Perhaps it is because Narcissus (Daffodils) are so common and easy to grow that we tend to overlook how interesting and different they are from many other plants. Spring would certainly not be spring without them and their happy colours bring a breath of fresh air after a long grey, cold winter.
In researching for this article I was surprised to see just how many different species of Narcissus there are. Anna Pavord ¹ indicates that there are over 50. It has been equally fascinating to see how the different varieties that we have put in the garden over the years relate to each of these species.
Although we have our own native wild daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) in Britain, many of the species we grow in our gardens have a distribution centred on the Iberian peninsula with others stretching across France and into Italy and Greece. They are very easy to establish in the English garden and come back reliably year after year. Any investment in Narcissus bulbs will give you years of pleasure with very little trouble.
The majority of Narcissus are fully hardy and grow well in full sun or dappled shade. Most daffodils like soil that is well drained but not too dry in the summer. Although they look lovely in borders and large tubs they look particularly effective naturalised in grass. One of my favourite parts of our garden in spring is the orchard where the daffodils have established themselves well at the base of each of the apple, plum, cherry and pear trees. We have written previously about the orchard in an earlier blog (The Orchard – beautiful in spring, productive in autumn).
Luckily for us Narcissus have their own inbuilt protection against the common pests in the garden. Due to the thick, unpleasant and toxic sap most wild animals do not eat Narcissus. They are rarely eaten by slugs and snails although we do sometimes see damage on the open flowers.
Cutting and conditioning
Whereas Narcissus make excellent cut flowers it is important to recognise that if placed, freshly cut, in a vase of mixed flowers the sap will make the other flowers wilt prematurely.
When cutting Narcissus we always cut into a separate bucket of cool, fresh water away from other flowers. Every 20 minutes we change the water until the sticky sap stops running from the cut stems. Once the sap stops running we leave the flowers to condition for a couple of hours in a cool place. At this point it is safe to incorporate the Narcissus with other mixed flowers in a bouquet or arrangement. Don’t cut the stems again otherwise the sap will start to run again and contaminate your vase water and affect the other flowers.
Narcissus should be picked when the flowers are still tight and fairly green but their necks have turned towards 90 degrees rather than facing straight up. They will have a long vase life of up to 10 days if cut at the right stage and properly conditioned.
Varieties across the garden
Over nearly 25 years we have planted a huge range of Narcissus throughout the garden and I am afraid that the names of many have been lost in the mists of time. Carol and I tend to disagree on which we like best but luckily there is a place for all of them.
Some of the more miniature daffodils such as ‘Jenny ‘ and the ever popular ‘Tête-à-tête’ (both Cyclamineus types showing the characteristics of Narcissus cyclamineus) are establishing themselves beautifully in the front of the borders. As mentioned earlier, the larger trumpet varieties look wonderful in the orchard and woodland.
Later in the spring the Pheasant Eye’s begin to emerge (Narcissus poeticus). These have smaller and more delicate flowers and we find these particularly useful for cut flower arrangements.
Although we like them all, one of our favourites has to be ‘Thalia’. This is a multi-headed white Narcissus of the Triandrus type which show the characteristics of Narcissus triandrus.
More recently we have started to introduce ‘Bridal Crown’ and ‘Avalanche’ which both have small fragrant flowers and are of the Tazetta type (related to Narcissus tazetta). As well as growing well in pots amongst the tulips and violas we have also planted some amongst newly planted roses giving a lovely spring show as the rose bushes begin to break (see: New additions to our garden of Roses and 3 fragrant roses for Autumn).
Floriography (the language of flowers): Self-love ²
And finally a little poetry…
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
William Wordsworth (1815)
¹ “Bulb” by Anna Pavord (ISBN 978-1-84533-415-4)
² “The language of flowers” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (ISBN 978-0-230-75258-0)
Honey Pot Flowers are wedding and celebration florists based in Warwickshire in the United Kingdom specialising in natural, locally grown seasonal flowers. We grow many of our own flowers allowing us to offer something very different and uniquely personal.