Dedication: Alan Shipp and his hyacinths

‘Paul Hermann’ 1980

On Sunday I visited the National Collection of Hyacinths, kept by Alan Shipp in Waterbeach, just north of Cambridge. The annual open days are always the last weekend of March so I am sorry this post is a bit late for this year but make a note for 2018! I first visited Alan many years ago when I was researching for my book ‘Spring Bulbs’ – at the time it had the most comprehensive listing and photos of hyacinths – it may still be the case. But Alan has not stopped collecting and with breeding going on apace in The Netherlands he has been adding to his collection. I have written before about how many of the most fantastic doubles, with contrasting eye colours, have been lost since they were introduced hundreds of years ago, so I won’t go on about that but he has subsequently managed to get stock of a white with red eye, from Alan Street at Avon Bulbs, called ‘Gloria Mundi’, introduced in 1767. Unfortunately it was not in bloom on Sunday, unlike 99% of the rest!

Alan Shipp (third from right – above) now has  243 different cultivars making it the most comprehensive collection in the world, and he gets bulbs from all over, especially The Netherlands but a significant number from Lithuania and former Soviet Union countries where, perhaps because of the lack of links with the West, old plants were valued and preserved.

Alan sends his bulbs around the world too since he is the only supplier of the majority of these cultivars. He propagates them and sells them at a sales day in August. He always ribs me that in my book I somehow missed him out as a supplier so, to partly redress this –  if you want more details you can contact him at alan.shipp (at)

Here is just a selection of the jewels he looks after for us. You will have to imagine the perfume!

‘Roi de Belges’ 1860


‘All Stars’ 2006

As well as flower colour, variations also occur in stem colour, flower shape and tepal form. Also the placement of the foliage, doubleness of the flowers and bloom time.

‘Caribbean Dream’ – a gorgeous confection of blues and hints of purple


‘Grand Monarque’ 1863 – lovely contrast between the flowers and stems


‘Royal Navy’ launched at Chelsea 2012


‘Raphael’ 2005 – note those curious narrow tepals – a new flower shape


‘Sweet Innovation’  – changes colour attractively as it matures


‘Colosseum’ 1935


‘Princess Maria Christina’ 1948


The wild hyacinth


‘Goluboj Elektron’ sent from Lithuania


‘Bestseller’ – possibly the best orange?


‘L’Ophir’ – and old double yellow and very pretty


‘Anne Kenney’ found in a garden in Cambridge – a crisp pale blue


new seedling from Kees van der Salm


‘Silverstone’ a new cultivar that particularly attracted my attention – I liked the contrast of the front and reverse of the tepals and the red stem and the very dumpy habit – I can’t see this flopping over.


‘Moreno’ 1878 – another from Lithuania


‘Red Diamond’ 2001 – a bright double

Please note that, although the stoutness of hyacinth stems and the number of flowers per stem does vary with cultivar, the plants photographed are growing stocks and some bulbs are still young and do not necessarily demonstrate the full potential of a mature bulb. So don’t dismiss a cultivar because it seems to have few flowers per stem.


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13 Comments on “Dedication: Alan Shipp and his hyacinths”

  1. joy
    March 28, 2017 at 7:25 am #

    absolutely beautiful must have looked and smelt wonderful .

  2. thelonggardenpath
    March 28, 2017 at 9:09 am #

    It must have smelt heavenly! I do like “L’Ophir” – so delicate!

    • thebikinggardener
      March 28, 2017 at 2:18 pm #

      Yes – and she is quite old I believe.

      • Alan Kenneth Shipp
        August 2, 2017 at 11:09 pm #

        Yes, ‘L’Ophir’ was the first double yellow introduced in 1770 at only £800 per bulb, in those days!

  3. susurrus
    March 28, 2017 at 10:49 am #

    A day spent photographing these is a test for the knees and leg muscles.

  4. Kathy Larson
    March 28, 2017 at 9:55 pm #

    Now that’s a life well lived!

  5. karen
    March 30, 2017 at 12:14 pm #

    I’ve just heard that Alan is looking for someone to take over the collection. I’d love to see it, so hope the bulbs are there next year. Thanks for the slide show. Glorious.

    • thebikinggardener
      March 30, 2017 at 1:03 pm #

      Yes, I heard that after my visit too. He didnt mention it when I chatted to him. I am sure the collection will be there next year though.

    • Alan Kenneth Shipp
      August 2, 2017 at 7:19 pm #

      If I am still kicking they will be and for a few more years to come I hope. I will have the kettle on ready for your arrival Karen!

      • karen
        August 27, 2017 at 8:51 pm #

        How wonderful! I will see you in the spring. I will bring cake :)) xx

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