Of hyacinth bulbs and rats

For those who read this blog regularly, you know I often force bulbs in winter to keep my gardening chops alive and kicking.

Who am I kidding? I start bulbs in winter to keep from losing my ever-loving mind. Most of January 2019, was cloudy, and February started out the same with the addition of a sleet and ice storm for a bright red cherry on top of the winter sundae.

My hyacinths on the windowsill bring me happiness and joy.
My hyacinths on the windowsill bring me happiness and joy.
Then, there was the rat in my broom closet, but I'll tell you more about that rodent later. Click To Tweet

In August, I received my hyacinth bulbs from Van Engelen. I usually buy their exhibition collection because the bulbs are quite large with more blooming power. In years past, I’ve forced them in a variety of ways. In Oklahoma, you never know what the weather will bring, whether winter will be cold or warm, so it’s hard to force bulbs, but I persevere–see sanity, above.

Hyacinths cooling their heels in the garage refrigerator.
Hyacinths cooling their heels in the garage refrigerator all in an effort to get that all important eight-week cooling period.

In September, I put a lot of them on glass filling up the vases with water to just below the bulb’s basal plate, i.e., bottom. I then put them in the refrigerator and waited. I planted others in potting soil in various shallow containers and topped the soil with rocks to hold the bulbs down and provide an attractive top dressing. During the changes in weather, bulbs will try to heave themselves out of the potting soil.

Garden bulbs being forced on the window sill.
Garden bulbs being forced on in a west-facing window on my grandmother’s antique treadle sewing machine.

Some years I use vintage containers. Other years, I use terra cotta. It depends on my mood and what’s to hand in September. I’m usually really busy in the garden in September so I just plant what I can, but I remind myself I’ll need the flowers in February.

Hyacinth vases in the window waiting to bloom. The first two are Tye-type vases and are vintage.
Hyacinth vases in the window waiting to bloom. The first two are Tye-type vases and are vintage.

In December, we had an Advent/Christmas party so I took the bulbs out of the garage refrigerator–I needed the space for extra food–and placed them in our unheated garage for a few days with the door closed. They need darkness at first. I noticed that some of my vases were cracked and broken. We had two very strong cold fronts come through Oklahoma that made the refrigerator too cold, and four or five vases broke under the icy pressure.

Hyacinths in a vintage blue forcing bowl. This is one of my favorites. I'm impatient for the hyacinths to bloom.
Hyacinths in a vintage blue forcing bowl. This is one of my favorites. I’m impatient for the hyacinths to bloom.

Another strong cold front came through while the vases were sitting on top of a garage countertop, and more vases froze and broke. I’ve never had this problem before. The vases are usually pretty sturdy.

Hyacinths pretty in pink
Hyacinths pretty in pink.

Now, I can hear some of you saying, why didn’t I just keep the bulbs in a paper sack in the fridge until I was ready to put them on vase to grow? Well, in the past, when I tried that method, they often rotted when they were brought out of the dark and into the warmth of the house. For me, hyacinth bulbs perform better if I put them on vase, or in potting soil from the beginning.

When bulbs sit in the dark, they appear not to be growing, but looks can be deceiving. They are actually growing roots in the water or beneath the soil. Click To Tweet

I salvaged what I could and put several vases in the broom closet in the kitchen. The broom closet backs up to a dog run between the house and the garage. If the weather is cold, this closet is also cold, but not as cold as the garage. So, I thought the broom closet was a good transitory place. By this time, the hyacinths had been in the cold for about two and a half months.

One morning I opened the closet door to check out things, and my first thought was like that of Miss Clavel in Madeline, “Something is not right.”

Three vases were on their sides, and the two bulbs that had been growing, were missing. Then, I saw a half-eaten bulb on the bottom shelf. I reached for it, trying to figure out what was going on. Suddenly, there was a clatter. A flash of gray wove in between the vases and up and out of an enlarged hole in the closet where the utilities come through the ceiling. The varmint had made a hole into my closet!

It was a rat! No, not a mouse. I’ve lived in the country for 30 years. I’ve seen more than my fair share of mice. This was no mouse, my friends. It was a very large rodent.

Surprisingly, I didn’t jump or scream. I just picked up the half-eaten bulb, sighed and called Bill. I told you I’ve lived out here a long time. Not much in the way of critters surprises me anymore. On his way home from work, Bill bought two rat traps. Within a day or two, I met Mr./Ms. Rat again.

Bill had it in a small, brown paper bag when he offered to show it to me. I had to laugh because his brown eyes twinkled, and he was just like a little boy trying to see if it would scare me. It did not. It was big and gray and dead. I’ll spare you the picture.

Now, the weirdest part of this story is animals don’t like to eat hyacinths. I’ve always read that they are toxic to cats, dogs, and ‘er rats. Oxalic acid is pretty potent stuff. When you plant hyacinths you need to wash your hands thoroughly or wear gloves. Otherwise, you will itch when you touch your face. So, I was dumbfounded when two bulbs were missing and one was half-eaten. I wish I’d taken a photo of the half-eaten bulb, but I was more concerned about getting rid of the rat at the time.

