Lovely, fragrant bulb flowers are one of the first signs of spring. I especially love hyacinths, with their intoxicating perfume, and particularly growing indoors just a little bit out of season. They’re like a floral promise that the end of winter *will* be along, just around the corner.
Many of the gifts for my friends and family have been homemade this year – of course I couldn’t write about them before the big day, because that might have ruined the surprise! One of my favourites is a ‘prepared’ hyacinth bulb (heat/cold treated for indoor forcing – this is important, as unprepared ‘garden’ bulbs won’t flower if grown in this way) in a jam jar with hydrogel beads (sometimes called ‘water crystals’). Hydrogel beads are one of the coolest, weirdest things I’ve come across in a long while. They start out as a tiny little packet of small clear-plastic looking ballbearing things, but when soaked in water overnight, the contents of the tiny little packet will swell up to fill a whole jam jar. Better still, the ‘reconstituted’ hydrogel has a refractive index so close to water that they’re essentially invisible if they’re below a fluid level, which, you have to concede, is very cool, in a geeky sort of way.
Once you’ve got over the excitement of the whole thing (I know, right?), how do you make them either into a gift or into a lovely spring treat for your own window ledge?
For gifting, simply pack up the pouch of dry hydrogel beads and the prepared hyacinth bulb into a washed and dried recycled jam jar (I took the opportunity to use up some of the pickle jars with too much residual ‘taint’ to use as jam or jelly jars), with an instruction sheet (we’ll get to that). Do up the lid (but don’t worry if you don’t have one) and top it with a pretty bonnet of fabric or Christmas wrapping paper tied on with ribbon. What could be sweeter?
No, you can’t have my instruction sheet, write one yourself! But the process is very straightforward.
- First, you’ll need to reconstitute your hydrogel beads. Do this in the jam jar, by emptying the tiny pack of beads into the jar and topping up with warm tap water. I know it seems very very unlikely that this will work, but indulge me here, and leave them overnight. The next morning, marvel as you discover the beads filling the jar. It’s very cool. If you wanted to be a bit psychedelic, you could add a drop or two of food dye to the water to start with, and this will be taken up by the beads.
- Drain the beads, leaving them in the jar. Marvel some more.
- You want the fattest part of the bulb to sit in the ‘neck’ part of the jar, so work out if you need to remove some beads to get the level right, then place the hyacinth bulb on top of the beads.
- Top up with water to just below the base of the bulb.
- Now place the bulb in a cool dark place (a larder cupboard is ideal, an airing cupboard isn’t!).
- Once there are roots growing and green growth is visible in the top of the bulb, move it into a bright place. This will take a week or two.
- Keep the water topped up every so often but avoid having water directly in contact with the base of the bulb as this will encourage mould to grow and may make the bulb rot. The hydrogel beads will make it a lot more forgiving of marginal drying out than a traditional hyacinth bulb vase.
- Wait for the hyacinth to flower, which will take another three or four weeks. You may need to find some way to help keep it propped up, though usually they flower in quite a compact way so you might be lucky!
These make a very original, eye catching and fun little gift – I used mine as stocking fillers and as part of hampers. They cost very little, I sourced the bulbs for just under a pound each (in packs of twelve) and they hydrogel packs come in about £3 for ten. I have three of the bulbs growing together on hydrogel in a small vase, which I started a couple of weeks ago, and they seem to be going well, with great root growth and a nice bit of green emerging!