One of the things I vividly remember from my grandmother’s home when I was a child is the two coloured plastic vases she brought out every winter and planted hyacinth bulbs in. These bulbs growing indoors in winter, in water were like some magical science experiment to me. The plastic vases full of their twisting white roots and their colourful exotic flowers blooming indoors when it was so cold outside.
Though I have to warn you, this rose-tinted memory of my grandmother’s house does come with one negative. Hyacinths are known for their strong perfume which used to set my father off into fits of sneezing, so before you decide to embark on this project for your home, please do bear that in mind!
This year I’m recreating my indoor bulb memories by growing two hyacinths on the windowsill in our kitchen. They are really easy to grow, but you do have to follow some simple guidelines to ensure you get it right and you (hopefully) have blooms in time for the darkest days.
Forcing bulbs (prepared or DIY)
The process of rowing bulbs indoors ahead of the spring is called forcing bulbs, this is because you are tricking the bulbs into believing it is spring earlier than it is and ‘forcing’ them to flower early. Certain plants are more willing to be forced than others and the most popular are daffodils and hyacinths. Hyacinths also have the additional advantage of being able to be grown without soil, just in water which makes them an interesting curiosity too.
You can either force your own bulbs or buy them prepared. If you want to force your own it will require about five weeks preparation, during which time you place the bulbs in a dark and cold place (a garden shed, garage or even your fridge) to fool the bulbs into thinking they are experiencing winter, then when you move them into the warmer temperatures of a centrally heated house they think it is spring.
You can, fortunately, buy prepared bulbs too. Prepared bulbs will have already been through several weeks of cold and dark and will be found for sale in outside spaces of garden centres (kept here to keep them cold) you can just buy these, take them home and place them in a vase straight away.
In my garden centre, there was a large display of pick your own bulbs and a couple of small brown bags labelled as ‘Prepared’ which you could help yourself to and buy bulbs individually. If you buy them online you will usually have to purchase in quantity. Many will advise to ‘plant by October’ which is to get Christmas blooms, don’t worry though you can still plant later, flowering bulbs on your windowsill are just as lovely in January as on Christmas Day. It’s not too late!
What you’ll need
Other than your ‘prepared’ bulbs, you’ll also need a container to put them in. You can just plant the bulbs in soil in a flower pot in a conventional manner, but I think the fascination in forced bulbs lies in being able to see the roots, so if you want to grow them in water you’ll need a glass or plastic container. You can either use a specially shaped vase that is wide at the top with a narrow neck to support the bulb, or you can place the bulbs on small pebbles in a larger glass container or bowl.
For my children’s bulbs we ended up buying three different sorts of vases.
One I bought from Amazon and took about six weeks to arrive from overseas. Whilst we were waiting for it I bought a second delicate and expensive blue aquaculture vase and then the third was the cheapest of all and on sale next to the bulbs in the garden centre!
For some reason every bulb I have tried has taken a dislike to the aquaculture vase (that’ll teach me) and both are now growing in the cheap vases which costs a tenth of the price! So you absolutely do not need to spend a lot of money on this. Our bulbs were £1.29 each and the vases about £2.
Fill the vase with water and place the bulb just above the water. Don’t let the bulb sit in the water for too long as it may get soggy and can go mouldy!
How long it takes
Roots should start to grow from your bulbs within the first week. Flowering should occur about three weeks after placing them in the vase.