A Host of Golden Daffodils

By —— Bio and Archives--September 9, 2017

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I wander’d 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

Thus, poet William Wordsworth was inspired to pen in 1802 after he and his sister encountered such scene in northwest England’s glorious Lake District. Alas, these are not thought to have been Britain’s native, like so many now dangerously threatened in their natural European habitat. Experts differ on how many species there are, or were, some claiming just 16 others nigh on 160. Those offered at the local garden centre, in catalogues and online are likely to be modern hybrids.

Botanists class all daffodils as Narcissus, perhaps ominously since, in Greek mythology, Narcissus was turned into one such after killing himself because he couldn’t reach his reflection in a pool. However, in gardening parlance, daffodils bear a single long-trumpeted flower on each stem. In contrast, narcissus have smaller flowers with short trumpets, often with multiple-blooming stems. Less frequently encountered are the jonquils, sweetly-scented with several flowers to each stem appearing in grass-like foliage. Professionals and specialist amateur gardeners divide these into around a dozen divisions according to specific characteristics.

Daffodils are remarkably tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions. Anything but the heaviest of clay soils and soggy conditions suit them. Climatically they require hot dry summers, cool moist springs and cold but not far northern winters. In short, almost anywhere outside the subtropics and full tropics. And, as Wordsworth observed, they will grow under deciduous trees having finished their flowering cycle before heavy shade is cast.

Better yet, once planted, they will reliably return every spring and even multiply, unlike the majority of tulips. They ask only to have their foliage allowed to die back naturally, remaining green to feed next year’s display. ‘Dead-heading,’ removing the withered blooms and their seedpods, will assist in this.

Not a few narcissus varieties are heavily scented. These can be located close to frequently used walkways and access points. Dwarf daffodils also need to be positioned where they can be easily viewed and appreciated instead of having to wade several metres across a perhaps soggy lawn to enjoy. Otherwise, plant in borders and flower beds, around trees and shrubs and naturalize in rough lawns.

Where the foliage remains after flowers finish, it can be concealed by judicious plantings of such perennials as daylily, hosta and oriental poppy.

Such beautiful blooms are daffodils, gently returning year following year unlike the turbaned tulips. Little wonder Wordsworth also observed:

Then my heart with pleasure fills

And dances with the daffodils

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Wes Porter -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. Wes has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.

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