Daffodils: reflecting the joys of spring
By LINDA STEPHENS-URBANIAK
Mercer Island Reporter Columnist
March 24, 2009 · Updated 1:20 PM
Nothing reflects the joy of spring more than the sight of a stand of daffodils. Their sunny blossoms lighten the gloomy days of late winter and reflect the sun of late spring into early summer.
All daffodils bloom from bulbs planted in the fall. Their strap-like or reed-like leaves sometimes emerge as early as late fall and can withstand the rigors of winter. You may find them peeking through snow without damage. They prefer the dappled shade of tall deciduous trees or full sun in our area. They will do well in most soils as long as they are well drained.
The form of the flowers is mostly all the same. There are six outer petals, the perianth, that surround the corona — sometimes called the cup, if short, or trumpet if long. Most are solitary flowers at the top of the stalk; however, there are others that bloom in clusters. Although most are yellow or white, the breeders have introduced daffodils with orange, white, apricot, pink, cream or orange-red coronas and amber, cream and apricot perianths.
There are at least 12 divisions of daffodils, but for the average gardener, the order in which they bloom is more important than what division their prize bulbs belong in. By choosing the right cultivars, you can have them in bloom from February to May. Known by the names daffodil, narcissus and jonquil, they are nonetheless all of the genus Narcissus. With several hundred cultivars available to choose from, there is something for everyone.
The early ‘February Gold’ is among the first to bloom, followed quickly by ‘Unsurpassable,’ then ‘Tête-à-Tête.’ Soon, the garden is filled with blossoms — such favorites as ‘Ice Follies,’ with its yellow trumpet that fades to cream surrounded by white; ‘King Alfred,’ the all-time favorite in pure yellow; ‘Las Vegas,’ white with a bright yellow trumpet, or ‘Spellbinder,’ with pale yellow perianth and a white trumpet.
There are some that are fragrant, too. ‘Geranium’ is white with a bright orange cup, ‘Pipit’ is yellow with a white cup, ‘Bell Song’ has a white perianth and a pink cup, ‘Hawera,’ ‘Quail’ or ‘Sun Disk’ come in pure yellow, and ‘Thalia’ nods shyly in pure white.
There are even a couple of strangely shaped daffodils. ‘Hoop Petticoat’ is a tiny, six-inch flower that is mostly all trumpet in the shape of the hoops that supported the long skirts of women in the 19th century. An even stranger one is ‘Rip Van Winkle,’ which looks like a miniature yellow pom-pom and always draws attention.
Breeders bring new plants to the market each year. Some recent additions of note are ‘Billy Graham,’ pale yellow with a pale peach trumpet; ‘Pink Charm’ or ‘Mon Cherie,’ which are white with pink trumpets; ‘Curly Lace,’ a highly fragrant yellow with a frilly trumpet; ‘Sound,’ white with a frilly cup of yellow, trimmed in orange; or ‘Nosy Posy,’ a small, long trumpet with a swept back perianth. Look for new ones as they come on the market.
The season ends with the late bloomers. Three favorites are ‘Actaea,’ which is white with a small cup of yellow with a red rim; ‘Pheasant’s Eye,’ white with a small yellow cup, orange-red ring and a green center, or ‘Baby Moon,’ tiny all over with a small pale yellow, highly scented cluster of tiny flowers.
Many cultivars are available at local nurseries in the fall, and the widest selection is available online. Some great companies for good to excellent selection are: Brent and Becky’s Bulbs at www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com, Van Bourgondien at www.dutchbulbs.com, Dutch Gardens at www.dutchgardens.com or White Flower Farm at www.whiteflowerfarm.com.
They have been in gardens as harbingers of spring since the early 1600s. Surely, daffodils belong in your garden, too.
Linda Stephens-Urbaniak can be reached at Lindagardenlady@speakeasy.com.