I’ve had a pot or two of hyacinths on the go in my house for the past couple of months. They give lots of pleasure with their waxy, star-shaped flowers, gathered in a bundle on a stalk and, of course, their heavenly scent. I like white and pink ones and the creamy yellow ones too, but this weekend celebrates a truly magnificent multi-coloured extravaganza of field grown blooms in Waterbeach, just off the A10, 3 miles north of Cambridge.
Alan Shipp has been caring for the National Collection of Hyacinths since 1989, and why wouldn’t he? – he’s the person who created this amazing collection of over 180 different varieties, including some of the world’s rarest living examples. 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. One of these was a double yellow hyacinth which botanists believed extinct but Alan came across it in a plant research faculty in Lithuania and has been caring for it tenderly ever since.
The business began when Mr Shipp, the third generation owner of a struggling potato farm, started growing and selling a handful of blooms in 1985. He bought 200kg of bulbs from Holland from which he bred his own unique varieties. He was good at it and within a few years had experts and collectors knocking at his door for more. Of course he grows and sells all sorts of bulbs, even the most common, but his real joy are the rare ones and Russian varieties such as Grande Blanche Imperiale (see image below) and King Menelik Black, which was first recorded in 1863.
I look forward to meeting these very special blooms one but basically I’ll be there for the scent, I just can’t imagine what 20,000 blooming hyacinths will smell like – heavenly I suspect.Follow the ‘Hyacinth’ signs to Bottisham Lock this Saturday 28 March and Sunday 29 March between 11am and 5pm