Fragrant spring blooming bulbs: The best of the best

In the spring of 1999, a select group of Dutch bulb growers, exporters, horticulturists and fragrance experts spent a good part of the season coming up with the answer to a difficult question.

It was, "Which are the best fragrant spring-blooming bulbs?"

While fragrance was certainly the number one criterion, others included growing habits, availability, performance stability, visual impact and delivery of the expectation.

Scented plantings
Today, it seems that an ever-growing number of customers (both residential and institutional) want everything from the flowers their landscapers recommend. Not only do they want their spring flowers to last well into the summer, but they also want colour, texture, drama, emotion, and if at all possible, a fabulous scent.

This is a tall, but possible order.

Fragrant flowers have most impact when planted next to walkways leading to front doors, adjacent to side walks, pathways through parks and under windows.

In the spring-blooming bulb category, it is a surprise to many people that while hyacinths are the most fragrant, there are also tulips and narcissi with delightful scents from subtle to freesia-like.

The definition of "fragrance"
Mieke Stap, coordinator of the project as well as fragrance and technical expert with the International Flower Bulb Centre of Holland (IBC) explains, "When our eyes lock on an image, our tongues easily find the words to express what we've seen. When it comes to scents, however, it is another issue. Even though our brains can easily identify thousands of smells, defining them with words is almost impossible," she says.

As a result, the IBC retained the services of the Dutch-based Agro-technological Research Institute to research and generate qualitative fragrance descriptions of the spring-blooming bulbs picked by the selection committee.

Their descriptions are two-fold:

  • The description of the actual fragrance of the flower, and
  • In italics, and even though it sounds a bit bizarre, what the scent is evocative of.
And the winners are —
While there are many other fragrant spring bulbs from which to choose, after much deliberation, the Best of the Best Fragrant Bulbs judging panel unanimously selected the following 10 cultivars as the winners.

Tulipa 'Prinses Irene'
Triumph group of tulips
Colour: Orange with a purple flame on outer petals.
Fragrance: A fresh, fruity smell of honey sweetened with lemon.
Enjoying a lemon tea with a touch of honey while sitting on a terrace in Paris.
Tulipa 'Apricot Beauty'
Single Early group.
Colour: Salmon rose, tinged with red.
Fragrance: A honeyed, sweet, fruity smell with a touch of sharpness.
Like the sunrise signaling the start to a warm summer day.
Narcissus 'Carlton'
Colour: Yellow.
Fragrance: Fresh, green with a touch of jasmine.
A morning stroll in a field of budding flowers.
Hyacinthus 'Anna Marie'
Colour: Pink.
Fragrance: A sweet, fruity, refreshing, relaxing smell.
Afternoon in the park with soft, gentle sunlight.
Narcissus 'Bridal Crown'
Colour: White to pale yellow.
Fragrance: An exotic, voluptuous, lilac-like smell. A classic romantic perfumed scent with oriental overtones.
Narcissus 'Geranium'
Colour: White with a golden-orange cup.
Fragrance: A romantic, feminine and sultry scent.
Out on the veranda on a warm evening in late spring.
Narcissus 'Thalia'
Colour: White.
Fragrance: A fresh, green "wet" smell.
Like a small pond in a clearing in the woods.
Hyacinthus 'Blue Jacket'
Colour: Purply-blue.
Fragrance: A fresh, cool outdoor smell.
Like walking along a shaded path in the mountains.
Tulipa 'Angélique'
Double Late group and double-flowering
Colour: Pale and darker shades of pink.
Fragrance: A delicate rose scent.
A leisurely bicycle ride through the pastures on a warm summer's day.
Hyacinthus 'Carnegie'
Colour: White.
Fragrance: A fresh, green, virginal smell.
Like morning dew over a babbling stream.

Images courtesy International Bloembellen Centrum Hillegom, Holland