Small can be dramatic. If you don’t believe it, just take a look at the grape hyacinth. Diminutive blue-purple flowers pile in a 1960s beehive hairdo on a skinny 6-inch stem, surrounded by languid, grasslike leaves. To appreciate this character, get eye-level with it, where you can inspect the delicate urn-shaped “grapes” on the short spike (or raceme) of blooms, with their deep cobalt bellies and white lipstick. Or take a few steps back and watch as the many spikes dissolve into an intoxicating, faintly fragrant carpet. All you have to do is plant the bulbs, and the tiny but tough Muscari armeniacum will take over, turning your early spring lawn into a slow-motion river of blue.
Common name: Grape Hyacinth
Botanical name: Muscari armeniacum
Plant type: Bulb
Zones: 4 to 8
Height: 6 to 10 inches
· Sun: Full sun to part shade
· Soil: Average, well-drained
· Moisture: Average
· Mulch: Mulch before leaves appear in spring.
· Pruning: None needed.
· Fertilizer: None needed, although if your soil is poor, add organic fertilizer or compost in the fall.
· Grape hyacinth will naturalize by itself, both through bulb offsets and by self-seeding. You can speed the process by removing and replanting offsets every three to four years.
Pests and diseases
· Not vulnerable to most pests or diseases.
· Muscari armeniacum looks best en masse, and luckily, the bulbs are pretty cheap. For the best impact, plant bulbs in drifts—some say never plant fewer than 100. A classic design is the “river”: a curving swath of grape hyacinth in a shallow swale, a long narrow patch of grass, or at the base of a hill.
· Plant grape hyacinth under deciduous trees. It will flower in early spring before the leaves fill out, while sunlight still reaches the ground under the tree.
· If you plant grape hyacinth in a lawn area, be prepared to hold off on the season’s first mowing. Wait until the plant’s foliage dies back (usually in early June) so leaves have a chance to gather energy for the next year’s growth before they’re cut down with the grass.
· Rock gardens and spring bulb gardens are natural spots for M. armeniacum.
· Plant bulbs in the fall, about 3 inches deep.
· Grape hyacinth is a good cut flower and a good bulb for forcing.
· ‘Valerie Finnis’ has pale lavender blossoms.
· Double flowers on ‘Blue Spike’ give the purple-blue clusters a fluffy appearance.
· ‘Christmas Pearl’ blooms early; flowers are dark violet-blue.
All in the family
· M. armeniacum is common and widely available, but you can find other muscari species, too. Look for M. azurem, with flowers that open wider than M. armeniacum and look like ruffled skirts; M. macrocarpum ‘Golden Fragrance’, with an intense perfume and bright yellow flowers; M. aucheri ‘White Magic’, which has white flowers; and M. comosum ‘Plumosum’, with its striking, feathery spike of blossoms.
(Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening)