Daffodils and narcissi FAQs

What is the difference in form or colour between a daffodil and a narcissus?

There is no difference. Daffodil is the English name and Narcissus the botanical one. The small-eyed ‘Old Pheasant’s Eye’ narcissus (N. poeticus recurvens) is as much a daffodil as a yellow-trumpet variety such as ‘Golden Harvest’ or ‘King Alfred’. (The assumption of a difference between the two has a long history: John Parkinson writing in 1629 complained of the ‘great confusion’ and rebuked those who differentiated between the narcissus and daffodil.)

Why are some new varieties so expensive?

Daffodils take a long time to breed and to increase: seed takes five years to produce a flowering-size bulb, and only one seedling in a thousand will stand any chance of getting into commerce. It will take the breeder 7 to 10 years at least before he has enough bulbs of the seedling to offer a few for sale. The ones he sells have to pay for the five years’ work on the 999 seedlings that did not make the grade and for the work of increasing the individual to a saleable-size stock.

I find catalogues a bit confusing. Can you suggest where I can see a good range of daffodils, so that I can make a selection ‘in the flesh’ rather than from photographs, in which the colours are often inaccurately reproduced?

Flower shows are held in different parts of the country at which you may expect to see collections in the spring months. The Royal Horticultural Society shows at the horticultural halls at Westminster, London, are among the best. The society has an Early Daffodil competition and a Daffodil Show each year. The Daffodil Society usually holds a show in the Midlands, and it also holds a competition at the North of England show at Harrogate each spring, where firms show their wares. You will also find daffodils at the Chelsea Flower Show. The RHS gardens at Wisley (near Woking, Surrey) have many old and new daffodils planted and labelled. The Harlow Carr Gardens in Yorkshire also have daffodils, as do all the main public gardens. The Springfields gardens at Spalding (Lincolnshire) have plantings of all bulbs, and there is an early spring show at Spalding too—not to be confused with the carnival later in the year.

Specialised nurseries may welcome visitors, but you should make sure that this is so before setting out. 517

Can you suggest a list of about 10 daffodils which will bloom in a continuous succession from early to late?

There are some 10,000 registered varieties of daffodils, so any selection of 10 will be highly subjective—but here goes: 1. ‘Tete-a-Tete, a dwarf variety 100-125 mm (4-5 in), blooms February-March, gold, 1-3 heads to a stem. 2. ‘Armada’ March, large, gold petals, with large orange cup. 3. ‘Ice Follies’, March-April, white petals, wide primrose cup. 4. ‘Galway’, early April, best traditional golden trumpet daffodil. 5. ‘Charter’, April, tall, lemon petals, goblet crown opens lemon becomes white (an improved version of ‘Binkie’). 6. ‘Passionale’, April, uniform crop of perfect white petals and rose pink cup. 7. ‘Tahiti’, April, large double, yellow and orange. 8. ’Kilworth’, late April, white or cream petals and dark orange cup, often with medium green centre. 9. ’Sundisc’, late April-May, dwarf, 100 mm (4 in) yellow circles, flat crowns. 10. ‘Cushendall’, late April-May, snow-white circle, small cup centred in mossy green.

NOTE The flowering times given above are approximate and apply to southern England. In Cornwall flowers may be two to five weeks earlier in each case; in northern England and Scotland they will be two or three weeks later than in the south.

I must have daffodils, but I find their foliage a nuisance in the border after flowering. What do you suggest?

In a border much of the daffodil foliage can be hidden if the plants are carefully sited amidst shrubs and herbaceous plants. In general, however, the answer is to concentrate on early-blooming daffodils. The very dwarf ‘Tete-a-Tete’ is early and neat. At about 125-150 mm (5-6 in) high, it produces a lot of gold and pale tangerine blooms, one, two, or three to a stem, and its foliage dies down quite early. The same applies to the 200-225 mm (8-9 in) Tenby’ daffodil (gold), and ‘February Gold’. Among the larger varieties, ‘Armada’ is a bold, cheerful, early daffodil in brilliant gold and scarlet; ‘Brunswick’ is early, sturdy, and reliable in white and lemon; and ‘Ice Follies’ is very prolific with large white and primrose-cream flowers. See 532 on tying back.

