On the Brink: ‘Perle Brilliante’ Hyacinth

‘Perle Brilliante’ hyacinth stands today on the brink of extinction. Silvery blue-purple and richly fragrant, it has graced gardens since 1895. But 2000 is the last year this long-loved Victorian beauty is being harvested in Holland. As old Dutch bulb farmers retire and family farms are gobbled up, many classic hyacinths — often more fragrant and subtly colored than modern varieties — are being abandoned. Recent losses have included ‘Yellow Hammer’, ‘Oranje Boven’, ‘La Victoire’, ‘Lord Balfour’, ‘Grand Monarque’, and, most lamented of all, petite, maroon ‘Distinction’.

Perle Brilliante
‘Perle Brilliante’, 1895

Once the most popular garden bulb — out-ranking tulips, daffodils, and all the rest — hyacinths began to fall from fashion with the waning of the Victorian age. But other Victorian favorites such as ornamental grasses and coleus have made huge comebacks recently, so will hyacinths be next? Scott Kunst of Old House Gardens is convinced the tide is finally turning for hyacinths as more and more savvy gardeners are rediscovering their Easter-egg colors, quaint charm, and legendary fragrance — both in the garden and forced on the windowsill for winter bloom.

Of the hundreds of “real live antiques” that Old House Gardens offers — all great garden plants and increasingly at-risk — ‘Perle Brilliante’ has been honored as OHG’s Heirloom Bulb of the Year for 2000. “This could be your very last chance,” Kunst says, “to add this pearl to your garden and help save it from extinction.”

[Though ‘Perle Brilliante’ is no longer commercially grown in Holland, we’re happy to say we now get a handful of bulbs most years from our friend Alan Shipp of the British National Collection of Hyacinths. For an alert the next time it’s available, sign up for our free email newsletter, The Friends of Old Bulbs Gazette.]