This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
THIs plant, though a native of the desert, has been domesticated for many centuries, and is aptly styled the "Domestic Flower" for it is closely enshrined in the hearts of all lovers of flowers. Haarlem is the great focus of bulbous cultivation, and its soil is gifted by nature with the requisites for Hyacinth culture. The surface consists of light vegetable mould, formed by the decomposition of leaves and other vegetable matter mixed with sand, and under this is a substrata of sand which acts as a drain to free the upper surface from the surplus moisture with which the heavy spring rains and melting snows of winter inundate it, often to the destruction of the roots. Florists of other countries have learned the secret of the Haarlem florists' success, and have imitated the soil, thereby producing as good results. By paying careful attention to the preparation of the soil, as good bulbs can be raised in this country as in Holland; yet, while the roots can be procured every year, on such moderate terms, as at present, it is hardly worth taking the trouble to propagate new varieties. Much patience and care is needed to raise them from seeds, and often but half a dozen good flowers are found in a thousand seedlings.
At first, the single flowers were considered superior, and they are still for "Window Gardens; " but at length, a double flower was produced of such rare beauty, that it brought the whole class into universal estimation.
" The King of Great Britain" was sold for an incredible sum, when it first appeared.
In preparing a bed for Hyacinths, the soil should be deeply stirred, for the roots often penetrate from eight to ten inches into the earth, and unless it is mellow, their growth is checked. A location must be selected which is well drained, and protected from the heaviest snows and drenching rains, and well sheltered from northerly winds. When the finest blossoms are desired the soil should be removed at least one foot, and the earth well stirred up; then spread a layer of three or four inches of leaf-mould, thoroughly sprinkled with sand, and fill up with compost of one-third well rotted cow-manure, and two-thirds sandy loam, well mixed together. The soil obtained under the pine needles of the forests, will make all bulbs thrive perfectly. It is usually a dark, sandy loam, excellently fitted for their culture; we have used it, and can speak from experience of its beneficial results. If the ground is too heavy, the bulbs are apt to decay. Silver sand, such as is found in nearly every kitchen for domestic uses, is also of use in planting bulbs of all kinds.
When the beds are prepared, and made higher in the centre, so that the water can drain off readily, then the bulbs should be planted, and the earlier in November the better for them; but always select a dry day for the work: Plant in concentric circles, straight rows, or clusters, taking care to cover the tops of the bulbs at least four inches under the surface. A liberal top dressing of sand, will draw the sun's rays early in the season, and prevent mould or decay from attacking the bulbs.
When the ground freezes, it is well to cover the beds with four or five inches of coarse manure, straw or leaves, with slats laid over them to prevent them from blowing away; but don't cover too early in the season, else the ground mouse may make her winter nest under the soft bed.
This covering must be removed early in the spring, or as soon as the first tiny green sheath is seen. Then the soil can be slightly stirred up on the surface and pressed tightly around the bulbs, as they often crack the earth.
Bulbs are store-houses of prepared pulp. Linnaeus styles them "the hybernacle or winter-lodge of the young plants." They in every respect resemble buds except in their being produced under ground, and include the leaves and flowers in embryo, which are to be expanded into glorious bloom in the ensuing spring. By carefully cutting through the concentric coverings of a tulip bulb, longitudinally from the top to the base, and removing them cautiously, the whole cup of the next summer's tulip is disclosed. In all bulbs, the miniature flowers exist, but the individual blossoms are not so conspicuous to the naked eye, nor so easily dissected as in the tulip. A Hyacinth bed, once planted, can remain undisturbed for two or even three years; but most gardeners desire their beds for other flowers, and the bulbs are dormant from three to four months at least. The seed-pods should be gathered when the plants have flowered, as ripening the seed would partly exhaust the strength of the bulb, but the leaves prepare the pulp for maturing the bulb for another season, therefore the roots must not be lifted until they are wholly dried and withered. Take them up on a dry day and spread in the shade to harden.
When quite dry separate the offsets, and put them in paper bags or boxes, keeping in a place where no moisture will reach them until another autumn, when they can be replanted.
The offsets can be planted by themselves in a dry, sunny situation; if they attempt to flower the first season, pick off the buds, for the root needs all its strength; the following spring they will flower well, and after that can be treated as grown up bulbs. If the beds are needed before the large bulbs are fully matured, the plants can be taken up, and laid in ridges, covering the roots with earth, but leaving the stems and leaves fully exposed to the air; thus treated, the leaves decay rapidly, and the bulbs swell to full maturity.
In the selection of bulbs, choose those that are compact, solid, and firm at the base of the root. Light colored bulbs are always white or cream colored; dark skinned ones, blue, purple, pink or crimson.
The Florists' catalogues offer us a large variety to select from, with many high-sounding names. As we have said before, the double varieties are more suitable for out-door culture; and they cover at least half of the stem with full, horizontal bells, forming a compact cone terminated at the top by one upright bell; and are fully worthy of all the labor which their cultivation demands. A bed of Hyacinths in the early spring is a glory and a joy; but in their selection we must pay due deference to their height, and plant the tallest varieties in the centre of the bed, else the whole effect will be spoiled; also to choose those that will blossom at the same time, for there are early and late bulbs; and some catalogues very properly mention not only the names, but the seasons and height of the flowers.