'Pink Pearl' hyacinths in blue vases are very, very pretty.
‘Pink Pearl’ hyacinths in blue vases are very, very pretty.

Now, not all of this is bad news. After we dispensed with the rat. I brought in more bulbs, and I now have many, many hyacinths blooming. A few rotted. I think I’ll try fewer, but more interesting varieties next year.

I’m curious about the rat though. Did it have indigestion before it died? I hope so.


  1. At least that beast had good taste in flowers! Now I’m shivering, remembering the gymnastic rat who lived under our deck in Michigan, and used my deck chairs for his maneuvers. Needless to say, I never sat in those cushions again.

  2. erica says:

    oh my! i found a rat too.

  3. Rose says:

    Oh my! I definitely would have screamed if I’d found a rat anywhere near my house! You were a brave soul to be so calm. We have had a mouse in the garage this winter–hopefully only one!–for the first time ever. I think Toby the cat is getting too old to care about hunting anymore, but Teddy the Yorkie has been trying unsuccessfully to catch it. Your hyacinths are so beautiful! I especially love the cobalt blue vases. I gave up trying to force hyacinths in vases a few years ago. Too many of them rotted, and even when they bloomed, the blooms were small and disappointing. I’m sticking to amaryllis now and a few plants I’m over-wintering indoors and waiting impatiently for the spring bulbs in the garden to appear.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Rose, that’s funny. I guess I’m immune to animals out here. I’ve had squirrels and snakes in the house occasionally. Black snakes used to climb the chimney to eat birds and end up in the living room now and then. I found a squirrel (dead) under my bed once after we returned from vacation. I will say I’ve never had a rat in the house before and how odd that it though hyacinth bulbs were good to eat. Good grief. We have a young cat again, Toonces, who belonged to my sister, Nita. He likes to chase mice so no mice anywhere near the house. The rat couldn’t get out of the closet so I guess I wasn’t scared.

    2. carolee says:

      I shiver when a mouse surprises me. Not sure what I’d do if a rat were in my house…probably move! Recently a neighbor’s pig visited during the night and dug/ate most of my crocus and tulips planted along the sidewalk. I wished indigestion on him as well! Your post has inspired me to try forcing hyacinths again. Last time, they came up curved and twisted, not pretty and straight like yours. Love all your vases.

  4. Peggy Z says:

    Your hyacinth are beautiful and I’ll bet the smell is divine. I have enjoyed watching the round crock on your Instagram feed. Very artistic looking with just even the bulbs. Ewwww on the rat! I would have screamed. We have had our share of mice but this year we had a rat in the garage and one in what we call the wash house. Nasty creatures.
    Thank you for the flower fix. Fingers crossed for no more rats.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you Peggy! The round crock is a nursery pot from G. Wolff and Co. They were made in Honduras, and you can occasionally still find them on eBay. I kind of hate mice. They are gross. So are rats, but since this is the only one I’ve seen in 30 years I would say I’m pretty safe.

  5. I am also sorry that you lost those bulb vases, because I know you collect them and unlike my Aldi’s specials, they weren’t cheap. But I’m glad the rat is gone. Why don’t those varmints believe the books that say the bulbs are poison?

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Good morning Kathy! I also have some Aldi’s specials. They are good thick glass that doesn’t break. I may use more of those for the initial refrigeration and then move them to the more expensive glass in the future. Animals are funny creatures. Wish they could read. Haha!

  6. Heather says:

    I absolutely love your bulb vases! Where do you find the colored ones, especially the jade green with the interesting shape?

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Heather, the jade green ones with the interesting shape are the Tye type. They are kind of rare, but you can occasionally find them on Ebay. I’ve also found them on Etsy. Usually, they come from England. If they have seams, they are pressed glass. If they don’t, they are blown glass. Blown glass is much more expensive. Hope this helps!

  7. You are a braver soul than me, Dee. I probably would have screamed and not gone near that closet again. I’m so sorry you lost some of your vases. You still have some pretties, however, to keep you sane. This winter is too long and too cold for me. P. x

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Pam, I think I’m brave only because I’ve lived out here so long. I’ve stared down snakes, raccoons, opossums and squirrels. What’s a rat? Hahaha!

  8. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Oh my gosh, what a horror having a rat in your closet. The dang thing needed to die. I have no mercy on any bulb eating vermin. i hate that you lost some of your pretty vases. Bulbs can always be sought out but pretty bulb vases are more difficult to come by. This has been one ghastly winter weather-wise. I enjoy seeing your bulbs coming into bloom. Try to keep warm.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Lisa, it’s sad about the vases, but I was in the middle of moving Mom to assisted living so I didn’t have much time to mourn them. I’m sure I’ll be sad when I take an inventory, but it’s okay. Glass breaks. I’m sick of winter. Just sick of it. xoxo ~~Dee

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