OK, please tell me you get the pun of this clever title. Because I think what I did with these nice little bulbs is very clever and I’d like to think that you are too.
See, the bulbs are called grape hyacinths (Muscari sp.). They get that name because their bloom spikes look like miniature clusters of grapes. They are absolutely the best, most dependable source of true, deep blue in the bulb world. If any of you have ever been privileged to visit the incredible bulb garden at Keukenhof in the Netherlands, you know that this is the one indispensible bulb that sets off the millions of tulips in a color that tulips don’t have.
Grape hyacinths, only related to the big-flowered Dutch hyacinths by the fact that both belong to the lily family, have a long and honored history in the South as passalongs. This is because they, like many bulbs, have only nominal growing requirements — sun and moisture when they’re above ground and decent, well-drained soil. Their foliage comes up in winter, hangs around while they’re blooming in early spring, then dies down for the year. When they’re dormant, they require nothing from you — unless, of course, you plan on rototilling the area, in which case they require total abandonment of the idea. They will come up year after year after year and a number of species will spread by seed to form drifts. They also do great in containers, which is a great way to share them with a friend.
Outside of formal beds, you often see grape hyacinths growing at old homesites, in country gardens, and along drainage ditches by the side of the road. But the classic place to look for them is in cemeteries, where families have planted them to decorate the graves of loved ones for decade upon decade. According to Southern bulb expert Scott Ogden, the species you’ll most often find in Texas cemeteries is Muscari neglectum, which stands 10 inches high and sports blackish-blue flowers with white rims. This bulb, cultivated in Europe since 1568, is an excellent naturalizer. “Neglectum” is more than the species name — it’s a recommendation. Leave ’em along and they’ll do just fine.
My back yard is shady in the summer (though sunny in winter) and grass just won’t grow. So I’ve encouraged native moss to cover the ground and I’m quite happy. Moss doesn’t need watering, fertilizing, spraying, or mowing. But it still is just green. Therefore, I decided to plant grape hyacinths back there and let them seed and spread. I think they look rather nice in spring, even if I was too lazy to rake the leaves before I took the picture. The selection is Muscari armeniacum ‘Blue Spike,’ arguably the most dependable forcer and most popular of the lot. Scott says it won’t last as long as M. negelectum. We’ll see. This is their third year and they’re doing just fine — especially considering I planted them in the year we had a record drought.
So how many of you didn’t get the “knee-high” pun? Fess up. You owe it to yourself. And others.
Best source for grape hyacinths in the Grump’s haughty opinion? Scheepers.