I want to enter daffodils in our local flower show. I haven’t tried before, so what are some of the points I need to watch?

Make sure your entry form is handed in on time, and that the varieties you show are entered for the correct class (trumpet, large-cupped, small-cupped, double, etc). If your class calls for a certain number of blooms in each exhibit, check that yours are correct.

If possible, cut your flowers the day before the show, selecting fresh blooms unspoilt by wind damage or sun fading. Use the full length of stem, with a little daffodil foliage to the side or behind the flower stems. Arrange the flower stems with moss, oasis, or other material so that the flowers are displayed to best effect. Ensure the vase or container is clean. Prepare a label with the name of the variety at the base of the container.

Our local show has classes for daffodils and narcissus. Can you suggest varieties for the main classes (not too expensive, please)?

A brief selection of my personal favourites: TRUMPETS Yellow: ‘Rembrandt’, ‘Kingscourt’. White: ‘Mount Hood’, ‘Empress of

Ireland’, Reversed bicolor: ‘Spellbinder’.

LARGE CUPS Yellow: ‘Galway’.

Yellow and orange: ‘Ceylon’,

Falstaff’, ‘Armada’. White and yellow: ‘Bizerta’, ‘Tudor Minstrel’.

White and red: ‘Prof. Einstein’, ‘Kilworth’. White and pink: ‘Passionale’.

SMALL CUPS Yellow and orange: ‘Chungking’. White: ‘Verona’.

Pale: ‘Aircastle’.

DOUBLES ‘White Lion’, ‘Golden

Ducat’. Yellow and orange: ‘Tahiti’. White and yellow: ‘Unique’.

TRIANDRUS White: Tresamble’. Lemon: ‘Liberty Bells’. CYCLAMINEUS Yellow: ‘February Gold’, ‘Charity May’, ‘Bartley’. White: ‘Jenny’. White and primrose: ‘Dove Wings’, ‘Jonquil’. Yellow: ‘Trevithian’, ‘Sweetness’. Yellow and orange: ‘Suzy’. TAZETTA White and orange: ‘Geranium’, ‘Orange Wonder’.

I like scented flowers. Can you give me the names of some attractive varieties of well-scented daffodils?

Most daffodils have some scent, but some are much better endowed than others. Almost all the true jonquil daffodils have, in greater or lesser degree, the strong perfume of the wild jonquil (Narcissus jonquilh) to which they are related; particularly good is Trevithian’. Most of the poeticus varieties are very sweet scented; especially evocative is the perfume of old-fashioned ‘Old Pheasant’s Eye’. The many-headed tazettas are strongly perfumed, the gold and orange ‘Soleil d’Or’ being particularly pungent. Among daffodils of other groups, pink-crowned ‘Louise de oligney’ smells of lemon; doubles such as ‘Mary Copeland’ are more pungent than most carnations; the double, many-headed ‘Bridal Crown’ is like an improved version of ‘Cheerfulness’ and has an even finer perfume.

I was particularly struck with the miniature wild daffodils I saw growing like buttercups in Spain and Portugal. Any chance of growing these here?

Narcissus cyclamineus, 150-200 mm (6-8 in) tall, and the dwarf N. bulbocodium, 50-150 mm (2-6 in), are both native to Spain and Portugal. In the RHS gardens at Wisley these two species increase naturally by seeding themselves in the light grass of the alpine meadow, where the soil—sandy and somewhat acid—suits them well.

Bulbs offered for sale are often collected in the wild while in full growth. They may take a while to establish themselves. Plant with 25-38 mm (1-1 ½ in) soil over their tops, and keep the area slug-free. N. bulbocodium can produce over 100 seeds to a pod. If grown in pots and kept moist, the seedlings may bloom in 18 months.

