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GARDEN FANATIC: A plant forever young

“Hyacinths hinder young persons from growing ripe too soone.”–John Parkinson

 “Today as in the time of Pliny and Columella, the hyacinth flourishes...”–Edgar Quinet

Catharine was down south… immediately disinterested in the moment, I mindlessly surfed the television to “The Clash of the Titans,” a fantasy I had endured numerous times.  However, inspired by the mythological tale, I recalled the Greek legend of Hyacinthus, a passionate story of friendship, jealousy, treachery, and remembrance.   

An extraordinarily beautiful youth, much appreciated by Apollo, Hyacinthus was murdered by Zephyr, a jealous rival. The myth recounts that wild hyacinths sprang and flourished from the blood of the slain boy... the plants always bending toward the ground; a reminder of Apollo’s eternal grief. 

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The hyacinth was introduced in the 16th century to Europe from Turkey. It quickly became the latest continental plant craze and has retained popularity as a garden plant over the centuries. The original four colors of red, blue, white, and yellow have been joined by two thousand named cultivars. Hyacinths are a colorful and fragrant presence in the spring... they can even be forced to bloom in the winter if one is in need of cheering. 

When purchasing hyacinths this month, be aware that the size of the flower spike is directly related to the size of the bulb (I’ve heard that one before). The largest bulbs should be reserved for use in containers, while smaller bulbs are fine for use in the garden. Flowers tend to become smaller in succeeding years, but will maintain their same color and fragrance. Bulb food is the answer to maintain maximum flower size, as hyacinths are very greedy feeders.

 Hyacinths look best when planted in clumps in the garden, not in a huge mass of color.  They may be planted amongst low-growing perennials or bedding annuals. Bulbs of a single color, beneath a small specimen tree, are truly spectacular during March and April. Since hyacinths have heavy and delightful scents, their location may be dependent on your reaction to the possibly cloying scent. Plant larger bulbs six inches deep, smaller bulbs four inches. 

Hyacinths planted in containers should be potted in a potting soil... with the tip of the bulb near the surface. Initially, the bulbs should be kept in the shade and covered with thick mulch. When the tops show, place the plants in full sunlight.  

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Hyacinths also force well in water, in special hyacinth glasses, the bottom filled with pebbles and water.  They mustn’t be hurried until well rooted... keep them in a dark, cool place until roots fill the bottom of the glass. Once the top growth appears they may be moved into light and then placed in a sunny window when the leaves are uniformly green. 

Like many bulbs, hyacinths have tiny barbs on their outside surfaces that can be irritating... always wash your hands after handling. Plants growing in wet soil may occasionally wilt and die from either bacterial soft rot or a fungus rot. The bulbs become soft and should be discarded. If these bulb rots become widespread after several years of continuous planting, do not replant with hyacinths for several seasons. 

Apollo’s love for Hyacinthus was based on the boy never achieving “ripeness.”  In other words, he desired the impossible... unchanging youth.  As for me, I am blessed with my unchanging love for Catharine (and bulbs).  See you next time. 

Steve Kawaratani is happily married to award winning writer, Catharine Cooper, and has two cats and five dogs. He can be reached at (949) 497-2438, or e-mail to plantman2@mac.com

 


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