Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hyacinth Crazy

Growing Hyacinths out of season, also known as forcing, is a lesson in patience. Just like the Little Red Hen, early preparation is the key to sure success. Growing these amazingly fragrant bulbs is a fantastic winter hobby for those that are itching to get to spring just a little faster.
.....very collectible Hyacinth Vases, or forcing glasses....each bulb is matched to a specific vintage or antique vase, labeled on the bottom. There are forty + varieties in my collection (bulbs)
I began forcing Hyacinth and other bulbs as a boy with my dad. We had a small collection of Danish forcing vases brought back from living abroad in the late fifties and early sixties. We would search out the largest bulbs we could find at local garden centers, or order from "wish book" catalogs that I read front to back. My father taught me to always add a little activated charcoal to the shapely vases to keep the water sweet. We would wash the vases, and fill them nearly to the "neck" where the fat bulb would sit. The water level should always be just below the base of the bulb, not sitting in the water, but just above.

You can force any Hyacinth bulb, not just the more expensive, pre-chilled varieties. Once the vase is filled, adding a piece or two of the activated charcoal, you are ready to go! All the bulbs need now is eight to twelve weeks of cool rooting in darkness. The ideal temperature is between forty degrees and fifty degrees. Ideal places are cabinets in heated garages, cool cellars, deep cold frames or even that spare beer refrigerator down in the basement! make sure the vases never freeze, just cool and dark. Now check on the water level every few weeks, and top it up to the base of the bulb, but just below it. If the water gets cloudy, just change it-but this rarely happens.

Collectible antique Hyacinths in pots, ready to root and be cooled...the anticipation is killing me!

Every variety has it's own internal clock that is controlled by the gibberellic acid that needs time to develop in order for the flower stem to grow and lengthen properly. Some Hyacinth may only need eight weeks or so,others will need more time. How will you know when to bring your Hyacinths out of there cold-dark period? The roots will have filled out the bottom of the vase, and the top growth will have lengthened a few inches, then they can start their journey to bloom!

Hyacinth "Midnight Mystique" sold for over $100.000 per bulb just ten years ago...still rare, but now affordable-the worlds first black Hyacinth, a dark purple- black-these were hard to come by!

When the bulbs are well rooted, and top growth is evident, bring your Hyacinth vase into a cool, dim light for a day or so, then to brighter light still. Turn the vase regularly to keep the bulb growing evenly. The cooler the spot, the longer the Hyacinth will stay in bloom!

 If the vase method sounds too hard (it's so easy), an even easier way is to keep the bulbs in a refrigerator, in a brown paper bag, and chill for at least eight to twelve weeks, then let the bulbs root directly in cool brightness, even a kitchen window sill.

I'm collecting antique varieties, and for those, I have bulbs growing in a sandy potting soil, so I can easily keep the rare varieties in their own pots. Each variety has it's own unique scent, like a rose does. Colors- wow, so many great subtle tints, like water colors or multi- colored gem stones. To grow and "force" Hyacinths in pots, just use a sandy soil mix, place the bulb below the soil surface, water well and let root for the eight to twelve weeks in cool darkness-a cold frame, root cellar (I know, who has them any more..) cool basement or even a trench out in the vegetable garden.Can you use a refrigerator? yes you can! If they are outside in the ground, fill clean sand around the pots, then cover with straw and a few boards to keep them tucked in for the rooting period. Bring in a few pots at a time to draw out the season-well before the real spring has arrived! Easily found antique varieties include pale pink "Lady Derby"-1875, pure white "L'innocence"-1863, Easter yellow "City of Haarlem"-1893 and the beautiful salmon "Gypsy Queen"-1927  Try your local garden center, or order on line from McClure and Zimmerman, Old House Gardens, or Brent and Becky's bulbs. If the provenance isn't important to you, just buy a mixed bag from your local home store and be pleasantly surprised when they bloom, you won't be disappointed! Most will cost a dollar or less, more rare varieties will be much higher in cost.

Hyacinths make wonderful cut flowers, and are spectacular for personal flowers in elegant wedding work, I like to use Hyacinths with other spring bulb flowers like Anemones, that compliment each other.This is a simple bride's maid bouquet, accented with aqua-teal French ribbon...and it smells so good!

Hyacinth "Peter Styvesant" with green Dianthus and double Tulips...below, with white Hydrangea and ageratum

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Night of Family-Halloween for Me

I have always loved Halloween, in old Irish Samhain (Sow- won), celebrating the spirit world, and all those souls that came before me. Far from a night of terror, I think of it as a soul celebration, and invite all those that have passed before me to join and be celebrated.

I started my day by cleaning the house, getting things "in order" for the week. I went out to the vegetable garden and found the last three pumpkins to carve for the holiday.This year, I decided to carve my jack o' lanterns with the family names of my Irish heritage. I thought it might help welcome my family to my spirit party!

I began looking for all things Halloween, and found some likely candidates...My glossy black Sumatra hens were dressed for the occasion! They had a large helping of pumpkin guts as their "treat"for the special day. At work, I've carved A LOT of jack o' least twenty five I think, most were for a fantastic party one of my clients has for her lady friends, they go all out!

After I fed the birds their treat, I went to the greenhouse and found some more likely holiday faces, the always cheerful pansies gave good goblins with a sunny disposition ;)

I spent the rest of the daytime gathering wood and brush for a huge bonfire later in the evening. The days get shorter and shorter, and I was really rushing that last hour of light, assembling my pyre for the night. I came inside and made dinner, then set about carving my pumpkins for the night. I loved that they were my own produce-I buy a ton from a specialty grower near me, and they do a great job(Schaakes' Pumpkin Patch) but these were the last from my own hands, and that gave my great joy! When I was done with the carving, I lit them, along with lots more candles and had dinner. Was I alone? funny, I felt like I was in great company! I took my orange friends out to the site of my bonfire, and gave them a proper seat for the festivities-an old Victorian wirework plant stand was perfect!

Then it was time to set it all a blaze....the perfect temperature for a good spirited fire. It only took a few moments for it to really take off, and boy, did it burn!!!

I enjoyed the flames until after midnight, the sparks rising higher and higher, disappearing into the black and starry night. When the fire was behaving in a more manageable way, I took the pumpkin with my mother's family name up into the woods where my mom's memorial Oak tree stands, surrounded by her ashes- and placed the ceremonial offering at the base of her tree, glowing a beautiful, rich orange in the dark.

Maybe, just maybe,I'll have flesh and blood guests for this event someday, but I was not alone, that's for certain! I hope everyone takes a bit of time to celebrate those that came before us, and say thank you for the life we all enjoy! Happy Halloween to you all ;)