Daffodils and Narcissi Arrangements

Daffodils and narcissi include many varieties and types of flower, and have been so much ‘improved’ during the last fifty years, that when they are mentioned today they no longer conjure up two distinct pictures in the mind — one of a yellow flower with a frilled trimpet, and the other of flat white rounded petals with a bright orange perianth in the centre. To illustrate this point I would like to quote from a lecture given to the Royal Horticultural Society by Mr. J.S.B. Lea on The Modern Daffodil in April, 1962:

“In a book on modern daffodils written in 1910 by the Rev. Joseph Bacon, the recommended list of the twelve best exhibition varieties contains only two names that would be generally known today. They are White Star and King Alfred.”

What does all this mean to the flower arranger? How much does it matter whether the daffodils to be arranged are the latest two colour’ combination or one of the newest ‘pinks’? To my mind this seems of little importance. (There is, perhaps, one daffodil which is not suitable for flower arrangement and that is the double one. My personal inclination would not be for this daffodil in any case, and the extra weight of the heads, especially after rain, makes them difficult to support on the slender stems—and they are inclined to look shaggy and untidy rather quickly.)

Daffodils and narcissi look best when they are growing in clumps naturally in grass, and this applies in much the same way when they are cut for an arrangement.Daffodils and Narcissi Arrangements

I have found Pheasant-eye narcissus, Cheerfulness, the early wild daffodils and some of the miniature hybrid daffodils, especially suitable for arrangements, but the conditions under which they are arranged are important.

Most flowers dislike a draught or an abrupt change in temperature more than anything else. They will even stand up to a certain amount of neglect, but put them in the way of an open door and window, then add hot air from a radiator blowing up underneath the vase, and they will soon droop. This applies more to daffodils and narcissi than almost any other flower. So one of the most important conditions for keeping them alive is, as far as possible, an even temperature and no draughts.

Another condition is that the flowers must be fresh and the base of the stems snipped off before arranging. Even if cut from the garden it is advisable to do this—only about an eighth of an inch is necessary. If any one of the narcissus family is left out of water for any length of time the end of the hollow stem will soon seal over, and obviously if the tip of the stem is not cut off it will be difficult for the flower to get a good supply of water.

This is only a small point and may seem almost too elementary to mention, but it is of so much importance to the life of a flower that I think it should be emphasised. Another point on the ‘taking in’ of water is sometimes overlooked.

Daffodils and narcissi are flowers which not only drink up their stems, but through them, so if possible have these flowers standing in some depth of water, — it is not necessary for the water to reach all the way up the stems. Finally, if lasting properties are important, arrange them in a container capable of holding plenty of water.

I find it difficult to get the full effect of these flowers without a good deal of patience. They are not easy to arrange naturally, although they look so straightforward. The bareness of their stems can be part of their attraction, but to give them a softer line they often need something with them. A shrub of rosemary will provide charming grey green spikes throughout the year. Camellia foliage, dark green and shining, is another most attractive evergreen, as are branches of the paler and smaller-leaved parchment bark ( Pittosporum).

To enable each flower to be seen separately the flowers are cut into different lengths— a very simple but fundamental rule of flower arrangement. Another, possibly derived from the Japanese school, is that of using an uneven number of flowers whenever possible.

This is a point which can only be proved by personal experience, and let me add hastily that it does not, of course, apply to smaller flowers which look better in bunches. (No one is expected to count primroses, violets, polyanthus or daffodils if used in any quantity.) But I have found when arranging a few flowers of any size that an even number gives a square effect and that it is worth leaving out one of a dozen to get a better balance. The twelfth flower can look most attractive in a small specimen vase made to hold just one stem, this shows off the clear beauty of the single bloom’s petals and the perianth frill to perfection.

All types of daffodils and narcissi are excellent flowers for lightening a furnishing scheme. They bring into the house a radiance and brightness invaluable on cold spring days and are especially suitable for giving a feeling of warmth and sunshine to a north facing room.

Either the yellow or white of these flowers is good in any colour scheme, though best of all against a blue or a pale green background. The boldness of the daffodils will stand up against deeper colours, but the clear and delicate white of many of the narcissi, such as Pheasant-eye, or the more creamy white of Cheerfulness, seem to require a more gentle shade of background.

Not to be forgotten too is the pleasure of the perfume belonging to the stronger smelling narcissi, quite different from the fresh, rather woody smell of the daffodils.

Whatever the surroundings, a bowl of the first daffodils or narcissi will bring into the house a feeling of spring which can only be equalled by the first snowdrops or a bunch of Easter primroses.

Perhaps here I might be forgiven for mentioning something which seems to me to be of the greatest importance—the protection of wild bulbs and plants. It seems a reflection on the diminishing numbers of wild daffodils, for instance, when a well known nursery has to list them as more expensive than the bigger naturalised ones, and then has some difficulty in getting them. This may be a question of supply and demand, but it seems a pity that the wild ones should disappear, particularly as they are most suitable for small arrangements and in many ways much more appealing.

Mention of the wild daffodil brings one’s mind back to the large numbers of cultivated varieties that have developed during the last fifty or sixty years. It is a long way from the early days of the little Welsh lily to that of its more modern counterparts, and it would be a pity, I think, to lose the colour, shape and size of the original. To quote Mr. Lea again :` . there seems a danger that we are getting away from the essential character of the daffodil ; you will all, no doubt, have seen in the Hall today extreme examples of this where the flower is no longer recognisable as a daffodil and only resembles some unhappy malformed streak of nature. I am told, however, that they have one advantage; they can be crammed into a box and sent on a rough train journey arriving at Covent Garden looking much the same as when they were picked’.

The one condition I would like to impose is that these flowers should at least resemble a daffodil or narcissus as one used to remember them.

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