They are one of the first blooms to greet us in spring, waking up bright and cheery after their long winter slumber. Braving the fickle spring forecasts, they emerge undaunted, unfurling their petals to welcome in the new season. Bringing smiles to all who notice their bright presence out in a world that is awakening. English poet William Wordsworth wrote, “(If) one daffodil is worth a thousand pleasures, then one is too few.” I couldn’t agree with Mr. Wordsworth more. When it comes to daffodils, the more, the merrier!
A little background on these dazzling blooms: Daffodils belong to the genus Narcissus, a grouping of predominantly spring flowering perennial plants in the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae). Common names for these blooms include daffodil, narcissus, or jonquil. The name’s exact origin is unclear, but it is often linked to the myth of Narcissus, a boy who fell in love with his reflection. They are native to North Africa and Southern Europe and have since been cultivated and naturalized widely. Historical accounts suggest narcissi became popular after the 16th century when used for horticultural and medicinal purposes. Narcissi have long been celebrated in literature and art, being symbols of death, good fortune, or spring, depending on the culture.
Today, narcissi are favored as ornamental plants or cut flowers, and with a long history of breeding, there are now over 32,000 registered cultivars. With this many varieties, it became necessary for horticulturalists to group daffodils into divisions. These divisions are based on shape and color and include Trumpet, Large-Cupped, Small-Cupped, Doubles, Triandrus, Cyclamineus, Jonquilla, Tazetta, Poeticus, Bulbocodium, Split Corona, Miscellaneous, and Wild daffodils. Wow, who knew?
Daffodils grow from bulbs, and most species lie dormant from summer to late winter, although there are a few species that flower in autumn. The flower stems and leaves develop within the bulb and emerge in the spring, only to die back after flowering. Gardeners should not cut back the foliage after flowering; the leaves should be allowed to photosynthesize to create nutrients that the bulb will need to regrow next season. The foliage will naturally yellow and dieback, and then gardeners can remove it. At this point, the bulb will be dormant once again. It is best to plant daffodil bulbs in the fall as they need a cold period to get ready for spring and develop roots.
In the fall of 2020, I decided I’d like to have more daffodils in my life (wouldn’t we all?). Perhaps the purchase was fulfilling a need for something cheerful in our lives during a pandemic world or based on the idea that their bright blooms would usher in a new year with hope and possibility. Or, it could have been Mr. Wordsworth’s quote ringing in my ear or my unbridled obsession with accumulating anything that I could grow. Either way and for whatever reasons, I set about planting.
I planted close to 100 daffodil bulbs, and yes, by the end, I was cursing myself for ordering so many. In my defense, a friend gifted me several dozen bulbs when dividing those growing in her garden. How could I say no? So, 100 holes painstakingly dug later, I sat back and looked at my handiwork…and saw nothing but bare ground. The show would come months later; I would have to be patient.
I am happy to report that I wasn’t disappointed as my daffodils started to emerge and bloom this spring. All that effort was worth it. Golden trumpets, heralding in the spring season, set my walkway beds aglow. Different varieties grace the beds in varying colors, shapes, and sizes, all vying for my attention as I walk to the front door. It would not be easy to choose a favorite. Sadly, soon the flowers will fade, and they will die back until I can no longer see them, becoming dormant and waiting patiently to reemerge next spring when I need them most. I, too, will try to be patient during that time, but I will revel in their bright complexion for now.
I’ve since learned that you can also plant daffodil bulbs in pots, placing bulbs about 4-6 inches deep and 3-4 inches apart in a container filled with potting soil in the fall. After watering, store the container in an unheated garage or basement until spring. I wish I had known about this planting method before I got blisters from digging 100 holes! Oh well, no matter. Perhaps I will try planting some daffodils in containers this fall; there are still about 31,995 cultivars for me to try. Besides, the more daffodils, the merrier, right Mr. Wordsworth?