Grape Hyacinths Aren’t Knee-High

March 17, 2009 | By | Comments (18)

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.

 

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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.

COMMENTS

  1. Lianne

    I totally didn’t get it. I’m even blonder than I look.
    p.s. I received a green houseplant for a gift this week. If I sent you a picture of it, do you think you could identify it so that I’ll know how to care for it? Thanks!

    March 17, 2009 at 9:27 pm
  2. David in Greensboro

    I got it! Pour me one and bring me a Moon Pie!

    March 17, 2009 at 10:32 pm
  3. Frances

    Hi Grumpy, I get it, being of a certain age from a place where they call it pop. Thanks for the add on sidebar, too. We inherited grape hyacinths, possible neglectum on our property. There are many thousands, if not millions of them, they spread so rapidly by seed and bulb multiplying. I think if you rototilled they would still come back, only many many more, like Disney’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice where Mickey chops the water carrying broom into many pieces only to have it rise up in huge numbers.
    Frances

    March 18, 2009 at 6:10 am
  4. Grumpy Gardener

    Lianne, send me the photo and I’ll do my best to help you. Anyone out there care to enlighten her about the pun?

    March 18, 2009 at 7:31 am
  5. Jean

    Nehigh Grape soda.Wonderful stuff…
    Nehigh grape hycianths!

    March 18, 2009 at 9:35 am
  6. Jean

    well I butchered the word
    hyacinth!
    I think RC cola and Moon pies went together. Both good and I am showing my age.

    March 18, 2009 at 9:39 am
  7. katy

    As a fan of M*A*S*H (and yes, I’m under 30) I get the grape knee high reference :o)

    March 18, 2009 at 9:54 am
  8. Lianne

    Ne-hi! Wow, do I feel stupid. Do those still exist? The peach ones were great.

    March 18, 2009 at 11:07 am
  9. Grumpy Gardener

    Ne-Hi now, Ne-Hi forever! But peach Ne-Hi? Why not watermelon or cantaloupe? Anything but grape is sacrilege!

    March 18, 2009 at 5:20 pm
  10. Jean

    I stand corrected on the spelling of the grape soda…why did I think it used to be spelled the other way? Maybe the spelling now is the shortened modern spelling?
    Grump…your grass looks nice in the back yard.

    March 18, 2009 at 6:01 pm
  11. Helen Yoest @ Gardening With Confidence

    Well, I didn’t get it – I kept going back to Kim Hawkes and her Kim’s Knee Highs. But now I get it. I love the look of them in the grass. Blooms too late for me though, I have already mowed twice. I sure do love grape Nehigh.

    March 18, 2009 at 6:16 pm
  12. Phillip

    I didn’t get it but that is not unusual for me. I wonder why we don’t see huge swaths of these planted like they do in the Netherlands?

    March 18, 2009 at 7:27 pm
  13. Nell Jean

    I always wanted a river of Muscari like at Keukenhof, decided I would settle for a trickle, ended up with a sprinkle.
    You should hybridize a new cultivar of Muscari that would thrive and multiply in zone 8. Name it Ne-Hi Grape.

    March 18, 2009 at 10:05 pm
  14. Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden)

    I drank a lot of that Nehi grape drink when I was a kid. I’d almost forgotten about it!
    The hyacinths are great in naturalized settings like yours. I’d love to plant up the wide trail (over the septic line) that runs through our woods to our field (septic field).
    Cameron

    March 19, 2009 at 8:43 am
  15. Grumpy Gardener

    Nell Jean,
    I’m too impatient to be a hybridizer, but think that Muscari neglectum would naturalize and spread just fine in Zone 8.
    Now that the Grump has rekindled memories of Grape Ne-Hi,any of you remember Cheer-Wine?

    March 19, 2009 at 1:09 pm
  16. Helen Yoest @ Gardening With Confidence

    Remember? Had one recently! There is a guy at the JC Raulston Arboretum with a stash of them!

    March 20, 2009 at 7:13 pm
  17. Grumpy Gardener

    I think Cheer-Wine is a Carolina thing. Someone at work brought me back a bottle and I drank it with gusto.

    March 22, 2009 at 8:13 am
  18. Four Easy Bulb Planters to Make Now – The Daily South | Your Hub for Southern Culture

    [...] two basic colors, white and yellow. I wanted more punch and variety this time, so I chose tulips, hyacinths, and grape hyacinths (Muscari). To get them to bloom together, I chose early-blooming types that [...]

    November 8, 2012 at 7:01 am