Daffodils have always felt magical to me. I remember my wonder as a child, finding them suddenly in bloom, with their bright yellow faces bobbing so bravely in the still cold late winter breezes. Before the grass began to green, or the branches bud, the first daffodils always popped up in unexpected places in our yard.
I don’t recall whether my parents ever planted daffodil bulbs. There always seemed to be some already growing in the yard each spring as we moved from house to house during my childhood. My parents both love flowers and gardens. They always planted annuals each spring. We carried Iris roots with us from house to house for many years, and later Cannas. But I don’t remember us planting daffodils. There always seemed to be a patch waiting for us.
Daffodils are one of those wonderful heirloom plants which usually outlast whomever plants them. Each season they divide, and the clumps grow larger. Many also set seeds, which scatter in late spring if you don’t dead head the flowers when they finish.
It isn’t unusual to find clumps of daffodils still blooming around the foundations and burnt out chimneys of old properties in the countryside. They are found along old country roads, in public parks and cemeteries and in many front yards each spring.
These very early daffodils, some of the earliest to bloom in Williamsburg, grow along Jamestown Road near the Scotland Ferry landing. These are the ones which bloomed in December of 2012, and then bloomed again last spring. Hardy souls, they are left to their own devices. Once mowing begins in early summer, they disappear. This spring garden settles back to its usual life as a median strip of a very busy road.
Daffodils, varieties of the genus Narcissus, grow from bulbs. Available in garden centers and by mail each autumn, they must be planted sometime between early fall and Christmas. They need several weeks of cold weather, with freezing temperatures, before they begin to grow in early spring. Their leaves appear first, followed by flower stalks. Finally the blooms open. And what amazing blooms!
One of the most popular of flowers in temperate climates, the Royal Horticultural Society has divided the 27,000 named and registered cultivars of daffodils (as of 2008) into 13 different divisions. Should you ever attend a daffodil show in springtime, you’ll find blossoms entered into competition in these various divisions. Which is not easy, since daffodils open over a long season of many weeks from late winter through early summer.
It is difficult to know exactly when the season will begin or end, dependent as it is on the weather. The bulbs take their cues from both day length and temperature to set their schedule. The temperature determines how long they will last in the garden once open. The various cultivars are divided into “early season,” “mid-season,” and “late season.” It is possible to have daffodils in bloom from late January through May here in Zone 7B.
Daffodil foliage should be left alone to grow when the flowers finish. The leaves will last for six weeks to two months before yellowing and dieing back. It is important to leave the leaves alone until they finish manufacturing food to replenish the bulb for the following spring’s growth.
Although some gardeners might bundle the foliage, tie it, or cut it early, this interferes with the daffodil’s ability to make the food it needs. Better to plant ferns and perennials around the daffodil clumps so the bulbs’ leaves visually disappear into more interesting plantings, like peonies or iris.
The less you do for daffodils the better they like it. Planted to three times the depth of the bulb, they may be naturalized in a lawn, or planted into a prepared bed. Daffodils may be grown in pots under shrubs or perennials, or grown in a shallow bulb pot, forced into early bloom, and enjoyed as a house plant.
Although they don’t need fertilizer, they appreciate a little compost at planting and as they finish flowering in spring. If a clump stops blooming, dig, divide, and replant the bulbs a little bit shallower than they were. Space bulbs three to four inches apart, remembering that each bulb will multiply into several new ones over the years.
Bulbs like moist, rich soil; but don’t like to sit in wet soil, which may cause rot. They enjoy full sunlight in early spring, but grow well under trees which will leaf out to provide shade as the weather warms.
I attended an early spring garden club meeting some years ago on daffodils. Although the slides were beautiful and the information very interesting, one fact I learned that morning has forever changed the way I garden. Every bit of a daffodil is poisonous. As soon as I learned that animals won’t bother them, I determined to plant as many daffodils as time and budget allow every autumn from now on.
I plant them with confidence, knowing they won’t be grazed by deer. I plant them generously around shrubs and perennials to create a wall of poisonous plant materials voles won’t penetrate.
I was so inspired by daffodils during that hour program that I came home and drew a pattern for my own daffodil portrait in cross stitch.
Popular as a cut flower, it is tradition in Wales to wear a daffodil blossom in one’s lapel on March 1, St. David’s Day. Daffodil vendors begin to appear on street corners in some cities in late February or early March, selling bunches to flower loving city dwellers who welcome spring with bouquets of daffodils at home and at work. The flower vendors selling daffodils cut from the daffodil farms in Gloucester County used to set up on The Boulevard in Richmond. I hope they still do.
Daffodils bloom in shades of yellow, orange, white, cream, and occasionally pink. Miniature and large, single and double, large single flowers or small clusters; there is enormous variety within the daffodil family. Collectors fill their gardens with various cultivars.
The fresh, bright faces of daffodils perfectly express the joy of lengthening days, warming winds, and re-awakening Earth. Even when the first daffodils grow out of a frozen blanket of snow, their message cheers us with the surety of spring.
All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2012-2014