Hyacinth collection blooms as gardener cultivates worlds largest collection

April 1, 2010 | by | 2 Comments

These dazzling snaps show the world’s largest collection of rare hyacinths bursting into bloom – after they were carefully cultivated by Britain’s only bulb producer.

Green-fingered Alan Shipp, 72, has been custodian of the UK’s National Collection of Hyacinths since 1989 and has more than 200,000 flowering bulbs.

He grows 180 different varieties on his two-acre farm, including one of the world’s oldest existing hyacinths, the Grande Blanche Imperial, and the King Menelik Black, worth £9.50 a bulb.

Since the end of the Second World War he has been the only propagator of hyacinth bulbs in the UK and specialises in cultivating endangered breeds.

He is entrusted with the conservation of some of the rarest breeds in the world, such as the double yellow hyacinth.

For years botanists believed the delicate flower became extinct at the beginning of the 20th century but a bulb was given to Alan by a plant research facility in Lithuania.

Grandfather-of-one Alan was the third generation owner of a struggling potato farm when he began growing and selling a handful of blooms in 1985.

He started out by buying 200kg of bulbs from Holland for around #500, but began to splice his own unique varieties as his gardening skills improved.

Within a few years he was exporting them to impressed experts and collectors in the US from his farm in Waterbeach, Cambs.

Entrepreneur Alan now sells common varieties including delph blue, pink pearl, white Carnegie hyacinths and City of Haarlem yellow hyacinths for around 40p a bulb.

But his real pride and joy are Russian varieties – the beautiful white Grande Blanche Imperiale dating from 1798, and the King Menelik Black from 1863.

Alan said growing things had always been in his blood and he was proud to be involved in the conservation of such rare flowers.

He said: ”Growing and looking after these flowers is my absolute pride and joy and the range of splendid colours and the beautiful patterns has always drawn me to them.

”Farming has been in my family for three generations and that is the reason I have always been excited about getting out doors and working on the land.

”It’s very rewarding. I come down here every day because to be involved with the conservation of these rare flowers is a real privilege and an honour.

”I didn’t have any flowers 25 years ago but now I’ve got thousands and to be one of the foremost experts on the oldest varieties is something which makes me very proud.”

Alan, who lives with his partner Maria, currently spends seven days a week in the nursery from March to November and up to 10 hours a day with his flowers.

To help them grow healthy and strong Alan regularly digs up the bulbs before they flower in late March and cleans them to prevent mould forming.

He also propagates the hyacinths, which involves digging up an onion-sized bulb before trimming and planting it in a warm room so smaller baby bulbs can sprout.

Once they are mature these bulbs can be planted to continue the next generation of hyacinths, a technique that is repeated year after year.

Every April Alan puts on a huge display which hyacinth fans from across the globe visit to buy bulbs and enjoy the flowers.

The wild hyacinth originated in Turkey and the Middle East and its sweet fragrance is described in works by Homer and Virgil.

Its bell-shaped petals are arranged in a dense spike which grows from 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) high.

Its name comes from the Greek legend of tragic Hyakinthos as it is the flower that blossomed from his blood after he was fatally wounded by a jealous lover.

The hyacinth came to Europe after it was cultivated by Dutch botanists in the late sixteenth century, a practice that was initially the preserve of the extremely wealthy.

It became a favourite of Victorian gardens in the nineteenth century when English horticulturalists could select from up to 2,000 varieties.

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Comments (2)

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  1. anna fisk says:

    Hi we have some old hyacinth plants in the garden they are are pinky /purple colour butthe strange thing is they only grow one side and not all around like normal ones we have -they have been in the garden for many years couldyou help pleasewith the variety of them ,thankyou anna

  2. anna fisk says:

    Hi we have some old hyacinth plants in the garden they are are pinky /purple colour butthe strange thing is they only grow one side and not all around like normal ones we have -they have been in the garden for many years couldyou help pleasewith the variety of them ,thankyou anna

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