Tulips and hyacinths

We should be planting spring-flowering bulbs over the next few months but one type needs planting as soon as possible; prepared hyacinths. It was always exciting when the boxes of prepared hyacinths arrived when I was working at Nags Hall in the 80s. They were always displayed next to hyacinth glasses and I am sure that people thought they had to be grown in them. Even then, prepared hyacinths were rather old-fashioned and they seem even more archaic these days. They are a throwback to the days when there were few flowers available around Christmas time. Now that we have a wide range of flowering pot plants in the depths of winter they seem more like a ritual than anything else.

Yet rituals are good to observe and they punctuate the year. So mid September is always hyacinth-planting time.

Prepared hyacinths are the same varieties as garden hyacinths but have been heat-treated so they come into growth early IF we then treat them correctly. The bulbs are not the biggest but that is deliberate – the size and density of a hyacinth spike is dependant on bulb size and we don’t want the very biggest because they will flop over. In fact, hyacinths grown indoors nearly always flop.

The most important thing to remember is that nothing will go right if you don’t give your hyacinths a period of cool, in the dark, after planting. And that period must be ten weeks. We don’t have diaries or calendars any more but if you flicked back the pages from Christmas you would see that you need to get your hyacinths planted soon. The cool, dark period needs to be followed by about three weeks in the light, and warmth, to get them to bloom.

When planting in a hyacinth glass, pop a bit of charcoal in the water, if possible, to keep the water ‘sweet’ and fill the glass so the water level is ‘just’ below the base of the bulb when in position. The water level must not be above the base of the bulb or it will rot. Then place the planted bulb (or pots of bulbs) somewhere cool. The outside loo is perfect (I said these were archaic) but a shed is fine, but keep them in the dark too.

Knights have prepared hyacinths, and hyacinth glasses, in stock now. They also have lots of other bulbs, including tulips.

I was interested to see that, among their selection, there are some of the latest and most fashionable. Recent trends have been away from the bright reds and yellow and one that always sells out is ‘Belle Epoque’ (below). The coppery, brown and old-rose shades are all the rage and Knights have ‘Copper Image’, a sumptuous double that oozes sophistication. They also have ‘Danceline’, a double white with subtle red stripes.

But if you want a real showstopper, they also have ‘Sun Lover’, a bold double tulip with large, peony-shaped flowers that open yellow and age through orange to mandarin. Even better, it is sweetly seated and makes a real show, as you can see from this photo of when I grew it a few years ago.

If your soil is wet in winter, tulips are probably best in pots. I grow most of mine in pots now and, if well watered and fed they make good bulbs that are easy to keep for another year. Be generous and plant lots of tulips; you will be glad you did next April.

Jobs for the week

Look out for cabbage caterpillars on kale and sprouts – the late summer batch are at their worst now. Pick off or spray with an organic insecticide.

Sow new lawns or sow lawn patch on bare areas. Apply am autumn lawn food and/or mosskiller

Pull up annuals and bedding plants as they pass their best. Dig over the soil and replant with flowers for spring, such as forget-me-nots and pansies.

Deadhead buddleias to prevent seeding and keep the plants neat

It is the last chance to prune plums, if necessary to tidy them up. They must only be pruned when in leaf and never in winter.

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