Grape hyacinths…do you love them, dislike them or really know them?
Many gardeners view grape hyacinths as ruffians, seeding freely and producing masses of tiny bulbils. But these delightful scented spring bulbs can be used in a wide variety of situations; you just need to know which plant to choose.
Naturalising – The cultivars of Muscari armeniacum seed freely and spread quickly, so they are perfect for naturalising in lawns and meadows. ‘Early Giant’ and ‘Album’ (a white cultivar) have large flowerheads that will stand out above a lawn. Consider planting the bulbs in wide rows or other shapes to create a more formal design.
Borders – Grape hyacinths look effective at the front of mixed borders or when combined with other spring flowers such as daffodils, squills and wood anemones. M. latifolium is a slow-spreading species with tall flower spikes that can stand above other foliage. The flowerheads have a pretty two-tone effect with dark blue fertile flowers at the base and pale blue sterile flowers at the top. Another plant that looks good in borders is M. botryoides ‘Album’ which has tall, graceful spikes with white flowers.
Containers – Grape hyacinths can be grown in pots and containers, either on their own or with other spring bulbs such as narcissi. Pale lavender-blue M. ‘Valerie Finnis’ and yellow M. macrocarpum ‘Golden Fragrance’ are eye-catching cultivars that will hold their own amongst other plants or create a stand out display by themselves.
Alpine Beds – Smaller species with a tidy habit are best displayed in raised beds with other low-growing plants. M. pseudomuscari and M. commutatum form small clumps and grow best in a sunny spot.
Forcing Bulbs – Some grape hyacinths force more easily than others. M. armeniacum ‘Christmas Pearl’ does not require a cold period and is easy to force: pot up bulbs in autumn, leave them for 12 to 16 weeks in a cool, dark, frost-free location, then move the plants into indirect sunlight to trigger growth. When they are 10-15cm tall move them to a sunny windowsill to encourage flowering.