Growing Grape Hyacinth – Muscari

With its glorious shades of violet and blue, there is no more colourful flower for spring and early summer flowering than the Grape Hyacinth. Most bulb-lovers know the vivid ‘Heavenly Blue’ variety which makes an attractive edging to a path or provides the rockery with patches of vivid colouring in April, but so few ever trouble to grow it other than by itself and even fewer realize that like the snowdrop and crocus, there are at least twenty species known to grow well in Britain which have a flowering range covering the period mid-March until mid-June, a period when most of the crocus and snowdrop species have had their day and are producing but little bloom. Almost all the species are cheap to buy, with a few exceptions and likewise they are of easy culture. Grape Hyacinth growing

That most bulb catalogues list only one or two varieties is our loss for they produce the most vivid patches of colour in almost any soil and are all perfectly hardy and easy. But they should be used lavishly, more so than any other flowering bulb, for only in this way will they produce an effect of the maximum brilliance. Plant them with the deep yellow King Alfred daffodil and with the dwarf daffodil, W. P. Milner, which is pure white – but plant in drifts and each will show off the brilliant blue of the muscari. But here use Heavenly Blue or latifolium. With Primula Wanda or the royal purple P. Fruhlingzauber, plant Muscari Argaei album which will act as a foil with its dainty spikes of snowy white blooms and attractive pale green foliage.

With hose-in-hose Primula, Lady Lettice, which is of cream and apricot colouring, plant in patches M. paradoxum which bears a neat spike of greenish blue, a most distinct colour. I have planted this species with Primula Lady Lettice down a crazy paving path and it never fails to cause comment and delight throughout April and May.

If the white Argaei album proves difficult to find, azureum alba is equally delightful but is three weeks earlier to flower and so Primula Romeo may be a better companion. Or plant with several of the Muscari species, but do marry those species that flower at the same time.

Like the snowdrop, grape hyacinths will bloom to perfection under a shrub border which is given an occasional mulch – they are in fact more tolerant of adverse soil conditions than most bulbs but they do enjoy an occasional mulch of peat and old mushroom-manure.

PLANTING

Plant 8 cm. bulbs the same depth as the snowdrops and at any time in September, so that they will have become thoroughly established by mid-winter. If planted in a border or under a wall in masses, it will be possible to dig up clumps in early March as soon as the frost is out of the ground and to place them in 60-size pots in a cold frame or in the home where they will soon come into flower. After flowering both the muscari and the snowdrop should be stood outside either in the pot or knocked from it with the ball of soil intact and the bulbs should be allowed to die down naturally. When dry, the bulbs should be stored until ready for planting again in the open in September.

After several years, the clumps do tend to become overcrowded and should be lifted and divided. Many small bulbs will be found clinging to the parent bulbs and these too should be removed and replanted in September. I find that the most suitable time for lift ing and dividing is during early summer just before the foliage has died down. They may then be easily located. Before replanting, work into the soil any humus-forming material together with a small quantity of fine shingle or coarse sand. Muscari best enjoy a sunny position under a wall, but they are most tolerant of shade and adverse soil conditions too.

To those who enjoy a scented flower, I would recommend the tiny species, moschatum flavum, which still possesses the true musk perfume and from which the muscari originally took its name. This romantic little plant should be set in a seed pan containing loam, peat and sand and some gravel chippings in September and should be brought into the house after Christmas. Plant a dozen bulbs to a pan and what a treat you will have.

Late in February, provided the bulbs are in no way forced, they will send up 5 in. spikes of purple and yellow which will possess the most magnificent perfume. Be careful not to give too much water as this precious little flower comes from the dry region of Asia Minor. Or plant a dozen bulbs under the wall of the house, near to the entrance door when their delicious scent will permeate the whole house on a warm, still day in early April. Plant with them a few bulbs of the Hoop Petticoat Daffodil, the lemon yellow Narcissus bulbocodium citrinus if you can obtain it or a few plants of the fragrant woodland perfumed Polyanthus, Barrowby Gem, with its heads of the purest lemon yellow. Should the weather be poor take a spray of each indoors and there drink of their scent to the full.

