Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Waiting for Spring: My Favorite Daffodils

So… I’m worried about my Daffodils.  I know there are many other, much more serious, problems that should consume my energy.  But right now, I’m really concerned about my Daffodils.

The problem is actually our erratic weather.  As I’ve mentioned before, Virginia’s climate is notoriously temperamental and diverse, and this winter is par for the course.  We started with rather cold temps in November followed by a dry, mild December.  That’s when my Daffodils started to peek out of the earth.  January was a roller coaster… some fluffy snow, torrential rains, a little ice interspersed with desiccating winds and stretches of frigid dryness.  February has been just as fickle.  25 degrees on Friday; 70 by the subsequent Wednesday, which means my Daffodils grow an inch one day and are zapped the next.  I watch and watch and wait.  It’s nerve racking, especially when Daffodils are usually the most light-hearted plants.
This was a forecast of rain.
Whether you call them Daffodils or Jonquils, these flowers are all varieties or cultivars of the species Narcissus, as in…
nar (the beginning of narcotic)
SIS (not your bro but your sis)

us (you and me).
Most folks run it all together, as in… nar-SIS-sus.
(In either case, the emphasis is on SIS.)
Originally from the middle of the ancient world: Europe, North Africa and western Asia,
Narcissus bulbs are incredibly adaptable and will thrive in any spot with well-drained soil, full-to-partial sun and 12-14 weeks of cool weather.  The chilly soil is important for root development.  There are some varieties that can handle the extended heat of Zones 9 and warmer.

‘Ice Follies’ is what I consider a perfect Daffodil.  I love its large, two-tone blossom with soft white petals, known as the perianth, and frilly, pale yellow cup.  The contrast is much more subtle than what is promised in most bulb catalogs: the trumpets emerge a light lemon, like the combination of sugar and egg yolks, and fade to an almost-alabaster that looks lit from within.
Last year's 'Ice Follies' and
Even in more regular years, ‘Ice Follies’ blooms early for me, usually by late-February, pushing through a bit of snow, and lasts through March.

‘Minnow’ is another favorite.  Like clusters of pert little faces, ‘Minnow’ blooms in the same color way, but slightly later, and its miniature coronae never diminish from that sunny yellow.
'Minnow' in my bulb bed.
You might have noticed a trend here.  I really prefer bicolor Daffodils, especially in combinations of white and yellow.  The eight by forty foot bank I call my “bulb bed” is planted with ‘Ice Follies’, ‘Minnow’ and ‘Fruit Cup’… a short, cheerful plant with more than one, open, almost-animated, bloom per stem, like a chorus standing at attention, and the distinct fragrance of canned fruit salad.  You know the one from childhood with heavy syrup and maraschino cherries.

The American Daffodil Society, horticulturists and bulb breeders classify Narcissus into thirteen divisions.

Cultivars or species are identified further by predominant color of perianth and corona.  So ‘Ice Follies’ is 2W-W (because the yellow cup fades to white) and ‘Fruit Cup’ is 7W-Y.  Dwarf Daffodils, like ‘Minnow’, can be confusing, because many catalogs and growers list them as a separate category.  But in fact, they share the same descriptors as “standard” Daffodils… just based on their baby blooms and often shorter stems.  I’m a big fan of miniature Daffodils.  They never flop over, even after heavy spring rains, and the ratio of foliage to flower just looks right to me.

Trumpet and Large Cup are the most common images of Daffodils: big blousy blossoms on tall, thin stems that sometimes reach hyperbole.  Each is like a crown for the royal frog prince, set askew.

Division 1 - Trumpet
One flower per stem; the corona or cup is as long as, or longer than, the perianth segments or petals.

The monochromatic ‘Dutch Master’, tall and brilliantly yellow, and ‘Mount Hood’, a faint lemon that matures to true-white, can hold their own in highway medians and urban parks.
I spotted these 'Dutch Master' among red Tulips and Cyclamen
over the weekend at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.
Currently, I don’t have any Trumpet Daffodils in my garden but I plan to add ‘Lorikeet’, slightly smaller than the aforementioned “big guns” with primrose petals and a salmon trumpet, and ‘Pink Silk’, even more petite with that elongated ballet-pink corona, under the arbor.
'Pink Silk' from Brent and Becky's Bulbs
Division 2 - Large Cup
Also, one flower per stem; the corona measures at least one-third the length (but is less than the full length) of the perianth segments.

