“A daffodil bulb will divide and redivide endlessly. That’s why, like the peony, it is one of the few flowers you can find around abandoned farmhouses, still blooming and increasing in numbers fifty years after the farmer and his wife have moved to heaven, or the other place, Boca Raton. If you dig up a clump when no one is nearby and there is no danger of being shot, you’ll find that there are scores of little bulbs in each clump, the progeny of a dozen or so planted by the farmer’s wife in 1942. If you take these home, separate them, and plant them in your own yard, within a couple of years, you’ll have a hundred daffodils for the mere price of a trespassing fine or imprisonment or both. I had this adventure once, and I consider it one of the great cheap thrills of my gardening career. I am not advocating trespassing, especially on my property, but there is no law against having a shovel in the trunk of your car.”
– Cassandra Danz (gardening personality, Mrs. Greenthumbs)
I cannot remember a springtime more in need of the arrival of its most anticipated herald, the daffodil. And much like this excerpt above (and its quick-witted author), the daffodil offers immediate levity – it’s boisterous, prolific, joyful and boldly colorful. I consider it Mother Nature’s much-needed comic relief on the heels of this long, humorless pandemic winter. As far as personality goes in the garden, the daffodil is an optimist and has a bust-through-the-doors, stay-a-while and invite-all-its-friends-over unbridled fervor! If springtime is thought to usher in the hope and promise of brighter days ahead, an army of daffodils is its most welcome and enthusiastic harbinger (especially during our second pandemic April). It was the late Robin Williams who said, “Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘let’s party!’”. I think this spring is the party we’ve all been more than anxious to attend.
In the beginning of this month on my property, there was just one, single daffodil blooming – but make no mistake, it was my beacon in a landscape of bleak. As I walked my gardens over Easter weekend, I could see them beginning to pop up all over. Now, well, we’ve been blissfully invaded! Oh, the joy those initial buds brought me this year. Few flowers fill me with the same excitement and enthusiasm for renewal and new growth as the daffodil.
Currently, I’ve estimated that there must be more than a half a million daffodils currently blooming (but please remember, this is the result of 35+ years of planting bulbs that quickly multiply!). It truly takes my breath away. There are massive golden swaths running through my yard like a river and they fill me with such springtime giddiness (and fill my rooms with the most gorgeous bouquets of bursting, sunshiny yellows). As a gardener, this time is so dear to me as it marks the beginning my time outside, working in the dirt, breathing the fresh air and watching all the dramatic changes occur. It’s a time I’ve been craving all winter because it feeds my languishing body and soul.
Daffodils have always been one of my favorite springtime flowers for a variety of reasons. First, they are relatively easy to cultivate and are new-gardener friendly. Bulbs are planted in late fall in fertilized soil and will yield flowers the following spring. There is a general rule of thumb on the spacing of the bulbs which is planting them at a depth of 2-3 times as high as the bulb itself and placed approximately 2 bulb-widths apart from each other. Once the flower has bloomed and died, the leaves must be left untouched to produce food for the next cycle of the bulb itself. Visually, this is not the most robust-looking stage of the daffodil in our garden, so some will surround them with other plants to hide this phase. They cannot be fully shaded though, as they need partial light to thrive. Once planted, daffodils multiply quickly, blanketing fields or creating lush, vibrant bands of eye-popping color in our gardens. Their charming faces and bursts of vibrant color have our gardens buzzing with springtime glee!
Daffodils are deer and squirrel-repellent, making them this northwestern Connecticut gardener’s most stalwart ally in the war against our garden-trashing fauna! Unlike my hostas (which deer treat like their own personal salad bar), daffodils are toxic and are immune from their ravenous bouts of hunger. To this point, we need to protect our furry family indoors from bouquets of daffodils. The bulbs, flowers and even the water from vases filled with daffodils can be toxic to pets, so precautions must be taken when displaying these beautiful blooms in our homes.
Another reason to adore daffodils is the endless varieties that exist. Although that classic yellow trumpet head is perhaps the most recognizable and nostalgic of all the daffodil shapes and colors, there are so wany swoon-worthy varieties, in shades of gold, lemon, tangerine, cream, fire and salmon that may be planted as companions to the classic. Much like roses, the daffodil has been cultivated for hundreds of years, so there is an intricate system of classification that has been developed over time. Different varieties present the gardener with a wide range of colors, shapes, textures and layering. Some of my favorite varieties include the Petit Four, Crewenna, Ziva, Red Devon, Sir Winston Churchill, New Baby, Tahiti, Mary Gay Lirette, and the Pheasant’s Eye. Any member of the plant genus, Narcissus, could be considered a daffodil. There are at least 40 and possibly as many as 200 different species in the genus as well as over 25,000 registered cultivars (called hybrids) classified into 13 Divisions according to the Royal Horticultural Society classification system. This classification system helps settle certain debates about the daffodil. Many wonder, for instance, if daffodils and jonquils are the same thing. The short answer to that question is they almost are. In other words, ALL jonquils are daffodils, but not all daffodils are jonquils. The distinction is in the leaves and the scent – jonquils have thinner leaves that are rounded at the tips while daffodils sport slender sword-like foliage. Jonquil stems are hollow and a bit shorter than daffodil varieties. They typically have clusters of flowers on the stems and emit a subtle fragrance.
This year, daffodils mark, for me, the possibility of seeing some friendly faces safely and the kick-off to the outdoor entertaining season. I love to incorporate them into my tables for entertaining. The bold yellow works well with almost any color. Mixing them with any spring hues, such as vibrant blues and greens, creates the quintessential springtime table that conveys a sense of joy, rebirth, welcoming warmth and cheer. Nothing invites guests in like those bursts of golden blooms.
I wish you all a stretch of springtime bliss and the chance for rejuvenation. This winter has been a long, difficult one full of sadness and despair for many of us. We have toiled with the news, personal issues and the pandemic. Perhaps this warm weather has you picking yourself up a little and dusting off the cobwebs of the past few months. The chance to be outside more, to perhaps welcome in some family and friends at a safe distance and to see our worlds inch a little closer to that light at the end of the tunnel is the strand of hope we all need to follow. Take walks, breathe deeply, feel the warmth on your face and do what is restorative (and safe) for you. We are all being drawn outside – and that’s a calling I intend to follow. May the beautiful daffodils, smiling in the sun, mark the beginning of a season where you find your happiest selves, doing what makes you feel whole again!
I end my post with a picture of my radiant mom, Elaine, sitting amongst the flowers, in my daffodil-laden orchard. This is a very special place to me on my property because my mom and I spent a lot of time here together – picnicking, laughing, photographing for my projects, playing with the dogs, visiting with friends and just enjoying each other’s company. In this spot, the worries of our days (and the world) melted away. I went out there on a recent warm, gorgeous night with my pups and just stood still. The late-day sun was aglow, offering that fleeting moment of perfection before it sets. In that second I was overwhelmed and humbled with how riveting nature can be, even in its daily gestures. And although I felt like a small part of this vast world, it also felt very personal, like my mom had fashioned this scene just for the two of us.
Keep basking in those small, heartwarming moments!