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