I’m told that some of the smallest species of daffodils are reluctant to get going in the garden. Are there any little species or hybrids that are good growers?

Most of the small hybrids are very much easier to grow than the species; some of them are very fine plants with surprising rates of increase. The very early Tete-a-Tete’, for instance, doubles its bulbs each year. Its flowers last for weeks. It stands about 125 mm (5 in) high when it starts to bloom, with one, two or three flowers on a stem. It has yellow petals and a long, pale-tangerine crown.

There are several small jonquil hybrids that grow almost as readily as weeds. ‘Sundisc’, 125-150 mm (5-6 in) tall, blooms at the end of the season and has perfectly circular yellow flowers with flat disc crowns.

How quickly do daffodils increase?

There is considerable variation. On average, daffodils do not double themselves in a year, although some kinds will and the work of breeders is tending to select kinds that increase more quickly. The small Tete-a-Tete’ usually easily doubles itself, while most of the N. cyclamineus and N. jonquilla hybrids are quick to increase. A few of the older trumpet varieties are rather slower to increase by weight or number.

I want to grow the wild English daffodil in grass in my garden. Where can I get bulbs?

The English daffodil, or Lent lily, of which Wordsworth glimpsed 10,000, is Narcissus pseudonarcissus. It is a wild species that relies far more on seed than on bulb division for maintaining and increasing its population. Bulbs of this species put into a normal commercial regime fail to increase satisfactorily; any bulbs offered for sale are likely to have been lifted from the wild, which is against the law and rightly so.

It may be possible for you to obtain bulbs from a garden where N. pseudonarcissus is already established. Failing that, you may perhaps be able to get seed, which germinates readily.

The closely related Tenby daffodil (N. pseudonarcissus obuallaris) is an alternative suggestion. It is a brighter yellow, somewhat smarter form, and it is available from the trade as it grows easily under cultivation.

What daffodils are best for naturalising in grass and rough ground?

Some of the simpler kinds are the most effective. The old early double yellow, ‘Van Sion’ is good in all sorts of odd spots. Orange-crowned ones are best in the foreground, and ‘Armada’ is an impressive early example that grows well if left to itself. Avoid orange-crowned ones in groups that will be viewed from a distance; in the green grass the complementary orange becomes visually muddied. The small, yellow-trumpet Tenby daffodil ‘N. pseudonarcissus obuallaris) is bright, early, and reliable; ‘February Gold’, of a similar size, is also good. ‘Brunswick’ is sturdy, healthy, and clean in white and lemon; ‘Ice Follies’, in white and primrose cream is good; both must be planted with at least 100 mm (4 in) of soil over their nose. The double white ‘Mrs Wm Copeland’ is sturdy, large, and effective. ‘Old Pheasant’s Eye’ is best grown between shrubs where the grass is not to be mown, the same applies to the newly available double white N. poeticus flore-pleno.

How often do I need to lift my daffodils?

Some daffodils can be left forever: you have probably seen country churchyards and gardens where ‘Emperor’, ‘Empress’, and other varieties, planted over 60 years ago, continue to thrive. To get the maximum increase, however, most commercial growers lift bulbs every other year. In the garden, after three or four seasons, most clumps will have increased so considerably that the competition for space and nutrients is incompatible with good flowering performance. Lift in the second half of June or early July, while the foliage is still present to show you where to dig. After lifting the bulbs, you may clean and re-plant them 100 mm (4 in) apart and 100 mm (4 in) deep immediately, preferably in a fresh location or they may be stored in a dry, airy place and replanted in August, September or October.

I envisage sweeps of daffodils in the grass but the work of planting them is daunting. Any suggestions?

The job is best left until the autumn rains have softened the ground—but not so late that the cold makes it all too tempting to plant carelessly. It is very important that the bulbs have 100 mm (4 in) of soil over the noses, otherwise they will split up into lots of small, non-flowering bulbs.

