June 23, 2017

Drifting Through a Host of Golden Daffodils

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;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line …

— William Wordsworth, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”

A mix of daffodils

Pineo Photo | A mix of daffodils

• By Janine Pineo •

This should be my yard. And yours. And your neighbor’s.

I want drifts of daffodils, like you see in pictures from merry olde England. I also want one of those drafty castles, but I’d settle for just the daffodils.

Then again, I probably wouldn’t appreciate drifts of daffodils. I’d be so blinded by the glorious, golden waves that I likely would miss the utter elegance in a single bloom.

Daffodils are ridiculously easy to grow and, unlike that other spring favorite, the tulip, they usually multiply each year. Most varieties prefer well-drained soil and can tolerate some shade, up to a half-day of it. An added bonus: They’re varmintproof because the bulbs of the 40 or so Narcissus species are poisonous. So the deer and rodents likely will detour to munch on your tulips.

The cool days of October make it prime time to plant flowering bulbs so roots can become established before the ground freezes. Many nurseries and garden centers have good daffodil selections now, but if you want a wider range, look to catalogs.

Most bulb catalogs offer the requisite host of golden daffodils, along with shades of white, orange and pink and occasional touches of red and green. Dozens of cultivars are available in a number of daffodil categories that include trumpet, cyclamineus, double, jonquilla, large-cupped, small-cupped, miniature, papillon (butterfly) and poeticus.

The classic daffodil — the one that probably comes to mind when one thinks daffodil — is the trumpet daffodil with its frilled cup. Many of the all-yellow varieties often are referred to erroneously as the King Alfred daffodil, but the true King Alfred daffodil is now a rarity.

Trumpet daffodils aren’t limited to hues of yellow. One excellent white variety is Mount Hood, a 1937 heirloom hardy to Zone 3 that has white petals and a trumpet that matures to white from a soft yellow.

An interesting bicolor to consider is Spellbinder. Its petals are a green-tinged sulfur yellow with a trumpet that turns white.

From a more romantic-looking daffodil, the cyclamineus category fits the bill. These daffodils have petals that flare back, giving it a windswept look.

Some cyclamineus daffodils to try include Jack Snipe, an 8-inch, white-petaled beauty with a buttery-yellow cup. Foundling also has white petals, but sports a rose-pink cup.

If you want to scare off any unwelcome visitors, plant a few clumps of the not-so-romantic Jetfire, with its red-orange cup and deep yellow petals. This foot-tall daffodil’s extremely reflexed petals, the catalog says, make it look “like a `mad dog’ with its ears pulled back.”

If different colors appeal, the widest variety can be found in the large-cupped division. It encompasses every shade of daffodil yellow, not to mention the numerous hues of whites, oranges and pinks.

One of my favorites is Salome, with ivory white petals and a light yellow cup that turns variable shades of salmon-pink as it matures. At 16 to 18 inches tall, it makes an impressive show among similarly shaded tulips or contrasting with the purple notes of hyacinth and muscari.

The bold-colored Redhill may get a showing in my garden: Red-orange color in the cup spills into the pure white petals, creating a halo effect. Redhill sounds like a striking flower to pair with a few fiery-shaded tulips.

For a more ethereal effect, miniature daffodils look delicate but are among the hardiest. I’ve had excellent results from three different miniatures that multiply every year.

The most fragile-looking miniature I grow is Hawera. Its pale yellow flowers resemble the cyclamineus daffodils with their swept-back petals. A 1938 heirloom from New Zealand, Hawera grows only about 6 inches tall and is hardy to Zone 4.

Minnow is a sweetly fragrant flower, with multihued white petals and a buttercup-yellow cup. The Daffodil Mart says that with three to five blooms per stem, this flower resembles a “school of little fish.”

The first miniature daffodil I planted was bright yellow Tete-a-Tete, which is the most popular miniature sold. This flower is only 5-6 inches tall and produces up to three flowers per stem.

Even smaller sound appealing? The aptly named Midget is like a miniature King Alfred, growing only 3-4 inches tall.

My favorite daffodils are the doubles. Not only are they beautiful — with a central, roselike cluster of petals instead of a trumpet — but they are the most fragrant, often intoxicatingly so.

The similarly shaped blossoms of Cheerfulness and Yellow Cheerfulness are a well-matched pair. Cheerfulness has creamy white petals, while Yellow Cheerfulness is a creamy yellow. Both heirlooms have two to three flowers per stem, grow 14-16 inches tall and have a sweet, but strong, fragrance.

Perhaps the loveliest daffodil I’ve ever grown is Manly. This elegant daffodil is a creamy yellow with a center pompon of petals in the same yellow and a pastel orange. Its scent is so delicious, it will bring you to your knees just to smell more of the fragrance.

One problem that may occur with double daffodils — and occasionally other varieties — is blasting, which is when buds form but never bloom. It is thought to be caused by drastic temperature changes or too much or not enough moisture.

I salute the person who came up with the name for this condition. I know that if my daffodils refused to bloom, I, too, would stomp around the yard muttering, “Those blasted daffodils.”

First published in the Bangor Daily News in October 1998.