Tuesday, December 19, 2017

There ARE good grape hyacinths...

Muscari aucheri

The common pass-along grape hyacinth, variously ascribed to Muscari armeniacum, M. botryoides or sometimes M. neglectum.  This universal scourge of gardens produces masses of foliage in late summer that singe and look tattered and unattractive when the relatively blah flowers come out. They produce masses of seeds so that soon you can have this making a messy presence all over your garden. Whatever its real name, this Universal curse of gardens has effectively turned gardeners away from a wonderful genus of fragrant, spritely and variable plants that really are worth growing.  There are a number of clones of Muscari aucheri sold by leading bulb purveyors: one of the best in the genus in my book: minimal foliage that comes up in spring, dies down neatly and tons of flower power!

Muscari aucheri
It comes in pale blue as well as the darker tones. Muscari azureum 'Blue Magic', 'Ocean Magic', 'White Magic' and 'Dark Eyes' are four of the cultivars that are commonly sold, all of which make trim, manageable garden plants.

Muscari azureum
 This is the most rapidly naturalizing species in my experience: it blooms with the early snow crocus and quickly sets seed and goes dormant for another year--meanwhile making carpets of azure for most any spot in the garden. I would never want to be without this little gem!

Muscari azureum
 As fetching up close as it is in bold drifts!

Muscari chalusicum

Muscari collection at Gothenburg botanic garden

 I have been lucky enough to visit the botanic garden in Gothenburg in april when many of their grape hyacinths were blooming: they have the world’s best collections of hardy bulbs—and they had dozens—probably hundreds of collections of Muscari.in full bloom.

Muscari collection at Gothenburg botanic garden

Muscari collection at Gothenburg botanic garden

Muscari 'Valerie Finnis'

The icy blue ‘Valerie Finnis’ has foliage that emerges in the fall and can get a bit tattered by the time it blooms in exposed spots. I have not found any of these to be anywhere nearly as invasive as the common passalong plant, however.

I neglected to get the name of this gem I photographed at Gothenburg a few years ago...

Muscari latifolium
 One of the most distinctive--and also a good spreader--this dark species sets abundant seed and can naturalize in the garden given time. Never seems to get in the way, although it is not petite by any means!
Muscari moschatum

And there are no end of wierdies: the white Muscari ambrosiacum and the intensely fragrant yellow Muscari moschatum  Both of these seem a little tender in Colorado, but have grown well in microclimates and are worth any effort to tame
Muscari muscarimi
 This has become more common in the trade in recent years, and has done well in a sunny dry slope in my Xeriscape.

Muscari comosum on Ulu Dag, Turkey (July 2016)
Many of the odder Muscari are occasionally put in other genera, such as Prospero,
Leopoldia, Pseudomuscari, Hyacinthella and on and on... there is Muscari comosum, which has a commercial form (plumosum or ‘Plumosum’) that’s almost as weedy as the neglectum/armeniacum/botryoides plague (which I think it may be allied to). It is intriguing nonetheless if you can restrict it to someplace safe. I did see the true, wild Muscari comosum in both Greece and Turkey in 2015: this blooms much later than most grape hyacinths—in early summer—and has long, graceful wands of bloom worth every effort to obtain.

Muscari tenuifolium
Even stranger, this striking grape hyacinth bloomed for me the first time this last summer: a wonderful and exotic specimen.

I've incorporated a dozen or more other species over the years, all of which are spreading modestly into small drifts that add wonderful dark blue or azure notes to the spring garden. In a few years perhaps I can report back on some of them. Meanwhile, I'll add even more and supplement some of the colonies I've started: I never thought I'd be smitten with any group of plants best known for filling the garden with wads of unattractive foliage and spreading like a plague!


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  2. I love the plain old grape hyacinth. Here the foliage isn't singed at bloom time, which I imagine would reduce its appeal. It's a river of dark but true blue that sets off pale daffodils; in late fall and early winter the foliage is a welcome green weaving among the spots where perennials have gone completely dormant.

    But it's a treat to learn more about the rest of the family; M. azureum is very much on my radar now...


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