For a succession the following should be grown in drifts by themselves or mixed with other spring flowers:

  • Muscari Argaei album. Just as inexpensive as the common Heavenly Blue and equally as lovely though of the purest white. The blooms remain in excellent condition from April right into June.
  • M. armeniacum var. Cantab. This is a dainty new variety of purest Cambridge blue. It produces its bloom on 6-in, stems and is an ideal variety for the trough or rockery or in 21-in. Pots in the home. Like Argaei it flowers late, during April and May.
  • M. atureum. Very similar in colour to Armeniacum, and of much the same habit, though it flowers early, towards the middle of March. There is a white variety which is equally lovely and which received an Award of Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in 195 x.
  • M. botryoides. Flowering in April, the deep violet-blue flowers of this species look particularly attractive planted with the white form, alba.
  • M. comosum. Known to old gardeners as the ‘tassel hyacinth’, this is an excellent variety for cutting in early spring. The bloom is very delicately perfumed and is produced on stems up to 15 in. long. The spike is rich heliotrope at the top, shading to a pale greenish blue at the bottom. It will last ten days in water. The species Plumosum, known as the ‘feather hyacinth’ is also excellent for cutting.
  • M. latifolium. Flowering during March and April, this variety is outstanding in the colour and form of its bloom. The spike is of an intense blue-violet colour produced against a wide leaf of pale green. It is of dwarf habit and extremely prolific.
  • M. moscbatum flavum. The grape hyacinth with the real musk flavour and described in some catalogues as being of a purple-brown colour. Of dwarf habit it is an ideal plant to grow in pans or small pots for flowering in the home. The bloom is most inconspicuous, but its perfume is delicious. A more scarce form, moschatum major, is not too happy away from a warm, dry climate. It comes into bloom towards the end of March.
  • M. neglectum. Easy and free flowering, this variety should be planted in drifts when it will be seen at its best during early spring.
  • M. paradoxum. At its glorious best in April and early May when the spikes of rich blue shaded sea-green delight the eye and are even more showy when planted with M. polyanthum album. From Greece and Sicily.
  • M. racemosum. Bears deep purple grape-like clusters which possess a strange fruity perfume. Increases rapidly but seems to have fallen out of favour owing to the prostrate habit of its leaves.
  • M. Tubergenianum. Possibly the truest blue flower in existence unless it be Primula Blue Horizon. Both are of true August-skyblue. From Persia comes this species and bears its large spikes during April on stems 9 in. in length, making it ideal for cutting and bunching or for pot work.

All the longer-stemmed species are ideal subjects for cutting and bunching. Bunch in dozens, allowing the spikes to stand overnight in water before packing in anemone boxes. They will prove most profitable if boxes of both dark and light blue are made up or the white with one of the blue shades. In the home mixed bunches are most attractive in low, dark green glass jars.

All are excellent for indoor growing in pots when they will bloom about a month earlier than the times given for outdoor planting.

PESTS AND DISEASES

Apart from rotting of the bulbs caused by planting in a badly drained clay soil, I know of no troubles that will cause disappointment with either the Galanthus or Muscari, neither should they be troubled by birds as are the crocus species.

Growing for Cut flowers

Where possible, the grape hyacinths should be planted in quantity, for they will provide a charming sheet of colour. They are ideal for edgings to the flower border and for cutting, normally increasing fairly quickly by the offsets which form at the base and side of the bulbs.

One of the very best known of all is M. armeniacum, or ‘Heavenly Blue’, as it is most frequently called. Flowering in April, it has little 8-in, spikes of bright gentian-blue which provide a lovely display in the garden and are useful as cut flowers, especially as they are fragrant. M. atureum produces 6-in, spikes of bright blue, from the end of February.

M. botryoides coeruleum, or the Italian Grape Hyacinth, bears from the end of March pretty 6-in, spikes of dark-blue, bell-shaped flowers, while botryoides album, the white form, is an excellent contrast to the blues. M. cosmosum is an attractive species sometimes known as the Tassel hyacinth. The colour varies in the tz-in. Spike, the top of which is purple-blue, the lower part passing from brown to shades of green. It flowers in April and May, is sweet scented and good for cutting. There are several forms of cosmosum, including monstrosum, the beautiful mauve flowers, which appear in May and June on 8-in, stems, resembling purple feathers. M. cosmosum plumosum is the best known, and at the end of April produces striking and unusual plumes of reddish-purple flowers, the long-branched filaments being like silky, intertwined tufts; M. latiflorum is an uncommon sort, freely producing upright spikes of dense, hanging bell-shaped flowers, the top bells being sky-blue while the lower part is purplish-blue. There are other attractive species and varieties offered in the catalogues of bulb specialists.

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