The Great Hyacinth Challenge


The pot of hyacinths arrived in my life nearly a year ago. A delivery of them had arrived at work as a precursor to Easter — a highly scented way of reminding South Floridians they too could have bulbs heralding the arrival of spring, which actually feels more like summer.

The thing is, South Florida weather is not kind to hyacinths — and so many other spring-flowering bulbs like tulips and daffodils. When pots of blooms are purchased, they’re meant to be houseplants and then trashed.

As soon as I inhaled their aroma at work, I was taken right back to my New York garden. There, hyacinths were a staple of the Easter gifts given between the women of my family. After blooming, they would be planted outside for years and years of future flowers.

Joe and I did the same thing. Any hyacinths we purchased or his mother received as a gift, we planted in a bed under the oak tree in the front yard. To this collection, I added my grandmother’s hyacinths, the same ones I dug up when she moved from Queens, NY, after my grandfather passed to a condo on Long Island, and then again from that condo to my own garden after her passing.

So, I purchased a pot of hyacinths for old-time’s sake. The flowers filled the house with their smell — and it seemed a little very sad that the bulbs I loved would be destined for the trash.

Or would they? What if I could give them a long winter’s nap?

Once the blooms faded, I brought the pot outside and let the leaves continue to absorb energy for the bulbs. In time, they browned and shriveled — and that was my clue.

I removed the three bulbs from the pot and cleaned them off, letting them dry off a bit. I put them into a plastic Publix bag and placed that bag in the only place I could think of where South Florida could have a northern winter: a drawer in the refrigerator.

For months, the bulbs slept under a layer of cans of soda and bottles of water. The South Florida summer came and went. So did Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. To be honest, I actually forgot about the bag of bulbs — only remembering it when I saw a piece of the beige plastic peeking up from under the soda and water.

When I opened the bag, the bulbs were already sprouting! What had been three bulbs I  divided into four — and I planted each in its own pot.

Two bloomed rather quickly. The flower cluster was smaller, but still as fragrant. I’m still waiting on the other two.

I’m sure my Great Hyacinth Challenge is nothing new. Other gardeners in southern parts have probably done the same; gardeners in more northern climates have gone as far to protect tender tropicals from year to year. (I should know. I used to do that with canna and elephant ears while gardening in New York.)

There used to be a commercial many years ago with the line, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” It is, though, a little fun and satisfying to play with her, to try new things in the garden, to be able to say as a gardener, “I did it.”

In my case, the trick will be to not get carried away, to not devote an entire refrigerator drawer to bulbs, or to purchase a refrigerator for gardening. I’ll have to keep myself in check — and if I slip, I know Joe will. Yes, one bag of bulbs is enough — although . . .

I recently purchased a hydrangea from the clearance racks at work. They’re not supposed to be able to grow here, but now that The Great Hyacinth Challenge was a success, could I achieve the same results in The Great Hydrangea Challenge? Stay tuned.

12 thoughts on “The Great Hyacinth Challenge

    • Hi Lynn. Believe me, there is no way I miss the cold and ice and snow — but I do miss the thrill of the season’s first green appearing — nd hydrangeas. Enjoy the warmth.

  1. How fun to have success with such a project! I would definitely miss spring bulbs if I lived somewhere where they did not flower, though for me it would be the daffodils. I wonder if paperwhites could be grown outdoors there.

    • Hi Indie. It’s the little things that can bring us joy — like saving northern bulbs for flowering. I’m not sure about the paperwhites — but I’ll add that to my list of future challenges. 🙂

  2. I’m watching my tulip leaves emerge in my garden now. Squirrels like to dig them up so I’ve got my fingers crossed they will all be back. I have tried your trick with canna and have had mixed results. Here in Missouri winters can get very cold and my garage storage was not a good plan. Good luck with your hydrangea. I look forward to the update.

    • Hey there. Sorry about the mixed results — but a garage may be too cold and damp. I had a dampness issue when I first started saving tropicals in my garage. Everything turned to mush. Enjoy the tulips — a sign that warmer weather is coming your way. 🙂

  3. I wouldn’t have thought possible. 🙂 You’ve encouraged me to try. I’m one who buys the potted plant and then just throws the bulb out when it is done with its performance. Maybe I’m too hasty!

    • Hi Debra. My apologies for the late response. I do think you will have to refrigerate your bulbs, give them a winter’s rest, and then replant in spring. Hope all is well in your part of the world. 🙂

  4. I have a plant and all the leaves are wilting and the flower is now gone. would it be best to cut the leaves off and just harvest the plant for new growth? Thanks!

    • Hi Whitney. What sort of plant is it? Hyacinth? If the flower and leaves are gone, you can always take the bulb out of the soil, place it in a plastic bag, and then refrigerate it. I placed my bag of bulbs in the lowest drawer of the refrigerator. The bulbs can again be planted in late winter/early spring.

  5. I am a lousy gardener and live in the Netherlands, so bulbs are the way for me to have beautiful colours in Spring and Summer (we are dealing now with dahlia’s and lilac, the couple freesias’ were here just a couple of weeks ago). What I was wondering though is if you cannot keep your bag of bulbs in some dark and cool place outside of a fridge. I would expect that even wrapping the bag in an old blanket and keeping it under the stairs or some place with a constant temperature, would do the trick, wouldn’t it?

    • Hi Barbara — When I lived in NY, I would dig up my tender bulbs and plants before the first frost and store them away in a cement bunker. In South Florida home, though, there aren’t any stairs and no basement — that means no dark and cool place. About the only thing keeping the house cool is the air conditioner, and that’s set on 77 degrees — not cold enough to give bulbs a rest. So, the bottom of the refrigerator does the trick . . . Your garden sounds lovely. Be well.

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