Hearty Hyacinth

Hyacinth 'Carnegie' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Hyacinth ‘Carnegie’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Hyacinths have been a part of plant history for as far back as records were kept.  In fact, the name hyacinth can be traced back some 4,000 years, when its blossoms were compared to the bluest waters. Greek mythology describes a beautiful youth named Hyacinth, who was adored by the gods Apollo and Zephyr.  When Hyacinth was tragically killed during a game of discus throwing, Apollo created a flower from his spilled blood and stained the flower’s petals with his own tears, thus creating its diverse pigmentation. Hyacinths were later mentioned by the Greek poet, Homer, as one of the flowers that comprised the couch that Hera, queen of heaven and earth, slept upon. Even Mohammed II, conqueror of Constantinople in the 1400’s and Suleiman, ruler of the Ottoman Empire in the mid 1500’s, were devoted growers of hyacinths. 

Hyacinth 'Blue Jacket' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Hyacinth ‘Blue Jacket’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

So, what is it about hyacinth that brought even the mightiest warriors to their knees? Was it the intoxicating scent as alluring as a sirens call? Was it colors of such intensity one paused to question if they were walking in a dream?  Perhaps it was the shape of each delicate, bell shaped flower erupting from an upright stem. Or maybe it was the way hyacinth magically appeared when so many other plants were still slumbering in the landscape.  For any or all of these reasons, hyacinth makes a perfect addition to the early spring garden.

Hyacinth 'Pink Pearl' with red twig dogwood in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Hyacinth ‘Pink Pearl’ with red twig dogwood (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Hyacinth, Hyacinthus orientalis, is grown from a bulb (like lilies and tulips) which is planted in the fall before a hard frost (usually October to early November).  Because they are shorter than other plants (8-10 inches tall) I plant them along the front of the border, about 6 to 8 inches deep in loosened soil (*note: Wear gloves when planting, as hyacinth bulbs may cause mild irritation when handling).  For best impact, hyacinths should be planted in groups (minimum of three, preferably five or more) allowing about four inches between each bulb.  I usually mark the spot with a small stick so I won’t accidentally step on the hyacinths as they are starting to come up.

White Flower Farm's Vivid Hyacinth mix in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

White Flower Farm’s Vivid Hyacinth mix (photo: White Flower Farm)

Once you’ve chosen a spot (or more) for these scent-sual beauties, the only other decision is color, and for that the selection is incredible.  Hues range from the purest white to the deepest indigo, and everything in between.  There are shades of buttery yellow (‘Yellow Queen’), cornflower blue (‘Delft Blue’), rosy pink (‘Pink Pearl’), violet purple (‘Miss Saigon’), beet red (‘Woodstock’), coral peach (‘Gipsy Queen’) and dazzling fuchsia (‘Jan Bos’).  And don’t be bashful about mixing things up with combinations of pastels, bold colors, or a little of both.  One of my favorite pairings is the deep magenta ‘Jan Bos’ with lighter rose ‘Pink Pearl’. (bulb sources: WhiteFlowerFarm.com and BrentandBeckysbulbs.com)

'Delft Blue' hyacinth in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

‘Delft Blue’ hyacinth (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Hyacinthus orientalis is a sun lover, hardy to zones 4-8.  Because they bloom in late April to early May (before most shrubs and perennials leaf out), you can easily under-plant them so that they receive the required spring sunlight, but have camouflage for the photosynthesizing foliage later in the season. Hyacinths are generally unappealing to critters because of their strong scent, and the bulb is poisonous to underground nibblers as well. Although they may benefit from a sprinkling of compost annually, hyacinth’s downfall is their bulbs can be prone to mold, and are usually short lived, requiring replacement every few years. However, the cost and effort is well worth the delight they provide come spring.

Forced hyacinths from Gardening Made Easy in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Forced hyacinths (Photo: Gardening Made Easy.com)

*A note about forcing: Hyacinth bulbs are recognized for their ease of forcing in winter, here are the basic steps if you want to try next winter:  Plant with bulb tip just above surface in soil based potting mix (be sure container has drainage holes). Store in dark place around 40- 45o (refrigerator or unheated garage) for ten weeks.  When shoots are an inch tall, gradually increase light and temperature exposure, and lightly water.  After flowering, the hyacinth may be planted outside in spring.

To read more about forcing and the history of hyacinths, please visit:




  1. Again, I learned something new! I didn’t know you could start them in the wirer, great idea! And such a wonderful smell….

    • Yes! You can have an early indoor spring by starting hyacinths (and some other spring bulbs) indoors. And there’s plenty of hyacinths and daffodils popping up at local gardens and grocery stores as well. Mine are starting to come up in the yard, as well. Spring is finally coming~

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