Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Black Hyacinth—Shiny and New

After 16 years in development, Midnight Mystique hits the market.

In the English and Scottish papers, where gardening news can shove crime and even the royals off Page One, a black hyacinth appears today.

The Scotsman, inter alia, reports that “Midnight Mystique” (named apparently for a lingerie item) is for sale at 8 pounds per bulb, nearly ten times the price of familiar pink, white, and purple varieties.

Seed company Thompson & Morgan paid 150,000 pounds for “the entire stock”—three black hyacinth bulbs found in the Netherlands—and then, according to the Times of London, “spent seven years cultivating 28,000 of them.” (I don’t find the flower photogenic, but you can see one for yourself with this link.) “Midnight Mystique” was hybridized from white and blue hyacinths. The original three bulbs were produced via an expensive “tissue culture” process. “Once enough plants were established, the company could also use the traditional ‘scooping method’ where the bottom of the bulb is removed. This encourages tiny bulbs to form around the base that are then grown on, taking three years to reach maturity.”

I’ve noticed how gardeners, like hyacinths, tend to clump together along a continuum: at one extreme,  the fashionistas, intent on growing new and rare varieties—at the other, the antiquers, who hanker after grandmother’s or even great-grandmother’s favorites. “Midnight Mystique,” however, may appeal to both. Here is an obviously new fangled bloom, but, we also learn,  “Black flowers were beloved of the art nouveau designers at the previous turn of the century. Victorians and Edwardians at the cutting edge of fashion used to collect them, going to great lengths to track down exotic species.”

imageAlcea nigra

Image: Alchemy Works

One of my own old-timey favorites is alcea nigra, the black hollyhock, shiny as a grackle. We find on the Monticello garden site that “In 1629 the British herbalist John Parkinson described a variety of hollyhock with flowers ‘of a darke red like black bloud.’” The Alchemy Works site calls the black hollyhock’s essence “useful for coming to grips with the void and for introspection.”

I suppose anyone who’ll pay 150,000 pounds for three black hyacinth bulbs has a void to fill too.

Posted by Julie on 03/23 at 11:36 AM
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