Where coloured rib­bons cre­ate fra­grant fields

Country Life Every Week - - My Favourite Painting -

Alan Shipp’s hy­acinth col­lec­tion speaks vol­umes and more than 100,000 flow­er­ing bulbs dec­o­rate his one-acre field at Water­beach, Cam­bridgeshire

Their plant­ing be­gan as an un­usual com­mer­cial ven­ture. In 1985, Alan Shipp was, and re­mains, the only post-sec­ond World War hy­acinth grower in Eng­land. He ini­tially planted 440lb of just five va­ri­eties, but quickly be­came hooked on hy­acinths, seek­ing out and col­lect­ing rare and her­itage spec­i­mens.

In 1989, he ab­sorbed the Na­tional Hy­acinth Col­lec­tion (of some 60 cul­ti­vars), held by Wy­cliffe Hall Botan­i­cal Gar­dens, gain­ing his own Na­tional Col­lec­tion sta­tus four years later.

The col­lec­tion now com­prises some 240 va­ri­eties, in­clud­ing

some that are so rare, they were once thought to be ex­tinct. In 1998, Mr Shipp ac­quired a hand­ful of uniden­ti­fied bulbs from a Lithua­nian col­lec­tor, since when the bulbs have been ver­i­fied as Ophir (about 1770), the world’s first dou­ble-yel­low hy­acinth, which was thought to have per­ished 150 years ago.

He is also cus­to­dian to the world’s old­est ex­ist­ing hy­acinth cul­ti­vars, in­clud­ing Grande Blanche Im­pe­ri­ale (1798), and Glo­ria Mundi (about 1767). The col­lec­tion spans four cen­turies and Mr Shipp’s per­sonal favourites are the near-black

Mene­lik as well as Sun­flower and Gol­uboj Elek­tron.

The col­lec­tion is also prov­ing in­valu­able for pro­vid­ing a gene pool for the devel­op­ment of his own unique hy­brids, such as Snow­blush and Miss Molly, the lat­ter be­ing named af­ter his grand­daugh­ter.

The Na­tional Hy­acinth Col­lec­tion is open to the public from March 25–26, 11am– 5pm. Please tele­phone Mr Shipp for di­rec­tions to the hy­acinth fields near Water­beach, Cam­bridgeshire on 01223 571064 or email him at alan.shipp@vir­gin.net JH

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