Large Cup Daffodils are great for naturalizing and planting in large swaths.  ‘Ice Follies’ is part of the category, as is ‘Carlton’… conspicuously yellow with a bluish cast to the foliage.  A few ‘Carlton’ keep cropping up along our fence line where they were planted thirty or forty years ago.  If you love Large Cup, check out ‘Fortissimo’ for its giant blossom with oversized canary petals and frilly orange trumpet.
'Fortissimo' also from Brent and Becky's Bulbs
Division 3 - Short Cup
Tazetta, Poeticus and even some Cyclamineus Daffodils bear very small cups.  However a true Short Cup usually has only one flower per stem.  The corona measures less than one-third the length of the perianth segments.

‘Merlin’ and ‘Barrett Browning’ are two of my favorites.
'Merlin' and
Pretty ‘Jamestown’ suits the colors of bulb bank, but I’m afraid it might be overlooked in the mass planting.  Perhaps it would be best in small doses, brightening the blueberry bed.
'Jamestown' are usually available at Brent and Becky's Bulbs.
Division 4 - Double
There can be one or more flowers per stem.  Daffodils have a clustered cup, petals or both.  Sometimes the cup is ruffled but maintains a defined trumpet-shape.
I might just fall for 'Wave', also from Brent and Becky's Bulbs.
On other cultivars, the cup is almost hidden among the petals.  These very-layered blossoms can look like decoratively-iced cupcakes, or somewhat shaggy heads, where the petals mimic an explosion of tissue paper.

I have two cultivars: an anonymous hand-me-down with sulfurous petals threaded with strips of green (it is full scale) and ‘Rip Van Winkle’.  Popular since its introduction in the 1880s, dwarf and robust ‘Rip Van Winkle’ is often described as greenish-yellow.  But it blooms almost school-bus bright for me, with clustered flowers not unlike mini Chrysanthemum or Dahlia.  There are a lot of bicolor choices in Double Daffodils, including ‘Cheerfulness’, displaying creamy white petals with bits of straw around the feathery corona,
White Flower Farm usually offers a good selection of Double Daffodils,
including 'Cheerfulness' and
‘Ice King’, a sport of ‘Ice Follies’ with the same color combination and stamina, but a Carnation-like cup,
'Ice King'.
and tropical ‘Tahiti’, with layer upon layer of soft yellow petals and a little tuft of a trumpet with orange ruffles.
'Tahiti' can be ordered from Brent and Becky's or White Flower Farm.
Keep in mind... the colors are a lot softer in person!
Division 5 - Triandrus
Usually more than one flower per stem; these are the daffodils that resemble little bells or nodding heads.  Their petals are often narrow and curved and cups are short.

I’ve noticed that most in the division don very defined, slender petals, almost stellar in shape.  Triandrus is epitomized by the all-white ‘Thalia’.
'Thalia' from White Flower Farm
Considered an heirloom, because it was introduced before World War II, it is now available with a citrus trumpet as ‘Thalia Sun’.  Some folks who want happy, upright faces on their Daffodils dislike Triandrus’ droopy heads.  But I love that slightly old-fashioned, Snowdrop look.  They seem like falling stars.

Division 6 - Cyclamineus
One or two flowers per stem; petals are usually slender and significantly reflexed and paired with a straight and narrow corona.  Some exceptions exist, but these daffodils seem to have a perpetually wind-swept-look… not unlike a badminton birdie!

I have two different types of Cyclamineus: ‘Jack Snipe’, a combo of white and sunshine, and ‘Jetfire’, with deep gold petals and a faint orange trumpet, both tiny and rambunctious, growing among Hemerocallis ‘Hyperion’ and ‘Stella d’Oro’ and self-seeding Columbine.
But there is always room for more.  ‘Wisley’ is tempting for its white-and-yellow color way and terribly long trumpets.
'Wisley' from White Flower Farm
‘Beryl’ is the other extreme with shuttlecock petals and a thimble of a corona.  ‘Rapture’ is a lovely goldenrod selection.
'Beryl' from Brent and Becky's Bulbs
Jonquilla and Tazetta are perhaps the best performers for Southern gardens and forcing.  I personally like them because they provide so many flowers per bulb and come in a wide range of sizes and colors.

