Daffodil is the common name for the genus Narcissus, which is a bulb plant in the Amaryllis family. The name is full of legend and ethnobotany. The word Narcissus shares its root with narcotic, and Roman soldiers were said to carry a bulb with them to eat in the case that suicide was necessary to their mission. In Greek legend, Narcissus is the name of a boy who was so enamored with his own reflected image that he fell into
a pool of water. A flower grew where he had stood. In the early 1900s, the daffodil was referred to as, the poor man’s rose.
All of these references to daffodils make perfect sense to passionate, professional and amateur growers. We appreciate the narcotic value of daffodils. Deer, voles, rabbits, squirrels and most insects leave them alone in the garden and in our wild drifts. A county agent once recommended daffodil water as a perfect deer-proofing spray for shrubs. His recipe instructed putting a few daffodil bulbs in a blender with water and whirring them into a pulpy sludge, and then mixing small amounts of that with water and spraying the water on shrubs. He claimed that once dry, it was fairly rain resistant. Experienced flower arrangers know they must let freshly picked daffodils “condition and harden” in water that is separate from other flowers before mixing the daffodils into flower arrangements with other plants. If this practice is ignored, the other flowers may suffer daffodil poisoning.
The association between the self-infatuation of the Greek boy, Narcissus, and the beauty of daffodils makes perfect sense. There are more than 25,000 registered daffodil cultivars that are divided into 13 divisions. Each division is defined by dominate features such as bold cups or multiple flowers on a single stem. Colors range from yellow, white, green, salmon, pink, peach, cream, orange and mixtures of those colors. Daffodils offer a color and shape that is perfect for every use – flower arranging, woodland drifts, bold enhancement for garden beds, well behaved borders and tiny miniature whimsy.
If you are just starting to collect and grow daffodils, you will have an unprecedented opportunity this year to view thousands of examples. The American Daffodil Society is bringing its 2015 National Convention to Williamsburg, April 9 – 12, 2015 at the Fort Magruder Hotel and Conference Center. The convention is open to the public on Saturday, April 11, from 10:00am until 9:00pm. There you will see hundreds of specimens in all 13 divisions. These entries will have been judged, so you will also have the opportunity to learn which specimen in each class are considered perfect by the judges.
If you have been growing daffodils for a while and would like to become totally immersed in this unique educational opportunity, you can register for the entire event on the American Daffodil Society website, www.daffodilusa.org. The convention includes a visit to the Gloucester Daffodil Festival,
tours of several world class private daffodil gardens, and lectures by experts. Garden tours include Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, the Williams Garden, Perrin Garden, Pinkham Garden and the Harper Garden.
Keynote speakers at evening banquets include Carlos Van der Veek and Felder Rushing. Van der Veek is one of Holland’s most renowned specialists and daffodil hybridizers. Based in his 150 year old farmhouse, he grows unique bulbs that are sold through his company, Fluwel.
Felder Rushing is a 10th generation American farmer, and his overstuffed, quirky cottage garden has been featured in dozens of print media including Southern Living and in the New York Times. Felder is the founder of Slow Gardening. The practice encourages the cultivation of locally-adapted plants that are grown sustainably and shared with others.
If you are looking for other daffodil experiences this spring, the daffodil is the official flower of the 2015 Historic Garden Week in Virginia Homes and Gardens Tour, April 18-25. A bouquet of daffodils centers the cover of the Garden Week Guidebook, and bright yellow and orange daffodils, Narcissus Ceylon, lend their sunny grace to Historic Garden Week posters, gardens and flower arrangements for this year’s tour. Visit www.vagardenweek.org for information and tickets for this year’s 42 regional tours.
The Garden Club of Virginia’s 81st Annual Daffodil Show takes place in Winchester, Virginia on April 1, and is open to the public and free of charge. The public is welcome to enter specimens for judging in the horticulture show and to enter individual flower arranging classes. For registration information go to www.gcvirginia.org.
With more than 25,000 possible daffodil choices for your garden, selection can be a challenge. Experts recommend starting the collection of daffodils by extending your growing season. Bulb catalogues can help you select bulbs that bloom in early season, mid-season and late season.
Early blooming daffodils add sunny color and cheerfulness to the garden, nightstand or breakfast room windowsill, just when we need it most. They look fabulous in the garden when paired with early blooming hellebores, commonly known as Lenten Roses. Reliable early blooming types are: Alliance, Tete-a-Tete, February Gold, Little Gem and Topolino. Ice Follies and Mount Hood are reliable mid-season choices. Thalia and Cheerfulness present several flowers on a single stem in the late season. Stainless and White Plume look wonderful with blue Muscari or blue Hyacinths in the late season. All of these choices are available locally from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester.
Daffodils can be planted in trenches to form borders, randomly spaced to form natural drifts or carefully labeled in beds. There really is no incorrect design for planting them. Their variety of color, size and shape make them a perfect plant for thoughtful and artful expression. One of the most beautiful collections can contain antique or heirloom varieties. Favorite “old daffodils” that grow well in our area are Sweetness 1939, Albus Plenus Odoratus 1601, Avalanche 1906, Beersheba 1923 and Rip Van Winkle 1884.
If you are not a fan of yellow in your spring garden, select from several peach, cream and salmon varieties including: Chinese Coral, Accent, Sentinel, Salome, Romance or Lilac Charm. Choices that look especially elegant in flower arrangements come from Division IX and are described as having a dogwood-like appearance with large, white perianth petals surrounding the tight corona cup. Actaea 1927, which is also an heirloom, falls into this division and grows well here.
Other wonderful daffodils for flower arranging include Polar Ice 1936 which is an all-white, graceful flower. Fragrant Rose is beautifully shaped and fragrant. Bridal Crown is a fluffy explosion of cream-colored blooms with saffron centers. Petrel will remind you of butterflies with 3 – 5 flowers on each stem.
To achieve motion in your flower arrangement select Division VI, Cyclamineus Daffodils. They have strongly reflexed petals and their names, which include Jet Fire, Jack Snipe, Larkwhistle and Wheater, are comically perfect for these varieties that appear to have their ears blowing back in the wind.
Miniature daffodils represent various divisions. They are perfect accents for the base of a mailbox, along a rock garden path or tucked at the front of a border. They are perfect in an inkwell on the desk or in individual placeholders at the dining table. Some of the most charming include Baby Moon and Chit Chat, which are both yellow and offer two or more flowers on a stem. Midget is a perfect 4 inch version of what we all think of as the classic daffodil. Hawera, Mite and Jumblie have reflexed petals. Sundial will extend your season by blooming late.
In our area, it is recommended that daffodils be planted in the fall and before Christmas. They should be planted at a depth of 6 – 8 inches and about 6 inches apart in soil that has cooled to a temperature lower than 60 degrees. The ideal soil is rich in organic matter and sand. When picking daffodils, do not pick the leaves.
A most beautiful display of daffodils can be seen in the City of Williamsburg’s Geddy Park, located at the corner of Jamestown Road and John Tyler Road. The park was established as an Eagle Scout project by the son of Alain and Merry Outlaw and through the years has developed into one of the hidden jewels of the City of Williamsburg. Members of the Holly Hills Garden Club have taken particular interest in the Park, and with the assistance of Will Fidler, Landscape Superintendent for the City of Williamsburg, the park salutes spring with a fabulous parade of yellow, peach, pink and white. Miniature daffodils surround park benches and bold and colorful trumpets, doubles and split-corona examples line the pebble pathways.