In Greek Mythology Hyacinthus was a youth caught in a love triangle between Apollo (God of beauty and Art) and Zephyrus (The West Wind). When Hyacinthus gave his entire affection to Apollo, Zephyrus became insanely jealous and killed the youth.
But the other Gods sided with Apollo and placed a spell over the slain boy so that love would prevail. From the bloody ground sprang the hyacinth which to this day freely gives the world fragrance and beauty in honour of his beloved Apollo.
The Hyacinths are members of the lily family mostly native to the Mediterranean region. Several related genus make up the group of bulbs commonly known as Hyacinths.
These include the Dutch, Roman, Spanish, English, and Grape Hyacinth varieties. Hyacinthus orientalis, the Roman Hyacinth, looks very much like a spindly version of the much larger Dutch or Garden Hyacinth.
From this variable wild species have come most of the large, fragrant Dutch hybrids commonly grown today. The Roman Hyacinth is quite hardy, multiplies quickly in a wide variety of situations and naturalizes beautifully under trees.
All it's hybrid forms, the Dutch Hyacinths, are much more delicate creatures especially created by commercial growers for maximum blooming size. Over the past 200 years there have been hundreds of
named hybrids in single and double forms with white, blue, yellow, orange, red, lavender, purple and multi-coloured flowers.
The bulbs produce dense spikes of waxy, tubular, bell-shaped flowers with a delicious fragrance. Flowering from late winter through early spring, they are excellent for bedding, borders, or planted in clumps. Plant 15cm apart and 5-10cm deep in an open, sunny, freely draining site.
The Dutch grow them in beds of sand covered with enriched, sandy compost. Dutch Hyacinths are excellent container plants easily forced into early bloom indoors over the winter.English and Spanish Hyacinths (Bluebells) are very similar species.
Formerly they were known as Scilla (sill'a) and Endymion but have been recently reclassified as Hyacinthoides. These have small, potato-like bulbs with long, flattish leaves and spikes of nodding, bell-shaped flowers in blue, pink or white.
The Spanish Bluebell grows much better in Auckland than the English Bluebell that prefers cooler conditions. Spanish Bluebells are bigger plants (30-40cm) with 12-15 flowers per spike compared to the English 6-12 flowers.
English Bluebells are lightly fragrant, the flowers are more bell-shaped, and the top of the spike often bends over. If still confused, Spanish Bluebells have blue anthers and English have cream anthers.
Grape Hyacinth, Muscari, includes 30 species of tiny bulbs with grassy foliage and delicate blue spikes of fragrant flowers that resemble inverted bunches of grapes. Most species are under 15cm. and look very effective when massed in naturalized plantings or in containers.
They are very hardy, multiply quickly, put on a reliable show every year, and need no special care to do it. Hyacinths of all varieties are among the most easiest and rewarding bulbs for all to grow.
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