One of my favourite Christmas recipe books is Sarah Raven’s Complete Christmas. It has two of my best things – lots of completely delicious (and very makeable) recipes for Christmas goodies and meals, and amazing ideas for home grown floral decorations for the Christmas and New Year period. The section on floral decorations is more for me to look at and envy really, but one thing I sometimes do manage to achieve is forcing some hyacinth bulbs to flower over the festive period. Here’s Sarah Raven’s inspirational picture – yes I have bulb vase envy:
Forcing hyacinth bulbs really is super-simple to do if you want to have a go. It’s a bit late for them to be flowering at Christmas now, but still worth doing because they look and smell gorgeous in the dark cold months of January. You need prepared bulbs, which will still be available in the garden centre (they will be labelled ‘Prepared’ – but you knew that…), and bulb forcing vases with narrow necks – which will also be available at the garden centre, I’m sure. I have some lovely vases from Nkuku, and I have picked up some pretty ones on Ebay too. If you want to get bulbs and vases all in one go – this seems like a great little offer.
Once you have the bits and bobs, all you need to do is fill the vase with water, so that it sits just below the bulb (but not touching the bulb, because this may cause it to rot). A warning – if you are like me and prone to skin reactions then it’s worth wearing gloves when handling the bulbs – some people are allergic to them, and they can cause a very itchy response (as I know to my cost!).
Sit the bulb in the narrow neck of the vase, then put the whole thing in a dark cool place for anywhere between 8-12 weeks (I gather it is very dependent on which cultivar you are using) – I put mine in a cardboard box (closed) in my garage. Here are my bulbs, all ready to be hidden away.
I remember my dad used to put potted hyacinth bulbs under our beds (when we didn’t have central heating) and I don’t think we helped them any by continually getting them out from under the bed to see what was happening with them… All you actually need to do, is check them once a week or so to make sure the water levels are ok, and so that you can bring them inside when they are ready.
Bring the vases into the light when the green shoot coming from the top of the bulb is 4-5cm (1.5-2 inches) long – the shoot should be bulging a bit where the flower is developing inside. If you bring it in too soon, you are unlikely to have successful results, so don’t rush it! At first keep them in a cool room away from too much bright light, then you can move them to their final position, which should be out of any draughts, close to a window, and away from artificial heat.
If you get a wriggle on and do them now, they would make fantastic inexpensive Christmas gifts if you can get hold of pretty bulb forcing jars – but I confess I will be keeping all mine for myself.