Most gardeners are familiar with the tightly packed, stiff flower spires of hyacinth, one of the first fragrant flowers of spring.
A spring garden would be a little empty without hyacinths, either the classic pastel colors like “Fondant” pink and “Blue Jacket” purple-blue or more vibrant colors like “Jan Bow,” a fuchsia-red beauty.
Less familiar are the old-fashioned multi-flowering hyacinths (Hyacinth orientalis). These flowers are more relaxed and looser than ones we typically see each spring and more closely resemble hyacinths of long ago.
Rather than producing a single stalk, multi-flowering hyacinths produce numerous slender stalks from a single bulb. The result is an early-blooming hyacinth that looks like a bouquet.
The bulbs have a tendency to naturalize, and flowers can last for several weeks. They also are intensely fragrant.
Plant the bulbs in clusters between perennials in an existing bed or use them to create mass plantings in the lawn. Just make sure the area of lawn you choose doesn’t have to be mowed until the bulbs die back naturally.
Wherever you plant multi-flowering hyacinths, plan on four bulbs per square foot for a nice display. To determine the square footage, multiply the planting site length by its width.
Wear gloves to keep hyacinth bulbs from causing skin irritation. If your skin becomes itchy, wash thoroughly with soap and water.
Varieties to look for:
“Nouvelle Orleans,” a blend of blue, pink and white flowers with spires that stand 10 inches tall, heavily perfumed.
“White Festival,” 5 to 7 stems per bulb, creamy buds open to pristine white, blooms early to mid-spring.
“Pink Festival,” ballerina-pink, wonderfully fragrant, up to six flowering stalks per bulb, slightly reflected tubular florets.
“Blue Festival,” purple-blue with edging, blooms in April and can reach 8 to 12 inches tall, very fragrant.
An added bonus is that “Festival” hyacinths can be easily forced indoors. Pot bulbs in mid-October and chill them in a dark spot at 38 to 45 degrees F for 10 to 12 weeks. Water moderately throughout the prechilling period. Alternatively, place the bulb in a hyacinth forcing glass with the water barely touching the bottom of the bulb. Maintain that water level while prechilling.
After 10 to 12 weeks, bring hyacinths into the house and into sunlight. Expect blooms in two to four weeks.