EARTH LADY: Buy hyacinths to feed your soul on winter days

Patience and persistence are necessary to force hyacinths to bloom indoors. (Photo by Margaret Gratz)

Patience and persistence are necessary to force hyacinths to bloom indoors. (Photo by Margaret Gratz)

A poet of ancient Persia once wrote:

“If of thy worldly goods thou art bereft,

And from thy slender store two loaves alone to thee are left,

Sell one, and with the dole

Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.”

After a cold January and with capricious February looming, the Earth Lady could not more heartily agree with the philosophy of this 13th century bard, and if one is inordinately impatient for spring, one can always force bulbs into bloom. Hyacinths, colorful and extremely fragrant when blooming on a windowsill on a chilly day, can bring unbridled joy to the most discontented gardener.

Forcing bulbs into winter bloom was all the rage during the Victorian era. Hyacinth bulbs were placed in specially designed vases filled with water and banished to a cold, dark cellar for eight to 16 weeks. After developing a healthy root system, the exiled bulbs were brought forth and placed in a sunny location, and before too long, hyacinths were abloom in many a Victorian parlor. The cold, formal parlors of this bygone era were ideal habitat for hyacinths and prolonged the bloom of this fragrant flower.

One does not have to be Victorian to force hyacinths to bloom in winter, but patience and persistence are necessary. Bulbs should be set just above, but not touching, the water in a forcing vase, and then the bulbs should be sent to a cold, dark room for the requisite time.

If a forcing vase is not available, hyacinths can also be forced to bloom in soil in pots. The bulbs should be planted close together, covered with soil and sent to a cool basement or garage to set their roots. When top growth appears, the hyacinths can then be brought inside, where they will bloom obligingly.

Forcing hyacinths is time consuming, and eight weeks ago it was Christmas. Who has time to think about forcing hyacinth bulbs when the halls need to be decked with boughs of holly? But do not fret if you were not thinking of hyacinths in December. Commercial growers understand our lack of foresight and profit from it, and florists, garden centers and even grocery stores will have pots of blooming hyacinths to gladden the heart and tempt the pocketbooks of the most dilatory gardener.

The Earth Lady is frugal by nature, but when winter hangs around like an unwelcome guest in no hurry to leave, splurging on blooming hyacinths is permissible. So on your next shopping foray to the grocery, forego junk food and buy hyacinths – as many as you like. Hyacinths are fat-free, sugar-free and gluten-free, and it is time to start your diet.

Heed the sage advice of that long ago Persian poet, and buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.

The Earth Lady by Margaret Gratz appears in the Daily Journal Home & Garden section once a month.