I know I should be getting excited for Christmas and all that, especially with the beginning of Advent this Sunday. In Germany, the four weeks leading up to Christmas are filled with traditional baking and little celebrations, all lined up to brighten up those short and dark December days. Once Christmas is over and the New Year has been rung in, January beckons with equally short and cold days, but without the glamour and sparkle of Christmas preparations. In order to speed up the arrival of Spring I am planning to force a few hyacinth bulbs in glass vases, in the hope that the flowers will come to bloom when we need a lift.
Hyacinths are beautiful anyway, and you can get bulbs from around September onwards in various colours. Vases are a little harder to come by: they were rather fashionable in the Victorian period as well as the 1970s, which means you can pick up some lovely specimens in car boot sales and the like. My own little collection was completely destroyed in the hard winter two years ago, but more of that later. If you don’t have any vases handy, a pretty bottle with a slightly wider opening, such as a milk bottle, should do the trick. I don’t think you need to buy special bulbs for this, although I am aware that some are marketed in that way. I’ve always used ordinary hyacinth bulbs – although hyacinths are anything but ordinary with their delicate flowers and beautiful scent.
I always find that the term ‘forcing’ sounds a little harsh, because all you do is to trick the bulbs into developing roots – and flowers – a little ahead of their time. Some people begin at the end of September to have flowers in time for Christmas, making them an amazing and unusual Christmas gift.
All you need to do to start the process is to fill your vases with water and place the bulb on top of it: make sure they don’t touch the water – you should leave around 1cm or 1/2 inch between the bottom of the bulb and the water. Use rubber gloves when you handle the bulbs as they can cause an allergic reaction.
Next place them in a dark and cool space, such as a cellar, a larder or a shed. If it is too cold it will take a little longer, especially when the temperature drops below freezing as the water might freeze and your vases will explode. Hence my vase-inferno a few years back …
Check regularly to top up water; they will start developing roots and after around 2-3 months their bulbs will have come out fully and you can bring them out into the light. They will take another fortnight or so to come into flower and are bound to brighten up those winter afternoons! If you’d like to take a peak at the possible outcome, have a look at Julie‘s site – her collection of vases is amazing, never mind the mind-blowing array of different varieties in full bloom.