Back in autumn 2019, I planted 50 multiflora hyacinths ‘White Festival’ as a necklace inside my new curved rose beds, each bulb a foot from its neighbours – and thank goodness for that bit of accidental foresight. Here’s what they look like today, 16 March 2023. At least, this is ONE of them.
And this is another one of them.
Can you believe it? Each bulb has increased every year, and if I can count, each of these two neighbours has 19 flower stems pushing through the soil. Amazing.
I’d never grown multiflora hyacinths before, and was a bit sceptical when I received some lumpy bumpy bulbs, especially since they’re rather more expensive than their ordinary brothers and sisters.
But, the first spring, in 2020, just when we all needed a bit of cheering up, up they popped. A couple of bulbs produced 6 stems, all the rest produced 8. And the fragrance, for someone standing in the centre of the semi-circle, was positively heady. They’ve prospered each year since then.
If these bulbs are new to you, forget the normal hyacinths (which someone once described as looking like loo brushes stuck into the soil – and I can’t get that image out of my head.) Instead, think of rather muscular bluebells, just white. Well, you can get them in pink and blue as well, but I like the white ones. Each individual flower is the size and shape of a standard hyacinth flower, but they are more loosely arranged on the stem, and much more natural.
And yet, they aren’t natural. The bulbs are tampered with, to produce the multiflora effect. I didn’t know that.
it is a procedure that takes a full five years. The bulbs are grown for 3 or 4 years, then harvested in July after flowering. In the middle of the bulb is the embryo of next year’s flower.
The new flower is removed by cutting a small hole in the centre of the base plate, which sounds a little bit like a variation of the propagation practice of scooping – removing the whole base plate except for the rim, after which the bulb produces a lot of baby bulbs around that rim.
Instead, though, the multiflora hyacinth-to-be produces small bulbs inside the original bulb. In October, the whole bulbs are planted out, by hand. Machines can’t be relied on to get the bulb pointy bit up (I’m sure we can all relate to that). During the growing season that follows, new leaves start in the base plate between each layer of the bulb, and the young bulbs start to grow.
The summer after, the lumpy bumpy bulbs are ready to harvest. They are more a cluster of satellites living in the same skin, and are definitely different to normal bulbs. And you can see why they’re more expensive.
I’m often asked whether these multiflora hyacinths will eventually revert to normal, full-sized hyacinth bulbs. I’ve no idea, but they haven’t done so far, as you can see from the pictures above. Maybe I’ll find an expert to ask!