Selecting and growing narcissus

In climates of zone 9 or lower, where the ground stays cold throughout the shortwinter days, narcissus bulbs should be planted in the autumn. Their roots will growin most soils—they are quite adaptable in this regard—and the top growth will wantfull sun when it emerges in early spring. The very earliest to bloom, such as ‘Têteà-tête’ and ‘February Silver’ are tolerant of deciduous shade situations, where thesun reaches the ground in the winter and spring while they flower, before tree leavesblock the sun. The large standard daffodils will also naturalize in this respect, but Ifind these flower better (bigger blooms) in a low-water, full-sun situation.Narcissus bulbs have a dark brown papery covering and are fairly large, often havingmore than one “nose” or growing point. Each nose will produce at least oneleafless flowering stem, which will emerge from the bulb at the same time the foliageis developing.As with lilies, we need to remember that the generation of next year’s flower isdependent on the maturation of this year’s foliage, so do not harm the foliage as youare harvesting the flowers. If you want a few of the straplike leaves to enhance the cutflowers, just be sure to never take more than half of the foliage emerging from onebulb. If you leave a few flowers in your daffodil patch, deadhead the spent flowers butleave their stems—this too will produce carbohydrate for the bulb. Allow the flowerstems and foliage to die back at their own pace. This phase of a daffodil’s life cycle canlook unsightly and is the reason daffodils are often grown in their own garden areaor interplanted with other perennials that will hide old foliage with their new leaves.Twisting the declining foliage into a knot interrupts the flow of nutrients to the bulb,and we must overcome our urge to tidy the leaves in this way.A close perusal of the classification system given earlier reveals a wealth of variationin bloom time, stem height, and flower shape. Here are a few of the narcissusI know to be either reliable, long lasting, pleasantly fragrant, or pretty, if not all ofthose things. Please refer to the system of classification to decipher the letters inparentheses.‘Actea’: (Y-YYR) This is the earliest of the “pheasant’s-eye” type to bloom, andalthough listed as a mid-to-late-season bloomer, it consistently blooms in mygarden in early-to-mid season instead. Has a round profile and is quite showy.Poeticus division.‘Ambergate’: (O-O) The orange-on-orange daffodils are still rather rare, and thislong-cupped beauty plays to the back of the house (as the theater people say).Blooms late.‘Clare’: (Y-Y) I bonded with this little bulb the first time I saw it in daffodil judgeJean E. Driver’s garden. It is a jonquil type with wonderful poise. Even thoughit is only an inch wide, it has great presence—looks a person right in the face.Fragrant, too. Mid-to-late-season bloom.‘Eastertide’: (Y-Y) A handsome, sturdy double flower, with the fractured yellowtrumpet evenly infiltrated by equally bright petals. This is a large flower on astrong stem. Blooms in midseason; Double division.‘Fragrant Rose’: (W-GPP) In addition to being delightfully perfumed—as the namesuggests—this is also, to my eye, the narcissus closest to truly being pink—also asthe name suggests. Blooms mid-to-late season. Long Cup division.‘Geranium’: (W-O) Carries multiple flowers on each stem, making fragrant clustersof orange and white. Excellent in the ground or in containers for a grand springshow. Tazetta division; blooms midseason.‘Mary Copeland’: (W-O) Double daffodils can look sloppy and just plain odd, butthis tidy example from 1913 is a symmetrical burst of white petals interspersedwith fractured remnants of its orange trumpet (can have flashes of gold). Thewhole is swathed in a cloud of lovely perfume. Blooms in midseason, from theDouble division.‘Minnow’: (W-Y) Although this is in the Tazetta division with some of the tendernarcissus, ‘Minnow’ is tough, flowering at less than ten inches tall and thus perfectfor nosegays. Blooms midseason.‘Misty Glen’: (W-GWW) This pristine flower is in the Long Cup division. What ismost impressive is how long each flower lasts, both cut and if left standing in thegarden. Blooms mid-to-late season.‘Mrs. R. O. Backhouse’: (W-P) This is the eldest (1921) of the allegedly pinktrumpeteddaffodils, still widely grown because it is reliably long-lived with a fineflower. Blooms mid-to-late season; Long Cup division.N. jonquilla ‘Simplex’: (Y-Y) This is a selection of Narcissus jonquilla with many ofthe fine characteristics of the best jonquils: it has a fruity fragrance, rushlike foliage,round flower stems (rather than oval with a raised ridge down each side), andthe ability to flower well in warm-winter areas. Early-to-mid-season flowering, inthe Jonquilla division, of course.N. poeticus var. recurvus: (W-YRR) This is the latest-blooming daffodil of them all,capable of flowering to the end of May. If I could have only one narcissus, thiswould be it. This is the true “pheasant’s eye.” Lovely naturalized in meadows.N. tazzetta var. orientalis: (Y-Y) Also known as the Chinese sacred lily, this tendernarcissus is easily forced for bloom at the Chinese New Year. Prettier fragrancethan others of the Paperwhite strain of the Tazetta division. Multiple flowers perstem.‘Professor Einstein’: (W-R) Although this long-lived bulb is said to have a red cup,I find it to be more orange than red. It blooms in midseason, and the trumpet issomewhat flattened, giving this daffodil a distinctive appearance. Oddly, it is inthe Long Cup division.‘Proxy’: (W-YRR) Similar to N. poeticus var. recurvus, but with larger flowers.Blooms very late, in the Poeticus division.‘Thalia’: (W-W) Some find the scent of this clean white flower (usually with at leasttwo blossoms per stem) to be the best of the genus. It is too intense for me. Thefascination of this exquisite flower, however, is not in dispute. Triandrus division;blooms mid-to-late season.‘Waterperry’: (W-YPP) This jonquil-type flower (with multiple flowers per stem)has the charming habit of changing its trumpet color as it matures, so a wholerow of ‘Waterperry’ is visually active. Named for the Waterperry School ofGardening in Oxfordshire. Blooms midseason.

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