The tools sometimes sold for this purpose may work on some soils. You press a cylinder into the ground, remove a core of soil, insert the bulb into the hole, and replace the soil. It does not work so easily, however, on hard or stony soil. Alternatively, take a spade and cut three sides of a square, each side being the width of the spade’s blade. Lever up the turf, put in two, three, or four bulbs, allow the turf to fall back, place a foot on the turf, and move to the next position. Try to avoid ‘unnatural’ patterns of bulbs in grass: aim for an appearance of natural colonisation.

I want to cut the grass where daffodils grow. How long do I have to leave the daffodil foliage?

Up to a point, the longer the leaves are left the better will the bulbs perform. After the flowers have finished, the efficiency of the leaves, working as food factories for the bulb, begins to fail, and by six weeks after blooming the leaves are contributing little to the well-being of the bulb, and can therefore be cut without jeopardising the plant’s future. A daffodil blooming in mid-April may have its leaves removed in the first half of June if necessary. It follows that the earlier blooming kinds, which are likely to receive the heartiest welcome, will also earn good marks for being ready for tidying up earlier— possibly before the grass has become unmanageable.

Clumps of my double daffodils produce fat buds each spring, but they fail to open. What am I doing wrong?

I wish I had a pound for every time I have been asked this question! You may be doing nothing wrong at all. You may, for instance, be growing the double yellow and orange Texas’ which often exhibits this deplorable habit. The only course is to dig up the bulbs and put them in the dustbin. Some doubles, like the June-flowering ‘Gardenia narcissus’ (N. poeticus flore pleno), occasionally produce blind buds; this may be caused by a jolt in their development—a severe drought, perhaps, or a sudden burst of very hot or cold weather. Pot-grown doubles, which may be similarly affected, need to be grown with greater care than other types. 531

Most daffodils that I have grown in window boxes and bowls get too tall. What can I do about this?

Daffodils kept in the dark reach up for light. To a bulb, the centre of a living room—or indeed any poorly lit corner—can be a dense, dark jungle. One answer, then, is to keep your bowls of daffodils in the lightest spot as often as possible.

Dwarf types are certainly easier to manage in window boxes and bowls. Of these, the very early Tete-a-Tete’ is one of the longest in bloom; ‘February Gold’ is one of the best in bowls. The popular multi-headed double ‘Bridal Crown’ is very-free-flowering and sturdy, while ‘Binkie’, in shades of lemon, is unusual and good in window boxes.

I have read that one should tie-up daffodil leaves after the plants have finished flowering. Why is this?

I can think of no good reason for this practice. They are no neater than if left to grow naturally, and the twisted leaves cannot function properly: they will not get enough light and air to carry out their work as the bulbs’ food factory.

If the foliage is an annoyance— and I cannot see why it should be —it may be wise to plant your bulbs in places where shrubs and herbaceous plants will grow up and obscure the leaves as they fade.

When I asked for ‘Van Sion’ recently, I was offered something called N. ‘Telamonius Plenus’ and told this is the same thing. Is that true?

Yes. This early double yellow, which has been popular in Britain for over three-and-a-half centuries has several aliases. Two other names for it are ‘Wilmer’s Double’ or simply ‘Common Double’.

Some of my daffodil bulbs have disappeared. Could they have rotted away?

There is a trouble called basal rot, but in our climate and with present-day varieties this is unlikely to be the cause of the trouble.

Three pests attack bulbs. The narcissus fly lays eggs that hatch into grubs that bore into a bulb and eat out the centre. The grubs are about 13 mm (½ in) long, fat, and a dirty cream colour. One can spoil a bulb. The small daffodil fly produces a lot of small grubs, but these rarely attack a bulb that is not already damaged. The narcissus eelworm, the worst of all, cannot be seen by the naked eye. It enters a bulb and multiplies so fast that millions are soon devouring the bulb, which is left as a soggy, rotten mass. Any bulbs discovered in this state must be destroyed together with any others nearby, and the ground must be quarantined for three or four years. Any bulbs with deformed foliage, twisted stems or flowers just above soil level should be suspect. A bulb lifted and cut transversely to reveal rings of discoloration should be burnt.

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