In Defence of Hyacinths

Two loaves, sell one, and with the dole,
Buy Hyacinths to feed thy soul

Hyacinths were soundly trounced in a recent post I read. Comments were also negative. Why, hyacinths are one of my favorite bulbs!

One of the complaints was that hyacinths do not look good in a flower bed, too formal?

Here, informally planted with emerging poppies and a bit of alyssum.

Hyacinths attract early butterflies in the garden. Here, sulphurs photographed after dark, and a dark swallowtail.

The hyacinths below are third and fourth year blooms, returning each year without attention.

The second year, blooms may be smaller. The third year they have recovered from adjusting to a new environment and often throw more than one stem. This clump is several years old. Poppies following the tulips hide the dying foliage, which takes a while to retire.

Hyacinths can be forced in water and stones, the same as paperwhite narcissi; hyacinths require a few weeks of chill first.

Right now I have hyacinth bulbs chilling in a refrigerator where no fruit is kept. Near Christmas, they will come out of chill and be potted in stones and water, some planted in ground, to bloom near Valentine’s Day.

Here’s a pic from when I forced lots of hyacinths for gifts, back when my ‘greenhouse’ was an unheated utility room with east windows.

Bulb experts often say to toss forced bulbs. I plant them out after bloom, taking care to preserve the green leaves and stem; usually they recover the second year after planting, having little to no bloom the first year.

Last year was my first time to plant Festival hyacinths, which are supposed to be similar to the old-fashioned Roman hyacinths. I can hardly wait to see them this spring.

I hope this gives you a new picture of hyacinths and their potential as garden plants and gifts. It isn’t too late to buy bulbs. You may have to order them, but vendors still have them available through this month. If you don’t want the trouble of chilling and planting in pots, potted hyacinths will be available in the spring, ready to bloom or blooming.

If you are writing for a British publication, use “defence,” but the American “defense” has the advantages of greater antiquity, similarity to the words from which it was derived, and consistency with words like “defensible.” The pronunciation used in sports which accents the first syllable (“DEE-fense”) should not be used when discussing military, legal, or other sorts of defense.
Common Errors in English Usage by Paul Brian.



  1. Randy Emmitt

     /  November 7, 2009

    First time visitor here. I love hyacinths, in fact I'm planting 5 new species in the garden. The past year we remodeled and added to the house most of our bulbs got destroyed in all the chaos. I love the aroma when they are in bloom, it really makes my day to walk in the garden and take in the aroma.

  2. Nell Jean

     /  November 6, 2009

    Forcing is the word we use, actually we are 'tricking' bulbs to bloom out of the usual season.

    Only bulbs that require a period of chill when planted in the ground require prechilling: tulips, hyacinths and some daffodils.

    Paperwhite narcissus and amaryllis should never be chilled, they are warm-climate bulbs.

    I seldom have many hyacinths blooming in my house. The joy for me is in the growing process. They usually go to new homes once the bud is visible, so the new owners can watch the blooms unfold before they enjoy the blossoms.

  3. Gloria Bonde

     /  November 6, 2009

    I enjoyed your "profile" comments about "gardening for yourself and frequently awed" – It made me smile. Thank you – Gloria

  4. Kathleen

     /  November 5, 2009

    Your post may have just converted me. I am one of those people who usually just force hyacinths indoors and don't plant them in the garden. I enjoy their fragrance and always feel it's best appreciated in the house. Your many photos of them in the garden give me pause. I may run up to my local nursery and see if I can find some. I do have a few in the frig but no where near the numbers you force! I bet it's wonderful in your house when they are all blooming.

  5. James Missier

     /  November 5, 2009

    Thanks for the tip on forcing bulbs.
    I have been scratching my head about it. So you chill them in the fridge and then plant them – is that what forcing means?

  6. Rosey Pollen

     /  November 5, 2009

    Give me a break! Who could hate such a sweet flower? To each his own, I suppose. I did not have much success time I tried to force them ,I think I did it all WRONG… now maybe I can go find a sale and do it right.

  7. ShadowySteeds

     /  November 5, 2009

    I love Hyacinths! Anything fragrant is tops in my book. The defence/defense explanation is great! I must admit that I have always thought "defence" was the improper way to spell it. That is my first "fact of the day" learning adventure! Best Wishes, Robin at The Flying Orchid

  8. vrtlarica

     /  November 5, 2009

    The best thing about them is that they smell wonderful! They are pretty and come in all different colours, but the fragrance is the best… I love them!

  9. inadvertent farmer

     /  November 4, 2009

    How can you not love something that smells so wonderful? They are also a punch of the blue color that is often needed…love 'em personally!

  10. Town Mouse

     /  November 4, 2009

    Well, that's just the thing about gardening blogs. The comments tend to agree with the original blog post. I think it's kind of charming. I could see myself coming down on either side of the hyacinth question. I love them when I see (and smell) them in someone else's garden, but don't think I'd want them in my own. Of course I might just consider forcing a few for those gloomy dark days.

  11. Gail

     /  November 4, 2009

    nell, I want to shout.."You go girl!"
    I planted them for the first time last year and they did nicely in the informal setting. I will wait and see if they return! I thoroughly enjoyed their pretty pink color. It was a pleasant change from all the daffy yellow!. I can't bring them inside…their fragrance is too overwhelming. gail

  12. azplantlady

     /  November 4, 2009

    I have never grown Hyacinths, but they are beautiful. I hope your post encourages others to try growing them.

  13. jeansgarden

     /  November 4, 2009

    I'm with you! I love hyacinths (especially the blue ones) and can never understand why so many garden writers pan them. (Of course, I also like magenta flowers, also often panned by experts; maybe I'm just a vulgar garden cretin?) Thanks for the defense. -Jean

  14. Grace Peterson

     /  November 4, 2009

    Hi Nell, Another way to enjoy hyacinth or any other bulb for that matter is to plant them in containers and allow them to chill outdoors in a protected area where they won't dry out. When green begins poking through move them to a prominent place on your patio or porch. You can also plant pansies or other winter friendly pretties to provide a longer season of interest. I think this is a great alternative for those naysayers who think they're too formal for the garden proper. To me the fragrance just shouts SPRING.

  15. Catherine@AGardenerinProgress

     /  November 4, 2009

    I love hyacinths too. I've bought them in bloom just so I could smell them. I've never grown any in my garden, mostly because I couldn't figure out where to plant them. You gave great ideas for that though.

  16. Teresa

     /  November 4, 2009

    I love hyacinths! They are so fragrant. They are by far my most favorite spring bulb! the purple ones especially! Also they always come back. I always get a thrill to see them emerge in the spring time.

  17. Mary Delle

     /  November 4, 2009

    I've often grown hyacinths indoors in the winter. Love them. Also, the changes to your blog look really good.

  18. Amy

     /  November 4, 2009

    Very pretty! When I have a question about bulbs…I know who to go to! Great post. -Amy

  19. Corner Gardener Sue

     /  November 4, 2009

    I didn't see that post. I like hyacinths. I have had some in a spot at church that doesn't get watered much, for a number of years, and they come up and bloom every year. I have a few at home, too. I don't have a good place to force bulbs inside. I"m doing good to keep my houseplants alive.

    Also, I like what Liza said. All flowers are pretty.

  20. janie

     /  November 4, 2009

    Great post, Nell. I love the hyacinths, just wish I had better luck growing them in Hot old Texas.

    I love the changes in your blog.

  21. Liza

     /  November 4, 2009

    Someone's hating on Hyacinths? They smell wonderful and they're beautiful. Plus, it's a flower – they're all inherently pretty! Sheesh!

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