Division 7 - Jonquilla
There are usually one to three, very fragrant, blooms per stem.  These Daffodils have small “faces” with flat petals.  The foliage is narrow and onion-like.

‘Fruit Cup’ is a Jonquilla, as is the golden-mustard ‘Quail’ and this charming reverse bicolor called ‘Pipit’… all inhabitants of my backyard.
'Pipit' looks and smells lovely.
I also planted ‘Sun Disc’ many years ago, a shortie with two tones of yellow on a round Pansy face, but I can’t find them now.  They must have succumbed to disease or damp or more aggressive plantings.
'Sun Disc' from White Flower Farm; I'll have to consider planting them again.
Division 8 - Tazetta
Daffodils have clusters of florets, usually more than three but possibly as many as twenty, per stout stem.  Sweetly-scented, Tazetta sports short cups and petals that are slightly rounded and sometimes crinkled.  The foliage and stem are rather flat and broad.  Most Paperwhites are Division 8.

My favorite Tazetta include ‘Minnow’, of course, and ‘Geranium’, an older model that is reminiscent of the Poet’s Daffodil with shining, white petals and an orange-ish cup, the shade of butternut squash.
My 'Geranium' is in a sheltered spot, so the blossoms last a long time.
I’m anxious to see flirty ‘Falconet’, which I just planted around my cobalt blue fountain this past November.
My 'Falconet' came from Dutch Gardens.
Division 9 - Poeticus
Usually one flower per stem; these daffodils are known for their extremely white petals, which are sometimes “stained” with the color of the corona.  The cup is a small, crinkled disc, usually in shades of orange-red, with a green or yellow center.  Sometimes Poeticus is grouped with Small Cup or Tazetta in plant catalogs.
'Sea Green' from White Flower Farm
‘Sea Green’ perfectly showcases all the traits of Poeticus.  Also called Poet’s or Pheasant’s Eye Daffodils, these late-risers can extend your bloom time through May.

Division 10 - Bulbocodium Hybrids
Usually one flower per stem, the blossoms are really more trumpet than Daffodil.  They resemble tiny funnels or megaphones and are often described as “hoop petticoats”.

My itty bitty ‘Golden Bells’, a more floriferous hybrid of the species, always makes me smile.

Division 11 - Split Corona
Once again, usually just one flower per stem.  Each Daffodil has a cup that is split more than half its length, almost as if you dissected the trumpet, crimped the edges, and pressed it flat among its petals.  Split Corona fall into two shapes: Collar and Papillon.  They may convey a similar frilliness as Double Daffodils, but the cup is much more evident and is often highlighted in a contrasting color to the petals.
'Electrus' from Brent and Becky's

'Cum Laude' from White Flower Farm
I’m not sure how I feel about these flamboyant Daffodils; they almost seem too decorative.  And I’ve yet to add any to the garden.

Division 12 - Other Cultivars
This is a catch-all for “bred” Daffodils that do not fit nicely into any other categories.  Most are hybrids between different divisional Daffodils.

Division 13 - Species
Another catch-all, but this time, for all the species and wild, or reputedly wild, varieties and hybrids.  These are Daffodils we only know by their botanical names.

Believe it or not, the ever popular Tete-a-Tete, hardly a misfit, as the most often-used Daffodil for commercial displays and forcing, is part of Division 12.  I planted additional Tete-a-Tete bulbs, late this autumn, skirting a pair of Abelia ‘Twist of Lime’.
Forced 'Tete-a-Tete'
But I’m thinking they may be a great way to fill in around the white-and-yellow blossoms in the bulb bed.  My friend, who works at a local nursery, told me I can spring plant bulbs that have been forced for containers and floral arrangements.  It would be handy to do it when the existing bulbs and perennials are emerging, so I can identify any empty spots.
'Tete-a-Tete' and 'Ice Follies'
Don't they look pretty together?
But first, I need to wait for the ground to thaw!  Definitely an anomaly in recent years, another batch of extreme cold is causing me, and my Daffodils, so much grief.  We’re more than ten degrees colder than the norm!

In truth, I know it’s not the end of the world.  Even if they don’t put on the greatest show this year, Daffodils are hardy fellows and, most likely, will rebound next year… and for generations to come.

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