hardy in the ground, container plants outside will need to be protected against frost
  • Care: Easy

Traditionally grown in containers for Christmas where they make a decorative and highly scented table decoration.

Want to find prepared hyacinths at Reveley?  Look in the conservatory.

Hyacinths are bulbs which would normally flower in Spring.  Many tiny flowers cluster tightly together encircling the stem.  Colours can be deep blue, purple, red, yellow, white, or pink.  The flowers are highly scented and will fill a room with their fragrance.  The containers seen for sale in shops in the run up to Christmas have been especially ‘prepared’.  In other words, they have been tricked into thinking autumn and winter have passed and therefore it is safe to show their heads, or shoots, above ground.

To prepare a bulb for Christmas flowering, it must be forced.  To force a bulb, it needs to spend a period of between 10 to 16 weeks at a temperature of 9°C or less.  If you have a suitable environment to chill a bulb, you should be looking at starting the process at the beginning of June!  Alternatively, you can buy prepared hyacinths in September and early October from most garden centres or specialist suppliers.  If you want your hyacinths to flower at Christmas it is recommended that bulbs be planted, at the latest, by the first week in October.

Almost any container will be suitable, with or without drainage holes.  If using a container with drainage holes any multipurpose compost will be suitable, if your container doesn’t have drainage holes then you will need to use a proprietary bulb fibre, to avoid waterlogging the bulbs which will cause them to rot.  Half fill the container, place your bulbs, making sure that they do not touch each other or the sides of the container.  Add more compost to just cover the bulbs with the tips just peeking through.  Water sparingly then place in a cool dark place this will encourage their root system to develop before they start to push up the flower spike.  The bulbs need to be kept like this for at least 8 to 10 weeks.  Check occasionally for rot and keep compost moist but not waterlogged.

When the shoot tip is about 2 cm tall you need to start acclimatising the bulbs.  Bring them into a cool lighter space, an unheated spare bedroom would be ideal – as more of the shoot appears they will need to be introduced gradually to a warmer and lighter environment (they need to believe that spring has arrived!).  Top dress with a covering of moss to enhance your display.

Your hyacinths can be planted in the garden after flowering and growth has finished – and they will flower the following spring.

Hyacinths also look good grown in specially designed vases.  Fill the vase with water place the bulb on top so that the water level is just below the base of the bulb – then treat in the same way as potted hyacinths. 

Always wear gloves when handling hyacinths as they can be a skin irritant.

Reasons for poor results when growing prepared hyacinths are:

Removing the containers from the cool, dark conditions too soon.  The compost is either too dry or too wet.  When in the dark the temperature has not been cool enough.

According to Greek mythology, Apollo, the god of sun, gave the name Hyacinthe to the flower which grew from the blood of Hyakinthos, one of his followers.  The name Hyacinthe is derived from Greek meaning blue larkspur or the colour purple.