Brought low and confined indoors by a winter virus, GINA PARKINSON takes solace in the sight and scents of indoor hyacinths.

HAVING been laid low with a winter virus this past week, the garden has seemed very far away. Certain members of my family measure the extent of my claim of illness on my ability to do "a bit of gardening", the recent judgement being "she must really be ill" as I haven’t been up to doing anything but complain. I am not a good patient.

What has cheered me up considerably are some indoor hyacinths, a Christmas gift from my parents. Three bulbs planted alongside each other in small square pots, they had been kept in the dark before being brought out to green up a week or so before the day.

Since then we have watched them get bigger, the shiny pointed leaves gradually opening to reveal tight buds. These buds are green to begin with, lightening as they expand, as if the colour has to stretch with the increase in girth of the buds.

A flush of pink began to show, along with the faintest hint of perfume, just before the flowers opened. The middle bulb is now well into flower, a beautiful rich pink with its friend on one side not far behind. The third will be later, as it has grown more slowly. It was perhaps a smaller bulb than the others and needs time to catch up but it means the flowering time will be prolonged.

Hyacinths are highly scented spring-flowering bulbs that like to be planted in well-drained, humus-rich soil in sun or light shade. Despite their exotic looks, they are hardy when planted in the ground, so long as they don’t sit in winter wet earth.

They are less frost-hardy in containers and should be moved to a sheltered spot and protected from the cold weather with a thick layer of bubble wrap.

The bulbs can also be lifted and stored, which makes room for summer bedding in the garden or pots. Trim off the flowers once they begin to brown, allow the foliage to die and then lift the bulbs.

Let the soil around them dry before gently brushing it off and store the bulbs in dry compost in a cool, dry place.

Planting out time is September to October at a depth of 15cm and spacing 10cm or so, depending on the size of the bulb. Don’t be disappointed if the flower spike is less floriferous in subsequent years. New bulbs have the advantage of having been grown in very fertile conditions before sale, which aren’t replicated in our own gardens. However, the more delicate flower spikes are just as attractive.

The hyacinths we have in the house are grown from specially prepared bulbs rather than ones used for outdoor bedding. They will come with instructions on how to get them to flower early indoors, bearing in mind that with hyacinths the time needed can vary depending on the cultivar.

The basic need after planting is for a period of cold and dark, followed by gradual introduction of light and warmth. Then they are ready to be put into their flowering position and enjoyed. After flowering they can be treated in the same way as garden-grown specimens and planted out in the garden in autumn. They can’t be forced a second time to flower early.

There are two things to beware of with hyacinths. The first is that all parts of the plant can cause stomach upset if ingested and the bulbs can cause skin allergies. It is good idea to wear gloves when handling them.

The second is the intensity of the perfume, especially from indoor-rown specimens. It can be overwhelming in a warm, confined space so the plants are best placed in a cool spot where there is space for the fragrance to flow. A hallway or porch or cool conservatory would be ideal.

Weekend catch-up

IT’S time to cheer up these often dull days of January and February with a bright pot or two.

There are plenty of plants to choose from, ornamental cabbages in pinks and creams, contrasting cyclamen in similar shades as well as white, purple and red and of course lovely violas in many colours.

Bring the plants together with the long strands of dark-veined ivy or small evergreen shrubs and the display should last for several weeks.

For something more subtle ivy can be used again but this time with snowdrops which can be bought ready planted in small plant pots. They can be gently eased out of their container and put into their flowering spot preferably near the house where they can be enjoyed.

Gardening TV and radio


6.15am, BBC2, Great British Garden Revival. Carol Klein puts in a word or two for daffodils.

7.15am, BBC2, Glorious Gardens from Above. Christine Walkden spots Cumbrian gardens from a hot air balloon.

8am, BBC Radio Humberside, The Great Outdoors. With Blair Jacobs and Doug Stewart.

9am, BBC Radio York, Julia Lewis. Gardening related news and features from the gardens and countryside of North Yorkshire.

9am, BBC Radio Leeds, Tim Crowther and Joe Maiden.

2pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Chairman Eric Robson and panellists Matt Biggs, Bob Flowerdew and Anne Swithinbank answer questions from the audience at Arundel Castle, West Sussex.


3pm, BBC R4, Gardeners’ Question Time. Peter Gibbs presents the programme from the University of Reading.

8pm, Sky1, Show Me Your Garden. The horticultural challenge is in Ireland this week.

9pm, BBC2, The Big Allotment Challenge. Two gardeners will leave the allotment this week as the five remaining contestants battle it out for three final places. This week they have to produce show worthy okra, table swags and pickles and chutneys.