HYACINTH  (Gr. UaafOot), also called JACINTH (through ItaL giacinto), one of the most popular of spring garden flowers. It was in cultivation prior to 1597, at which date it is mentioned by Gerard. Rea in 1665 mentions several single and double varieties as being then in English gardens, and Justice in 1754 describes upwards of fifty single-flowered varieties, and nearly one hundred double-flowered ones, as a selection of the best from the catalogues of two then celebrated Dutch growers. One of the Dutch sorts, called La Reine de Femmes, a single white, is said to have produced from thirty-four to thirty-eight flowers in a spike, and on its first appearance to have sold for 50 guilders a bulb; while one called Overwinnaar, or Conqueror, a double blue, sold at first for 100 guilders, Gloria Mundi for 500 guilders, and Koning Saloman for 600 guilders. Several sorts are at that date mentioned as blooming well in water-glasses. Justice relates that he himself raised several very valuable doubleflowered kinds from seeds, which many of the sorts he describes are noted for producing freely.
The original of the cultivated hyacinth, Hyacinlhus orientalis, a native of Greece and Asia Minor, is by comparison an insignificant plant, bearing on a spike only a few small, narrow-lobed, washy blue flowers, resembling in form those of our common bluebell. So great has been the improvement effected by the florists, and chiefly by the Dutch, that the modern hyacinth would scarcely be recognized as the descendant of the type above referred to, the spikes being long and dense, composed of a large number of flowers; the spikes produced by strong bulbs not unfrequently measure 6 to 9 in. in length and from 7 to 9 in. in circumference, with the flowers closely set on from bottom to top. Of late years much improvement has been effected in the size of the individual flowers and the breadth of their recurving lobes, as well as in securing increased brilliancy and depth of colour.
The peculiarities of the soil and climate of Holland are so very favourable to their production that Dutch florists have made a specialty of the growth of those and other bulbous-rooted flowers. Hundreds of acres are devoted to the growth of hyacinths in the vicinity of Haarlem, and bring in a revenue of several hundreds of thousands of pounds. Some notion of the vast number imported into England annually may be formed from the fact that, for the supply of flowering plants to Covent Garden, one market grower alone produces from 60,000 to 70,000 in pots under glass, their blooming period being accelerated by artificial heat, and extending from Christmas onwards until they bloom naturally in the open ground.
In the spring flower garden few plants make a more effective display than the hyacinth. Dotted in clumps in the flower borders, and arranged in masses of well-contrasted colours in beds in the flower garden, there are no flowers which impart during their season March and April a gayer tone to the parterre. The bulbs are rarely grown a second time, either for indoor or outdoor culture, though with care they might be utilized for the latter purpose; and hence the enormous numbers which are procured each recurring year from Holland.
The first hyacinths were single-flowered, but towards the close of the 17th century double-flowered ones began to appear, and till a recent period these bulbs were the most esteemed. At the present time, however, the single-flowered sorts are in the ascendant, as they produce more regular and symmetrical spikes of blossom, the flowers being closely set and more or less horizontal in direction, while most of the double sorts have the bells distant and dependent, so that the spike is loose and by comparison ineffective. For pot culture, and for growth in water-glasses especially, the single-flowered sorts are greatly to be preferred. Few if any of the original kinds are now in cultivation, a succession of new and improved varieties having been raised, the demand for which is regulated in some respects by fashion.
