Daffodils are well-loved flowers that make a welcome sight each spring. They survive the worst of the weather that winter provides and come smiling through to bless our gardens with splashes of colour that brighten even the dullest of days.
Convention implies that daffodils must be yellow and, indeed, many are available in delightful golden tones. However, over the last one hundred years or so the dedicated work of many breeders has resulted in a whole range of colours to complement the yellows: pinks, oranges, reds and whites now add sparkling variety to this popular genus. But you may say ‘it is the narcissus that has the white petals and not the daffodil’. The name ‘narcissus’ has been commonly used to describe I daffodils with white petals, but white and yellow flowers interbreed quite happily and produce offspring in both colours. So they are the same family, or genus, which botanically is named Narcissus and which has been familiarly known as the daffodil; the names are interchangeable.
The various colours of the daffodil create hundreds of different flowers; and as if that is insufficient, the family has a number of different sizes and forms, or styles. Some wonderfully attractive blooms have broad petals, up to 4 1/2in (12cm) in diameter, and the characteristic large trumpet. At the other end of the scale are some of the species, with flowers not more than 1/2in (lcm) in diameter, which are perfect miniature versions of their larger brothers and sisters. A very high proportion of daffodils produce only one flower to each stem but even these single-headed beauties can have trumpets, large cups or small cups; they can have disproportionately small petals, as in the bulbocodiums, or swept-back petals as in the cyclamineus hybrids. The range of possibilities is almost limitless. Others carry a number of flower-heads on each stem. Some consistently produce two or three per stem and others, with good cultivation, achieve in excess of twenty delicate heads with the single stem appearing to support a tiny bunch of colour. The wide range of cultivars, in excess of 20,000 have been given names registered with the Royal Horticultural Society, means that something is available for most uses, whether in the garden, the window box, the rock garden or even hanging baskets. Indeed, a very versatile subject.
Because of the range and the breeding back to species, the time of flowering is also quite varied. Traditionally, we associate daffodils with spring, when the majority do give their best displays over a period of about six weeks; but there are some which extend the time-scale almost through to summer. A limited number flower in the autumn and some come to perfection in winter. For at least six months of the year, daffodils can be in flower at their naturally determined dates and in a recurring sequence. Manipulation of the natural flowering dates is possible, without too much difficulty, and this makes the daffodil a very useful subject for home decoration. Indeed, most florists have daffodils available for over six months, using imported and home-raised blooms, both forced and natural.
Daffodils are remarkably trouble-free in the garden and can and do remain healthy for many years. Their good health, tolerance and resilience make them ideal for naturalising in massed displays. It can also, regrettably, count against them as it is often assumed that they thrive on neglect. Attention to some basic cultural principles is certain to be repaid with more abundant blooms.
Newly introduced daffodil cultivars rarely get the same favourable publicity afforded to, say, a new rose, chrysanthemum or sweet-pea. However, high prices do attract publicity and some of the rarer colour breaks can change hands for over $100 (US $150) for a single bulb. This is not a new phenomenon— three bulbs of Will Scarlet changed hands in 1899 for $100. Fortune, now sold by the hundreds of tons each year, was introduced in 1923 and sold for $50 (US $75) per bulb and maintained high prices for a very long time. Fortunately there are hundreds of different cultivars available at prices similar to those applicable to annual bedding plants. Each bulb, with reasonable treatment, represents a real investment and will bloom year after year and multiply fairly rapidly.
Daffodils are unlikely to lose their popularity as harbingers of spring. Breathtaking massed plantings are always memorable and can still be seen, and even the smallest of modern gardens can be brilliantly enhanced by a clump of daffodils in a border. In the home, daffodils can be used to create colourful flower arrangements suitable for many occasions, and grown in pots and decorative containers give super long-lasting displays.
Some delightful cultivars have a bonus of distinctive perfumes.
Daffodils provide so many opportunities for the average gardener that they must be regarded as indispensable. An individual bloom has a refinement of form and precision that is rarely equalled and for the competitively-minded the genus is ideal for exhibitions in the spring.
The information in the following chapters will perhaps encourage you to try some new cultivars in addition to your ‘tried and tested’ favourites, and will at least help you to get the maximum enjoyment from daffodils.