Narcissi join tulips, hyacinths and crocuses to make up the most important of the spring-flowering bulbous, cormous and tuberous plants. Narcissi are used in abundance in gardens. This has much to do with their winter hardiness, the ease with which they naturalize, and their many applications. The various colours and flower types available also play a role in their popularity. The large-flowered yellow daffodils in particular are the flowers that promise that the warm spring air is on the way. The number of wild species varies widely, depending on how one defines 'wild species'. Usually this number is limited to 26 (not counting the subspecies and varieties). In addition to these, many hundreds of cultivars are known. The most important colours are yellow, white, orange-red, orange and salmon. Many cultivars display marked or subtle differences in colour between the corona (trumpet or cup) and the perianth (petals).
Hyacinths are extremely popular garden plants. One reason is the genus' wide assortment of flower colours. Another reason is the scent that is so highly praised by flower and plant enthusiasts. Completing the picture of the perfect bulbous plant, is the fact that hyacinths are very easy to bring into flower. Originally, hyacinths grew only in the lands around the Mediterranean Sea, especially in Turkey. Not surprising then, the species which is the ancestor of all the cultivated varieties has been named Hyacinthus orientalis. The cultivating of hyacinths in Holland goes back more than 400 years, but they were also a familiar plant in the Greek and Roman periods. The 17th 8th centuries were times of intense speculation in hyacinth bulbs. Occasionally, a single bulb would sell for 300 dollars, a lot of money in those days.
The propagation and cultivation of the hyacinth bulbs themselves is uncommonly complicated. Much professional experience and special soil is required for good results, and the Dutch growers have been successful in their attempts. Growing them to produce flowers, either indoors or in the garden, however, is very simple.
The genus, Muscari contains about 30 species. Some of these, such as M. botryoides and M. comosum, originated in the Mediterranean region, while others of this genus can be found in their natural habitats in Asia Minor and the Caucasus. Most species are so extremely winter hardy and easy to grow that no garden should be without them.
Muscari planted in a favourable location where no water can settle during the winter can naturalize easily. One drawback, however, is that the leaves often emerge before the winter season. The frost damage thus produced remains visible during the flowering period although the flowers themselves are seldom damaged. A famous planting of them at the Keukenhof gardens in Holland is known as the 'blue river'; this is a dense planting of muscari that winds through the shrubs, some of which bloom at the same time. Year after year, this is one of the most photographed scenes in this spectacular park. The species used in this location is Muscari armeniacum, the most familiar of the grape hyacinths and actually the only one that has a right to that name.