The hyacinth delights in a rich light sandy soil. The Dutch incorporate freely with their naturally light soil a compost consisting of one-third coarse sea or river sand, one-third rotten cow dung without litter and one-third leaf-mould. The soil thus renovated retains its qualities for six or seven years, but hyacinths are not planted upon the same place for two years successively, intermediary crops of narcissus, crocus or tulips being taken. A good compost for hyacinths is sandy loam, decayed leaf-mould, rotten cow dung and sharp sand in equal parts, the whole being collected and laid up in a heap and turned over occasionally. Well-drained beds made up of this soil, and refreshed with a portion of new compost annually, would grow the hyacinth to perfection. The best time to plant the bulbs is towards the end of September and during October; they should be arranged in rows, 6 to 8 in. asunder, there being four rows in each bed. The bulbs should be sunk about 4 to 6 in. deep, with a small quantity of clean sand placed below and around each of them. The beds should be covered with decayed tan-bark, coco-nut fibre or half-rotten dung litter. As the flower-stems appear, they are tied to rigid but slender stakes to preserve them from accident. If the bulbs are at all prized, the stems should be broken off as soon as the flowering is over, so as not to exhaust the bulbs; the leaves, however, must be allowed to grow on till matured, but as soon as they assume a yellow colour, the bulbs are taken up, the leaves cut off near their base, and the bulbs laid out in a dry, airy, shady place to ripen, after which they are cleaned of loose earth and skin, ready for storing. It is the practice in Holland, about a month after the bloom, or when the tips of the leaves assume a withered appearance, to take up the bulbs, and to lay them sideways on the ground, covering them with an inch or two of earth. About three weeks later they are again taken up and cleaned. In the store-room they should be kept dry, well-aired and apart from each other.
Few plants are better adapted than the hyacinth for pot culture as greenhouse decorative plants; and by the aid of forcing they may be had in bloom as early as Christmas. They flower fairly well in 5-in. pots, the stronger bulbs in 6-in. pots. To bloom at Christmas, they should be potted early in September, in a compost resembling that already recommended for the open-air beds; and, to keep up a succession of bloom, others should be potted at intervals of a few weeks till the middle or end of November. The tops of the bulbs should be about level with the soil, and if a little sand is put immediately around them so much the better. The pots should be set in an open place on a dry hard bed of ashes, and be covered over to a depth of 6 or 8 in. with the same material or with fibre or soil ; and when the roots are well developed, which will take from six to eight weeks, they may be removed to a frame, and gradually exposed to light, and then placed in a forcing pit in a heat of from 60 to 70. When the flowers are fairly open, they may be removed to the greenhouse or conservatory.
The hyacinth may be very successfully grown in glasses for ornament in dwelling-houses. The glasses are filled to the neck with rain or even tap water, a few lumps of charcoal being dropped into them. The bulbs are placed in the hollow provided for them, so that their base just touches the water. This may be done in September or October. They are then set in a dark cupboard for a few weeks till roots are freely produced, and then gradually exposed to light. The early-flowering single white Roman hyacinth, a small-growing pure white variety, remarkable for its fragrance, is well adapted for forcing, as it can be had in bloom if required by November. For windows it grows well in the small glasses commonly used for crocuses; and for decorative purposes should be planted about five bulbs in a 5-in. pot, or in pans holding a dozen each. If grown for cut flowers it can be planted thickly in boxes of any convenient size. It is highly esteemed during the winter months by florists.
The Spanish hyacinth (H. amethystinus) and H. azureus are charming little bulbs for growing in masses in the rock garden or front of the flower border. The older botanists included in the genus Hyacinthus species of Muscari, Scilla and other genera of bulbous Liliaceae, and the name of hyacinth is still popularly applied to several other bulbous plants. Thus Muscari botryoides is the grape hyacinth, 6 in., blue or white, the handsomest; M. moschatum, the musk hyacinth, 10 in., has peculiar livid greenish-yellow flowers and a strong musky odour; M. comosum var. monstrosum, the feather hyacinth, bears sterile flowers broken up into a featherlike mass; M. racemosum, the starch hyacinth, is a native with deep blue plumscented flowers. The Cape hyacinth is Galtonia candicans, a magnificent border plant, 3-4 ft. high, with large drooping white bell-shaped flowers; the star hyacinth, Scilla amoena; the Peruvian hyacinth or Cuban lily, 5. peruviana, a native of the Mediterranean region, to which Linnaeus gave the species name peruviana on a mistaken assumption of its origin; the wild hyacinth or blue-bell, known variously as Endymion nonscriptum, Hyacinthus nonscriptus or Scilla nutans; the wild hyacinth of western North Amercia, Camassia esculenta. They all flourish in good garden soil of a gritty nature.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)