Sarah Raven

Gardening Women Tip of the Week: Growing hyacinths in glass vases (1840)

It's not too late to start hyacinths off in glass containers growing purely in water in time for Christmas (use prepared ones) or the New Year. If, like me, you have tried to grow them this way in the past and then found them at the back of the airing cupboard or in the garage in May, having forgotten all about them, read what Jane Loudon had to say about growing hyacinths in water in Gardening for Ladies (1840):

Hyacinth Original 1

'The very circumstance of growing hyacinths in glasses, where they vegetate and send down their roots exposed to the full influence of the light, appears contrary to the usual effects of light on vegetation; and indeed the plants are said generally to thrive best, when the glasses are kept in the dark till the roots are half grown. However this may be, it is quite certain that hyacinths in glasses should never be kept in darkness after their leaves have begun to expand; as, if there be not abundance of light to occasion rapid evaporation from the leaves, the plants will soon become surcharged with moisture from the quantity constantly supplied to their roots, and the leaves will turn yellow, and look flaccid, and unhealthy, while the flowers will be stunted, or will fall off without expanding.'

So there we are. Send yourself a reminder to keep checking for the expanding leaves and then bring them into a light but coolish place. When colour appears on the florets then bring into the warm to fill the house with perfume.

You can read more about the history of hyacinths in the home in my book, Potted History (Frances Lincoln, 2007). Sadly, the type of glass hyacinth vases that Jane Loudon and her contemporaries used are collectors' items now. Because of their fragility, secondhand vases rarely survive but there is a useful blog dedicated just to them. Luckily Sarah Raven has some lovely mauvey-purple ones on sale this year if you can't run to originals.

IMPORTANT: Remember that hyacinth bulbs contain an irritant that many people are allergic to. As a precaution, they should be handled with plastic gloves.