Popular spring flowering bulbs that produce dense columns of brightly coloured, heavily scented flowers. Useful as spring bedding, with a neat compact habit and long flowering period. Can be grown indoors or outdoors.

Family: Asparagaceae
Botanical Name: Hyacinthus
Common Names: Hyacinth

Foliage: Deciduous, glossy green, broad strap-like leaves.

Flowers: Strongly fragrant, bell or open-star shaped flowers with recurved petals. Borne on thick upright stems, in either loose or dense clusters. Good range of bright colours available, from white, cream and pink to purple and blue.

Flowering Period: Spring.

Soil: Any moist but well-drained, moderately fertile soil (chalk, clay, sand or loam). Any pH.

: Full sun. Grow in a south, east or west facing aspect in a sheltered location.

Habit: Upright, tufted.

Type: Bulbous perennial.

Origin: Central and eastern Mediterranean areas.

Hardiness: Fully hardy in most regions of the UK.

Toxicity: Harmful if eaten. The sap can irritate sensitive skin.

Planting and Growing Hyacinthus

Excellent for bedding displays, sunny borders and containers. Very easy to grow. They make a good show, mixed with other spring flowering bulbs and plants.

Specially prepared (conditioned) bulbs can be purchased in late winter for early indoor flowering. The fragrance from a single flower can fill a room. After flowering, they can be planted out in the garden, in early spring, and left to grow on.

For outdoor displays, plant bulbs in the autumn 4-5in (10-12cm) deep (depending on bulb size), and a minimum of 6in (15cm) apart. They thrive best in a moderately fertile, deeply-dug, sandy loam, with plenty of humus added. Choose a sheltered sunny site and add some grit to the base of the planting hole if the soil is very heavy. Best in full sun, but tollerant of part shade.

Avoid waterlogged soils and protect bulbs from winter wet.

Hyacinths do not naturalise well, especially in grass or heavy clays. Unless the soil is very fertile, open and well drained. The flowers can decrease in size as the bulbs mature but they will spread to form reasonably sized clumps.

Taking Care of Hyacinthus

If you are naturalising the bulbs (leaving them in the soil to flower each year), apply a liquid feed every two weeks during the growing season and apply an organic mulch or thin layer of compost in spring. Modern hyacinths have large bulbs and small leaves, which makes it difficult for them to build up enough reserves for the next season, so feed them well and never cut back the leaves.

Bedding forms can be lifted after the leaves have died down. Store in a cool dry place and replant in the autumn.

Pruning Hyacinthus

No pruning necessary. Remove the flower heads as soon as they have gone over. Do not remove the leaves but allow them to fade away naturally.

Pests and Diseases

The young shoots are susceptible to slug and snail damage.

Bulbs can be affected by a number of fungal and virus diseases. Any affected bulbs should be discarded.

Propagating Hyacinthus

Increase by lifting the bulbs when dormant (in the summer) and removing any offsets.

They can also be propagated from seed but they may take three or more years to reach flowering size.

Popular Varieties of Hyacinthus Grown in the UK

There are two basic types. Dutch hyacinths, which are spring flowering with stiff stems of closely-packed flower spikes. Roman hyacinths are early-flowering, with slender lax stems of loosly-packed flowers. Both types are strongly scented. Roman hyacinths are usually sold by colour rather than named varieties.

Dormant bulbs can be purchased in stores and garden centres in early autumn for immediate planting. They will also be available, in flower, in the spring, although at a much higher price.

Hyacinthus orientalis (common hyacinth) a parent of the popular Dutch hybrids. Flowers from April to May. Height up to 12in (30cm), spread 4in (10cm). Good cultivars include:

'Amethyst', lilac-mauve,
'City of Haarlem', primrose yellow,
'Delft Blue', porcelain blue,
'Gipsy Queen', orange,
'Jan Bos', rose-red,
'King of the Blues', deep indigo blue,
'L'Innocence', almost pure white,
'Lady Derby', shell pink,
'Ostara', blue,
'Pink Pearl', deep pink,
'Princess Irene', pale pink,
'Queen of the Blues', pale blue,
'Queen of the Pinks', deep pink,
'Oranje Boven', salmon,
'Scarlet Perfection', double red,
'Tan Bos', red,
'Yellow Hammer', creamy yellow.

Hyacinthus orientalis albulus is the parent of the Roman hyacinth, producing several smaller flower spikes to each bulb. Flowers March to April. Colours range from blue, white, pink and purple.

Hyacinthus amethystinus (now reclassified as Brimeura amethystina), or the amethyst hyacinth, produces widely-spaced pale blue, dark blue or violet flower spikes in late May. A white cultivar ‘Alba’ is also available. A good species for the rock garden or wild meadow garden.

Hyacinthus Multiflora varieties have multiple slender stems of widely-spaced bell-like flowers. Ideal for informal and wild flower gardens.

Hyacinthus cynthella an old variety with smaller, more dainty flower spikes. Ideal for the rockery or containers. Unfortunately, they are no longer commercially available.