by Jan Cashman

Daffodils-Narcissus-Jonquil–which is the correct name? Narcissus is the botanical name for this genus of spring-flowering bulbs. The Narcissus genus takes its name from the mythological Greek youth Narcissus. He was so in love with his own reflection in a lake that the Goddess Aphrodite turned him into a white daffodil, forever bowing its head to gaze into the mirrored water. Daffodil is the common English name, sometimes used for all varieties of narcissus; the name jonquil originally applied to only one species, but is now used for many flowers in this group. Native to the Mediterranean region, a few species of Narcissus are also found through Central Asia to China.

Daffodils are an easy-to-grow bulb for our climate-most types are extremely winter-hardy. Unlike some of the hybrid tulips, daffodils increase in vigor and quantity each year. Deer and rodents avoid them. If you’ve planted tulips in the fall, only to have the deer eat them off as soon as they come up in the spring, try daffodils. Their leaves and bulbs contain terrible tasting alkaloids.

After tulips, daffodils are the next most popular spring-blooming bulb. Nearly 150 million are sold in the U.S. each year and over 200 varieties are grown commercially. Daffodils make great cut flowers. The variety of color, size, shape, and bloom times of daffodils is far greater than most gardeners know. There are eleven horticultural classifications of daffodils, according to the flower shape, number of flowers on a stem, size, double or single, color, and hardiness. One of the best-known trumpet-types, classic is King Alfred, a classic, pure-yellow daffodil. However, not all daffodils are yellow. Other colors include combinations of white, pink, orange, and red.

One of our staff’s favorite daffodils is Pheasant’s Eye, often called “the Original Poet’s Daffodil”. It is an old heirloom species-type (not a hybrid) with white petals and a small red-rimmed, yellow cup. The pure white Thalia daffodil is one of my favorites. Bonnie Hickey, our bulb buyer, has planted many different daffodils in her yard. She especially likes the fragrant species-types, such as Jetfire, a short, early and long-blooming daffodil with red-orange cup and deep yellow petals. The small, golden-yellow Quail is another of Bonnie’s favorites (I like Quail too; I have planted it along the paths in my perennial garden.) Try double daffodils, they really don’t look much like daffodils at all. Rip van Winkle is a delightful small double heirloom daffodil with spiky yellow petals.

When you’re planting daffodils, consider how they’ll look combined with the other plants in your garden. Bonnie suggests planting white daffodils next to bleeding heart or yellow ones with pulmonaria. Dwarf yellow daffodils look perky emerging in a mass of spring-blooming, blue creeping phlox or pink saponaria. Small grape hyacinth contrast nicely with yellow daffodils. In a rock garden, plant daffodils next to bluish dwarf conifers or cool-season ornamental grasses such as blue fescue. For a swath of color, daffodils look best planted in groupings of a dozen or more bulbs. “Naturalizing” is a term used to describe planting daffodils in drifts in lawns or under trees to create a natural effect.

When shopping for daffodils, purchase topsize or double nose bulbs which produce 2 to 3 flower stems. For best results plant daffodils in a sunny location with good drainage. Plant them at least 3 times the depth of the bulb; the larger bulbs should be 6″ apart. Fertilize with a high phosphorous fertilizer or bone meal when planting and, again, every year in early spring. It is important to wait until the leaves of your daffodils have turned brown to cut them off, so they have time to store energy in the bulb for next year’s bloom. One way to hide their foliage until it dies back is to plant the bulbs near later-blooming perennials with attractive foliage, such as daylilies or hardy geraniums. Divide daffodils in the fall if they become crowded or blooming may be diminished.

Daffodils can be forced, which means growing them in a pot inside the house. Plant the bulbs in potting soil with the tip of the bulb showing. Water, and store in a cool, dark area for 13 or more weeks. Then, bring them into the warmth of your house in a sunny location and they will flower in 3 to 4 weeks. Choose varieties that are recommended for forcing; some varieties are too tall and become floppy. Hardy daffodils you have forced can then be planted outside in the spring and will bloom again in a year or two.

The strongly fragrant paperwhite narcissus are a commonly forced bulb around Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Paperwhites are not winter-hardy here, so they can only be grown indoors. Most paperwhites don’t need the 13 week cool period, just plant them in pebbles or a bulb vase-they don’t need soil. An unusual trick to keep paperwhites from growing too tall and flopping over is to add 10% alcohol (use any hard liquor) to the water. The alcohol retards their growth but doesn’t affect the flower.

Wordsworth praised the beauty of daffodils in his famous poem

“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;…
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.”

Plant a bunch-you’ll see what he meant.