Our love affair with daffodils is a long one and it’s showing no signs of slowing down
Just as it seems the grey winter days are here to stay, Mother Nature calls time and – from seemingly nowhere – intrepid little snowdrops break through the chilled soil declaring that spring is here. But, if you’re after a fanfare to announce the new season you won’t have to wait long as festoons of golden trumpets will be adorning gardens, parks and roadsides; finding their way into vases and pitchers, and brightening up homes. “With pomp and ceremony the daffodil has arrived!”
Although we know it as ‘the daffodil’ this bloom has other names: daffadowndilly, narcissus and jonquil. And these bright trumpeters are immortalised in William Wordsworth’s famous poem – “I wondered lonely as a cloud“.
I wandered lonely as a cloud,
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils.
It is perhaps Wordsworth’s description – a host, of golden daffodils – that captures the secret of this bloom’s popularity. Unlike a rose, it doesn’t fare well as a singleton in a vase or in the soil. But planted abundantly or in generous clusters and there’s that promise of mantles of gold.
If you are considering growing daffodils there is enormous choice. They are divided into 13 divisions largely based on flower form – from the familiar trumpet types and those with clustered flowers, to ones with open cups called split corona narcissi. Some divisions are particularly known for fragrance and some for their ability to seed and spread wherever they choose (known as naturalising). For scent and aesthetics you can’t go wrong with planting Sidmouth 7Y-R (M) bulbs from Scamps Daffodils in Falmouth – this family firm has notched up over 35 Royal Horticultural Society medals.
Colour-wise, daffodils are synonymous with a blaze of yellow, yet many blooms feature white. For fans of white daffodils, Scamps Daffodils has a timeless pure white bloom called Falmouth Bay; so named because as a seedling the daffodil gracefully turned and faced the bay. Orange Sunrise – which is bred by Cornish enthusiast Alex Harper and subsequently grown by Scamps Daffodils – will delight lovers of spectacular colour contrasts. The bloom perfectly mimics its name – a deep orange hue licks the tip of the corona and spills in an exquisite ombré along the trumpet, gifting a dapple of yellow to the base of pure white petals. Incredibly, there are even pink varieties on the market but there is some suggestion that true pink is yet to be achieved.
Easily the most coquettish daffodil on the market today is the Tête-à-Tête. The petite narcissus reaches a heady 20cms. Tête-à-Tête bloom in early spring, bear up to three flowers per stem and their buttercup trumpets are slightly fluted at the mouth. These gorgeous miniatures are an excellent choice for borders, rockeries, pots and planters. But remember when transplanting that roots can get pot bound and might need a bit of gentle teasing.
In terms of commercial daffodil cultivating, daffodil growers have been thwarted by two bad growing years leading to bulb shortages in 2018. A return to wetter conditions will help enthusiasts continue cultivating heritage bulbs (varieties mainly bred before 1930) alongside the more modern hybrids and new varieties. Cultivators are working towards meeting consumer desire for a more ‘natural looking’ daffodil in their homes and gardens.
Whatever their shape or size daffodils bring spring sunshine into the home. They are not averse to sharing a vase with different flowers, particularly other spring flowers like lilacs, sweet peas, and muscari. Aesthetically, blue, purple and red flowers contrast fabulously with daffodils but beware the urban myth – ‘daffodils are killers’. Daffodils secrete a sap when cut, which, if absorbed by other flowers clogs their stems and disables hydration; so daffodils need to be ‘conditioned’ which means leaving them in a separate vase for six hours before joining other flowers in fresh water.
There is a feeling, however, amongst florists that cut daffodils look their most splendid without company. Easily they are quite the most biddable flowers to arrange – simply pick a vase, pitcher or jug, add water, hold the daffodils against the container, use secateurs to cut the stems to the height of your choice (diagonally maximises water intake) and pop in the blooms. Give them a little shuffle and you have your own “glorious host, of golden daffodils”.
5 daffodil facts
- Britain produces 90% of the world’s daffodils.
- Wild rural daffodils on verges are likely to come from dumping commercial daffodil bulbs during ‘Dig for Victory’; making way for wartime edible crops.
- Welsh Black Mountain daffodils, grown above 305m, have higher levels of galantamine used to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
- All parts of the daffodil contain a toxic chemical, lycorine.
- In England, daffodils have a long association with Lent and are known as the ‘Lent Lily’.
The best places to see daffodils in the British countryside
Wales – Coed y Bwl – Wild daffodils in an ancient ash woodland on the north-west side of the Alun Valley.
England – The Golden Triangle, (Dymock, Kempley and Oxenhall), Gloucestershire – Gloucestershire was once the commercial centre for growing wild daffodils; selling to the London markets. Today Betty Daw’s Wood remains spectacular from early March to early April.
Scotland – Brodie Castle, Morray – The castle is part of the National Collection of Daffodils with over 100 different cultivators of the Lent Lily.
Northern Ireland – Springhill, County Londonderry – A National Trust property where over 600 mixed bulbs are planted each autumn.
London – The Royal Parks – One million daffodil bulbs are planted across eight Royal parks each year.
Tips for planting daffodil bulbs
- Keep the bulbs dry, cool and well aired until ready to plant.
- The ideal aspect is in full sun or light shade; avoid a windy aspect unless you are planting the dwarf varieties.
- The best time for planting is between September and end of October. Plant at least five to six inches apart in free draining soil to twice the depth of the bulb – plant the bulb pointy end up. Spread a general fertiliser with high potash content at planting time – not nitrogen as it causes soft growth and susceptibility to fungal disease – and top up annually in the autumn.
- If you are planting in containers or window boxes make sure there is a hole in the bottom and add stones to assist with free drainage and air circulation. It’s best to use a peat compost or a potting soil with some coarse sand mix.
- Once the daffodils have bloomed, deadhead or cut each flower head off; don’t be tempted to cut the foliage as the bulb uses it to create energy for next year. Leave the plant for six weeks or until the leaves yellow then remove the foliage. Cutting back leaves or mowing naturalised daffodils too early will result in a poor or no crop next spring.
Please note: This feature was written for my 2nd year Lifestyle assessment, in early 2019, as a magasine article so I have adapted it for digital. The ‘lists’ would have been box-outs and the tips come at the end – following magasine convention. It was aimed at ‘Period Living’ in the style of ‘image led’. (I loved researching and writing it … just saying!)