Think of spring and many gardeners fondly recall golden daffodils dancing in the warm breeze of a sunny afternoon. Long before daffodils became beloved garden flowers they were treasured wildflowers in parts of Europe, Asia and North Africa where their beauty was immortalised in song and legend, most famously as the Biblical "lilies of the field".
Botanical experts quickly point out that "daffodil" and "jonquil" are but common names describing the remarkable Narcissus involving at least 40 species divided into 12 divisions including thousands of varieties and hybrids.
Technically our dancing daffodil is a hybrid between N. pseudo-narcissus and a delicate wild species, N. minor which created many of today's trumpet narcissus. If the trumpet is as long as, or longer, than the petals it fits in:
This includes most of what are commonly known as "daffodils".
Includes large flowered varieties with cups one third the length but shorter than the petals.
Contains large solitary flowers with short cups. Other divisions relate to double blooms, split-cupped, multi-flowered and other distinctive species.
In mild climates the earliest narcissus start flowering in late autumn. Planting bulbs from late summer through early autumn allows time for them to establish an extensive root system.
This insures the best chance of large and/or multiple blooms, healthy growth and bulb division. Narcissus prefer sunny positions or partial shade if the site is not too wet. The bulbs demand good drainage at all times.
They rot in heavy, soggy soils especially where bulbs remain wet during their summer resting period.
Place a handful of sand or gravel in the hole prior to planting to improve drainage in heavy soils. Narcissus will naturalise on banks, slopes, hillsides and well drained lawns. Foliage must be allowed to ripen naturally after flowering to insure bulb health for next year's blooms.
This means the lawn cannot be cut for at least six weeks after the last blooms fade. Clumps of narcissus establish quickly amongst shrubs or between perennials. Deep evergreen camellia foliage highlights delicate narcissus flowers while the camellia blooms will further enhance the spring colour show.
Narcissus flowers draw attention away from "holes" created where young perennial foliage is emerging. Later as the narcissus fade developing perennial foliage hides unsightly narcissus leaves which can then be used as a mulch around the perennials.
Miniatures and delicate species are best grown in containers so their beauty can be appreciated close-up rather than becoming "lost" in the garden. Taller, bolder varieties also look excellent in terracotta or similar containers of 20cm (8 in) or larger where at least six or more bulbs can be clustered to create dramatic impact.
To force narcissus into early bloom first place well watered pots in a cool, damp, shaded place, climatically controlled refrigerator, or (partly) buried in a cool sand/earth pit. This simulates wintry conditions. Wherever winters are cool and frosty but not severe, pots can stand in an open garden bed.
Pots remain there for 10-12 weeks or until roots appear through the drainage holes. Then move pots to a sheltered, brighter position or indoors to a cool room. Flowering will occur within a few weeks.
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