Where coloured ribbons create fragrant fields
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 firstname.lastname@example.org JH