'Crocus and hyacinth, with rich inlay Broidered the ground, more coloured than with stone Of costliest emblem.'
IT would be well for us to speak of this grand Easter flower as the Oriental Hyacinth, its scientific title being Hyacinthus Orientalis, and the common ones, of Garden Hyacinth, or Bedding Hyacinth, obviously insufficient.
Plants known as Grape Hyacinths, Spanish Hyacinths, Woodland Hyacinths, Tassel, and Feather Hyacinths, will be described in later chapters, as Muscari, Scillas, etc., and the giant Hyacinthus Candicans as a Galtonia. We will deal now only with the Oriental Hyacinth, double and single, and the dainty little Roman, Italian, and other Miniature Hyacinths. The last are obtainable in most of the colours of the big Hyacinths, except salmon, mauve, purple, maroon, and orange. They are useful because they bloom just a little after the early white Roman, and before the Hyacinth proper, and can be treated like the former, except that bulbs must be rather further apart in the ground, and not placed as closely in pots, boxes, etc.
The outdoor culture of Oriental Hyacinths is simple. Success, however, is dependent upon the obtaining of sound bulbs of sufficient age; therefore the purchase of cheap collections is seldom satisfactory. Yet Bedding Hyacinths need not be Gold Medal Hyacinths, any more than a bedding Viola need be as large, or handsome, as a Show Pansy.
For Hyacinth culture in beds, and borders, use any good garden loam that has been some time previously enriched with well-decayed manure. Rank manure must not be encountered by these, or any other, bulbs. If a heavy soil has to be put up with, plenty of river-bed, or clean road-side, sand must be incorporated. The position must be open and sunny. Plant in November, or December, when the soil is neither too dry, nor too wet, but crumbles easily between finger and thumb. Place bulbs 8 inches or more apart, 3 or 4 inches below the surface. Strew 4 inches of coco-nut-fibre refuse over the bed. Chopped furze, or heather, or the softest cinder-ash may be used instead, and I knew one grower who always collected the husks of beech-mast for this purpose. In Holland beds are often covered by straw, tan, or reeds, but these materials are apt to go mouldy. Hyacinths are hardy enough to stand moderate frosts, but severe ones sometimes cause the bulbs to rot, or the embryo flower-spikes to fail.
Keep the ground pricked over, by hoe or spud.
As a flower fades it should be picked off. The plants must live out until the leaves are yellow and crisp. Then they should be lifted, laid on the flooring of an airy shed, or room, to dry: after which the remains of stalks and foliage can be twisted off them.
Most persons store these bulbs in dry chaff, bran, shavings, or sand; the old method was to lay them, bottom upwards, peaks through the mesh of trellis-woodwork, or wire-netting, shelves.
Any damp or diseased portions must be cut away before storing, and the wounds rubbed with sand.
Except in abnormal early droughts, outdoor Hyacinths should not be watered, but liquid manure may be given, once or twice, when flower spikes are forming and colouring, not when they have developed fully.
For Hyacinth culture in pots bulbs should be ordered that florists will recommend for the purpose, as all varieties are not similarly successful. The compost should consist of equal portions of fibrous loam, old manure chopped fine, and about a sixth part of coarse sand. Place the bulbs, in November or December, almost one-third of their depth exposed, setting the soil firmly round them. Three may occupy a six-inch pot.
Make up a bed of cinder-ashes in a frame, on the floor of an unhealed glasshouse, or on a piece of ground by a south-facing wall, and plunge the pots in this material, so that the bulbs have a three- or four-inch covering. Examine in about two months' time, but keep covered until there is an inch, or rather more, of growth visible. Remove pots then to the greenhouse, frame, or room windows, but accustom the plants gradually to full light.
The temperature for them should be from 500 to 6o° for the first week, then it should not be more than 65°, as the best blooms are always from plants not forced quickly.
Let the foliage die down, then put the bulbs into a border somewhere in the garden, for they will be scarcely worth keeping after they have flowered in heat.
There are many flower-lovers who delight in the culture of Hyacinths in glasses.
The first rule to observe is the filling the proper shaped 'glasses' with fresh rain-water. If that cannot be had, use main-tap water, which will be safer than water that has stood for days in a rain-water butt. The second rule is to poise bulbs almost invisibly above the water, not touching it. Wire supports are sold for the purpose. The water will need changing every three weeks, or even oftener if it is found to be clouded, or to smell offensive.
Place the bulbs in September, October, or November. Stand the glasses in a dark but airy cupboard until roots have fully formed.
Remove glasses, by degrees, into full light and warmth, of window or conservatory. Turn them round daily. Occasionally moisten the bulb and its growth, either by a sponge or a scent-spray. Plant bulbs out of doors when the flowering is over.
The culture of Hyacinths in moss-fibre and sea-shell is always interesting.
Use the mixed materials quite moist, but not dripping wet, in any bowls or vases, with a lump or two of charcoal at the bottom, and three pea-sized pieces in the rest of the compost.
Lay the bulbs on the fibre, press them lightly into it, fill up with water, stand in any airy, semi-dark place. Examine once a week, giving more water when the fibre seems dry on the top. Failure will have to be recorded if the fibre ever dries up at the base: yet bulbs will rot if kept too wet.
Excess of moisture can be got rid of by laying the receptacles on their sides, slanted so that surplus water can filter out.
Remove the Hyacinths into light when growth is well started.
Double and Single Hyacinths should not be planted or potted together because they are unlikely to bloom simultaneously. Some growers object to cinders coming in contact with bulbs. Cinder-ashes, however, are soft, and always safe.
The pure white Roman Hyacinths, the coloured Italian, and other miniature species, can be grown well in sheltered beds, borders, and rockeries, but are generally potted to supply winter bloom. They, too, may be cultivated in moss-fibre and sea-shell, and the directions given above can be followed, except that these smaller bulbs require less space, but should be an inch below the compost when in pots, though merely inserted up to their tips when in fibre. Pottings from July to December, at seven- or ten-day intervals, will result in a prolonged harvest season. Bulbs of Roman Hyacinths are no use after flowering - not even for the borders.
Failures are frequent with Hyacinths both outside and in. This can be avoided by realizing that the bulbs must not become loosened in their hold upon soil, must never be sharply frozen, must be protected from rabbits in the open, their young growth from strong gas fumes in the rooms. Also it should be recognized that the blossoms cannot develop or open in a very dry atmosphere. If the scent-spray is not used let indoor Hyacinths be put under cloches, or other glass shades, for a night, occasionally, after being watered. They have brittle stems, which obliges the gardener to supply green sticks and ties when they grow in windy places.