There’s a garden bulb catalog out there with a photo of a river of grape hyacinths meandering among clumps of tulips. The picture is ridiculous. BLUE. YELLOW. RED. It’s a real-life photo of a cartoon landscape and all that’s missing is the munchkins. It’s absolutely compelling and the whole scene can be yours for about six days in springtime, before and after which it’s kind of a mess.
I was looking up grape hyacinths to see what they’re going for these days, and it’s about seven bucks for 25 bulbs, making my garden worth somewhere north of a hundred thousand dollars.
That’s the problem with grape hyacinths, and their big cousins, the wood hyacinths. They look splendid in masses for a few days and then if you turn your back on them they spawn like drunken seahorses. One bulb fattens into a solid mass of a dozen and then pups fly off of them and the flowers seed up too and before long anything else you planted has to wheedle its way through concrete in the form of future grape hyacinths which, as you recall, will look terrific for about six days next year. It’s a problem.
So every year I not only yard out as many bulbs as I can pull up but I do it while they’re actively blooming because they piss me off so much. Also I can tell what they are then. But next year it’s going to be the same thing all over again.
The problem is it doesn’t take much in the way of a bulb to produce, first, a full-fledged plant, and then a whole colony. You pull out one big bulb and immediately there’s a whole botanical diaspora happening. You’re not going to get half of them. It’s like herding an exploded box of BBs.
I decided to leave some beds that were totally packed with hyacinths because it was a done deal and concentrate on the areas that were not entirely overrun. The areas that were being scouted for the expansion of the empire.
This spring, though! This would finally be the year I get on top of the situation. We had a lot of rain. We had so much rain. It’s been raining since mid-October and it was still raining through April. We had rain in May that was originally scheduled for March but had to wait in line. It’s sunny for the moment and the soil is crumbly and I can plunge my hand through it up to my wrist without meeting any resistance. Ten inches down there’s still moisture left over from February. I slip the spading fork into the ground and rock it just a bit, and I pull on the leaves and beautiful flowers until the bulbs ease out—it’s not weeding, it’s persuading—and I pull out the adult bulbs in a solid mass and then a clique of nearby teenagers and then, underneath, the littlest babies are there, crouching in the basement, and I look at them in all their innocence and sweet potential, and I murder them.
And this year they too slid out of the soil, silently, like seventh-graders skipping school. I sieved them for strays and carefully plucked up bulblets less than a quarter-inch in diameter. Any smaller I’d have to go metric. Any smaller they’d be fetal. This ain’t Idaho. I’ll destroy them in a hot heartbeat.
And now, in the April of 2024 that exists in my mind only, happy authorized flowers burst forth from their tidy beds and romp with their little elbows out. And the remaining grape hyacinth population, in their little hyacinth minds, smile, and spawn, and say Dream on, sister.