Guest post by Melanie Falick.
I first learned about forcing hyacinths from Jane Brockett’s book The Gentle Art of Domesticity. I was the editor of the American edition of this wonderful book, which was originally published in England (where Jane lives). Apparently, forcing hyacinths is a common practice in England and, there, it is possible to buy bulbs that are prechilled so they will bloom very soon after you take them home and plant them. Here in the States I have never found prechilled hyacinths (we do have prechilled paperwhites), so I decided to learn how to do it myself.
Forcing is the process by which you trick a flower bulb into blooming off-season. In my case, that means that I convince my bulbs to bloom in my house in New York in January and February. There are a few different ways to do it; this is the method that works well for me.
In the photos below you can see the different stages of the process:
I order bulbs online sometime in October. When they arrive I “plant” them in my special glass hyacinth vases that suspend them over water and then put them in a refrigerator set to 45 degrees Fahrenheit from which I have removed the lightbulb. I don’t keep anything else in the refrigerator except for cans of diet soda (TAB to be exact) and seltzer. Some fruits and vegetables will give off a gas that will inhibit the forcing process and some foods will spoil at that temperature. Since I have an extra refrigerator, this isn’t a big deal for me. If you don’t have an extra refrigerator, you need to use a different technique, such as storing the bulbs in a chilly, dark basement in a paper bag).
For the next ten to fourteen weeks or so, I check on the bulbs from time to time to make sure there is enough water in each vase. I keep the water at a level where it is just barely touching the bottom of the bulbs and if it gets cloudy, I change it completely. Very quickly the hyacinth roots begin to grow downward, which is quite beautiful to watch through the clear glass and, then, gradually, the barely green stems begins to poke up from the top. In late January and when the stems are about 1 inch tall, I start taking the vases out of the refrigerator. I stagger this process so that I will have blooming hyacinths in the house over the course of a month rather than all at the same time.
Once I have taken a hyacinth vase out of the refrigerator, I place it on a bookshelf in a cool place that doesn’t get a lot of sunlight for a couple of days. Amazingly, within hours the stem starts turning from very pale green to a darker green. Photosynthesis at work. Next I move the hyacinth to a sunnier, warmer spot and then within about a week, the stem grows several inches and the clusters of small,, aromatic flowers begin to open.
This magical process always uplifts me. In fact, I actually depend on it to get me through the dark, dreary, and cold days of winter, when it’s so easy to feel glum. I once interviewed a woman who told me that she had discovered the secret to life, and it was growing things. James Taylor sings that the secret of life is “enjoying the passage of time.” Caring for the bulbs and then watching the flowers bloom—the secret revealed.
For more information about forcing hyacinths and other bulbs, visit Old House Gardens. To find forcing vases, Google “forcing vase” or “forcing jar.”
Melanie Falick is the publishing director for STC Craft / Melanie Falick Books, an imprint of Abrams. She is also the author of several knitting books, including Knitting in America, Kids Knitting, Knitting for Baby, and Weekend Knitting. She has published many books by Creativebug instructors, including Lynne Barr, Wendy Bernard, Livia Cetti, Natalie Chanin, Kaffe Fassett, Norah Gaughan, Liesl Gibson, Kata Golda, Gretchen Hirsch, Heather Jones, Kristin Nicholas, Rebecca Rinquist, Cirilia Rose, Heather Ross, Debbie Stoller, Betz White, and Kelly Wikinson.
These are the Creativebug classes Melanie teaches: