History Of Daffodils and Narcissi

Is there a more popular or a more useful garden plant than Milton’s `Daffodillies’ that Fill their cups with tears?

The daffodil is the name given to the trumpet narcissi, all other members of the family being called narcissi – Shelley’s ‘narcissus, the fairest flower among them all’ – and how right he is, for their great value in the modern garden, their numerous delightful forms and their long flowering season must make them our most popular spring flower, even taking pride of place from the primrose.

The poet Keats captures the true beauty of the flower in his lines:

Such the sun, the moon,

Trees old and young, spreading a shady boon

For simple sheep; and such are Daffodils

With the green world they live in.

Perhaps the great popularity of the daffodil is because it is a flower native to Britain, like the primrose Daffodilswith which its keeps company, flowering together throughout springtime and early summer; and nowhere are the two plants happier than when growing in short grass, given the protection of trees or shrubs which provide the dappled shade both so much enjoy. Those who are lucky enough to possess a coppice or wild garden or even an orchard, may be rewarded in abundance by planting quantities of the more inexpensive and old-established varieties, Sir Watkin and Golden Spur, listed by William Robinson in The English Flower Garden, published in 1883. And he tells us that these varieties will treble themselves the second year after planting, which freedom of flowering and the fact that the bulbs will grow in shade, increasing each year in any average soil containing some humus, contributes greatly to their high esteem.

But perhaps it is their requiring almost no attention when once planted that makes the daffodil and narcissus so valuable to the modern gardener who must now cultivate his own garden with the minimum of attention. Apart from an occasional top dressing of peat when the bulbs are growing in soils devoid of much humus and the removal of the dead flower heads, the bulbs may be left in their original position for years. The wide range of various types of the flower gives it an added attraction, all are valuable for pot culture and the dainty dwarf species ideal for rockery or for planting round the roots of large trees. Planted towards the front of a shrubbery, a daffodil border is a thing of great beauty, the bulbs being planted in groups of a dozen, using as many different types and varieties as possible.

Those who possess an orchard or woodland garden would find that there is no more rewarding way of spending a five-pound note each September than in the purchase of some of the more inexpensive recent varieties which are available to gardeners each year from such well-known raisers as Lionel Richardson, Guy Wilson, and A. M. Wilson, the Brodie of Brodie and W. J. Dunlop. Increasing rapidly as they do, the bulbs will in a few years produce a delightful carpet of bloom of the finest quality. Not all are inexpensive, the striking red and white large-cupped narcissus, Signal Light, being offered at twenty guineas in the autumn of 1954, which is a considerable increase over the new varieties Madame de Graaff and Glory of Leyden, which first flowered at Leyden in 1882 and which were offered the following autumn at seven guineas the pair.

But there is always a wide choice of varieties priced at only a few pence each and which will give years of colour in the garden. Like many flowering shrubs they are almost indestructible and should last a lifetime. But to obtain most satisfaction from narcissus bulbs, one should plant for succession rather than have a display of profusion but of short duration. For instance, the very attractive greenish yellow variety, Brunswick, introduced in 1939, is extremely early in flowering, it comes in bloom in the open early in April; whilst Cromarty, of a rich pure gold colour of faultless form is in bloom almost three weeks later. The red and white Fermoy is even later. Likewise indoors, the golden Magnificence, of fairly recent introduction may, be brought into heat as early as December 7th, with Golden Spur and Forerunner a week later. But the ever-popular King Alfred resents forcing conditions before New Year’s Day and Dawson City before the end of January. The attractive bunch-flowered narcissus, Geranium, should not be given heat before the first week of February. By planting these varieties in pots and in the open, the flowering season may be extended from the end of January until the end of May in exposed situations. The cut-flower grower of daffodils will find that besides the flowering seasons, certain varieties will bloom to perfection in the Fens of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, in the dry climate of the East Coast, whilst others will prove happier in the mild, damp conditions of Cornwall and South Devon, where it will be more profitable to grow the earliest flowering varieties which have proved to be happy in that area of Britain. The ideal cut-flower variety must have a refined appearance; it must have stamina and must be of a colouring that appeals to the public. When required for forcing, it must be able to withstand heat without losing stamina. The variety King Alfred, introduced in 1909, blazed the trail that few have since excelled.

Two modern varieties of outstanding quality are Carbineer and Fortune, now grown in huge quantities. The white varieties have become popular since the war; they are my own particular favourites and anyone who has planted a bed of the creamy white Mount Hood, or the ice-white and late-flowering Beersheba, over a carpet of Juliae primrose Friihlingzauber with its huge, rich purple blooms or with the wine-red Crimson Carpet or Joan Schofield, will have been captivated by the display.

For a smoke-laden atmosphere and soil made acid by constant soot deposits the varieties King Alfred, Royalist, Mexico, and Kilworth are proved good doers.

For general cut-flower purposes for the home and for market, Fortune was voted No. I cut-flower narcissus, for 195 4.and for the eighth year in succession, with Carbineer and Rustom Pasha occupying second position and King Alfred, still a favourite, in fourth place. Carlton and Brunswick may be added to the list to make up the six best varieties for cutting, and for garden decoration too these six will be difficult to beat. A substitute may be found in Havelock or Cromarty, which also possess first-class all-round qualities.

For pot culture in the home, the white Beersheba and the very early Tazetta or bunch-flowered Cragford and the late Geranium, are first favourites, but they should be grown cool to obtain them at their best. Those that do well under forcing conditions ate Magnificence, Carlton, Golden Harvest and our old friend King Alfred, and they will provide a succession of bloom over a lengthy period. The later-flowering Francis Drake and Rembrandt would complete a reliable half-dozen.

For exhibition purposes, the Public Daffodil Ballot, organized by the Royal Horticultural Society, shows the yellow trumpet, Kingscourt, as the most popular, with the white and red Fermoy only two votes behind and the white-trumpeted Vigil in third position.

Those growing for cut flowers will find the Jonquils and the bunch-flowered types meet with a ready sale. Whilst possessing a delicate perfume, they are delightful varieties for the home especially when mixed with foliage. Perhaps the loveliest of the Jonquils is the early-flowering Trevithian, which produces clusters of lemon-coloured flowers on long stems. For later flowering the bunched-flowered Primrose Cheerfulness is outstanding. A cut flower Tazetta of great charm is the almost green-coloured Chinita, the colour being enhanced by the rich scarlet rim of its cup.

The turn of the century will be remembered for the serious interest taken in pink-coloured daffodils for the first time. It is yet too early to decide whether this is only a passing interest or that the public in future will demand this colouring in the daffodil, but the rich salmon-coloured Salmon Trout, raised by Mr. Lionel Richardson, and which received a first-class certificate from the Royal Horticultural Society in 195 z, revealed a new break in daffodils. It has for a parent the very late-flowering Rose of Tralee, which has a pure white perianth (the name given to the outer ring of petals which surrounds the trumpet) and a trumpet of apricot-pink. Another popular variety of similar colouring is the Australian-reared Rubra, whilst the older established Mrs. R. O. Backhouse, raised by the great Hereford breeder, the late Mr. R. O. Backhouse, is achieving greater popularity with each year. Perhaps within the next decade we may see an all-red or orange daffodil and though it may not be popular on its own, it would certainly provide an amazing colour contrast when planted with the white trumpets.

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