Last spring I drove by the house where we lived 20 years ago. Four or five years before we moved, I planted a mixture of daffodils in a front bed. They had multiplied over the decades and looked spectacular. We planted a similar mixture in our backyard last fall which delighted us with a long season of beautiful flowers.
The ancient Greeks named the flower narcissus from their word for narcotic because the fragrance was thought to be intoxicating. In Greek myth, it was this scent that lured Persephone into the Underworld.
The flower known to Egyptians, Greeks and Romans was a very fragrant cluster bloomer with each bulb producing several stems. Those are familiar to us as paperwhites, which are sold for indoor forcing around the December holidays. There are hardy members of this group which happily live in the garden. Geranium is a fragrant favorite of mine.
Today the most popular daffodils are the large cupped ones. They come in an amazing array of color combinations. Besides the classic all-yellow and solid white, some have two-tone cups as well as cups of orange or pink. The perianth may be yellow or white providing a striking contrast to the cups. The flowers are large enough to put on a great show.
Believe it or not, daffodils with double cups have been around since 1620 when one appeared in a fortunate fellow’s garden. The camellia-like flowers may be large or small. Some of the smaller ones have multiple flowers on a stem. "Sir Winston Churchill" is another of my fragrant favorites. I expected the butterfly daffodils to be fragile; however, they are big, beautiful, long-lasting flowers that are eye candy for me. A few daffodils have flat cups that are called “eyes”. Sinopel, a fragrant daffodil, has a green eye with a white perianth.
(Photos: From top, mixed daffodils in bloom, double daffodil, double in another color, daffs with split pink cups, Sinopel)
There are smaller daffodils which are very useful as edgers or in rock gardens. Some of them look as if they are in a wind storm with the petals of the collar swept back from the cup. Blooming very early, in mid February, they multiply quickly. I have found the little jonquils Pipit and Intrigue to naturalize quickly as well.
Daffodils begin blooming in late February and continue until April. There are early-, mid- and late- season bloomers. By planting a variety of cultivars, one can have flowers from late winter until tulip time. Many companies sell collections of bulbs to achieve this goal. The collections generally have a theme such as fragrance or a color scheme.
All daffodils require good drainage. They do well under deciduous trees but do need sun while growing. After the foliage dies back, the bulbs are dormant until the following spring. When planting them, the hole depth should be three times the height of the bulb.
Narcissus, daffodil, and jonquil are all names for the same spring flowers. They may seem a bit pricey. However, they are long lived, multiply and are critter proof, a terrific garden investment.
Master gardener Ann Bartlett never lets lack of familiarity with a plant stop her from trying it in the ornamental beds around her home. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.