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.