Narcissus

The first promise of spring is usually heralded by the ever-reliable Narcissus or Daffodil, when gardeners breathe a visible sigh and excitedly begin making solid preparations for the season to come. It’s a joy to behold their gorgeous nodding trumpets and we defy anyone to not smile as soon as you lay eyes on one! The origin of it's name is thought to have direct links with the beautiful youth of Greek mythology who fell in love with his own reflection. The Greek word Narke also refers to numbness and is possibly linked to the toxic narcotic properties of the bulb. 

Daffodils have been cultivated since at least the mid 14th century when the original species were collected. Iberia is apparently the original home of this genus, though species can be found in most Mediterranean countries, especially France and Morocco. Traders and collectors from Spain and Portugal bought wild daffodil species to the British Isles and these apparently formed the first of many modern hybrids. There is reported to have been originally 24 distinct kinds, mostly species although some early natural hybrids may have been present. Each species has a preferred habitat, altitude and climate, though many are adaptable and tolerant of a wide range of conditions. It is these characteristics that have made the daffodil such a widely cultivated bulb.

More recently, their popularity and fanatical following has seen recognition by the Royal Horticultural Society of 89 species, 31 sub-species, 100 varieties and 72 hybrids! The RHS daffodil register has over 26,000 listed names due to more than 150 years of crossing selections and species. It seems the most problematic thing about Narcissus is choosing one. The Diggers Club have many selections available.

Flowering times may vary according to locality and season as they are temperature and weather dependant. They are grouped as flowering Very Early (June and July), Early (first half August), Early-Mid (last half August), Mid (first half September), Late (last half September) and Very Late (October).

Early Season Flowering

Jonquil ‘Grand Soliel d’Or’ – A frost hardy, early flowering variety bearing 10-20 scented flowers, each adorned with a small tangerine cup surrounded by gold petals. Grows to about 45cm tall.

Jonquil ‘Paper White’  – This little beauty is an early flowering variety in late winter to early spring. It is frost tolerant and bears clusters of up to 10 strongly fragrant glistening white blooms up to 35cm.

Narcissus orientalis  – A heavenly fragrant variety which produces 5-10 small flowers per stem, each adorned with a golden yellow cup and pure paper white petals to 45cm tall. This variety is well suited to early forcing indoors for a lovely winter display inside as it is frost tender.

Narcissus ‘Magnifique’ – An early flowering King Alfred style daffodil that will make a statement with large bright yellow petals and matching frilled trumpets to herald the coming warmer weather.

Narcissus ‘Winter Waltz’  – An early flowering floriferous miniature hybrid to 20cm, with reflexed white petals and a long slender buff-pink trumpet.

Narcissus x cyclaminus ‘Tete a tete’ – Dainty and long-lasting buttercup-yellow petals, slightly reflexed from deeper yellow cups, are a feature of this frost hardy early miniature to 20cm. Perfection in a pot. 

Narcissus ‘Erlicheer’ – A highly romantic double daffodil to 40cm. The ruffled flowers resemble peonies with clusters of soft white blooms with ivory centres. It boasts 6-8 flowers per stem and can be forced indoors for winter blooms inside. In contrast to other Narcissi, do not cut this flower until in full bloom.

Mid Season Flowering

Narcissus bulbocodium – Hoop Petticoat Yellow is a delicate miniature bulb often used at the front of a border. It is frost hardy and displays perfect 3.5cm funnel-shaped petticoats in deep yellow with fine foliage.

Narcissus ‘Marieke’ – Thought to be amongst the strongest of the golden trumpet daffodils and reaching 50cm tall, this 1986 hybrid from Konijnenburg and Mark sports huge yellow blooms, which are held firmly on strong stems for several weeks. This variety naturalises easily and is a prolific flowerer.

Narcissus triandrus ‘Thalia’ – Commonly known as the ‘orchid daffodil’ due to their glorious large ivory flowers appearing in pairs or trios. The blooms have narrow, reflexed slightly twisted petals and open cups and are a true heirloom dating back to 1916. This frost hardy bulb is ideally used to accentuate favourite garden focal points with a height of 30cm.

Narcissus ‘Art Design’ – Beautifully scented unique double blooms in ruffled shades of pale yellow and blushing pink inner segments with greenish yellow petals. These flowers would be at home on the set of Strictly Ballroom! A very romantic daffodil. 

Narcissus ‘Art Perfume’ – Luscious double blooms accompanied by a heady fragrance. The soft yellow petals deepen to a dark yellow at their base and surround an orange-yellow ruffled corona. This daffodil stands at 40cm tall.

Narcissus ’Fortissimo’ – A robust daffodil possessing giant blooms. They feature brilliant lemon-yellow petals and a bright orange funnel-shaped corona with a fluted rim. An excellent cut flowers.

Narcissus ‘Pink Charm’ – A thoroughly modern free flowering variety with glistening white petals surrounding a frilled white trumpet with salmon pink edges. It also happens to be frost hardy.

Narcissus ‘Monarque’ – A tall highly perfumed variety with very large round bunches of up to 10 white petalled florets with butter-yellow cups.

Late Season Flowering

Narcissus ‘Sir Winston Churchill’ – A beautiful double form of Narcissus ‘Geranium’, the flowers on this daffodil has firm white outer petals with mixed white and saffron inner petals and grows to 40cm.

Narcissus ‘Yazz’ – A tall growing daffodil with a strong, earthy scent. This beauty’s flowers possess slightly ruffled outer petals that resemble vintage lace. They frame a warm gold trumpet, tipped with a soft apricot undulating rim.

Narcissus ‘Geranium’ – This frost hardy daffodil bears up to six scented glistening white flowers to 5cm across with bright orange-red cups and grows to 35cm.

Autumn-Winter Flowering

Narcissus ‘New Glory' – Blooms with creamy white petals and a lemon cup fading to near white with age in autumn. The flowers carry a stunning, yet not over-powering scent on 40cm tall stems.

Narcissus ‘Innisidgen’ – A late autumn to early winter bloomer carrying primrose yellow petals with a pale orange cup. It has a delicate fragrance and stands at 40cm.

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Vibrant and eye catching our range of Narcissus daffodils  are the perfect addition to any spring flowering garden. Browse the range today!

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Cultivation

Narcissi will grow in almost any soil type of varying pH but perform best in humus rich soil. Prepare the ground well-aged compost, especially if your soil is sandy or dry. This may not be practical in a naturalised setting but for all other areas it will pay dividends in the form of flowers! There are such a huge range of Narcissi available. Some varieties, like the Narcissus pseudonarcissus, will tolerate temporary waterlogging, however most will enjoy a well drained site. The vast majority prefer a sunny situation but there are some that perform in a shady spot under a deciduous canopy, so always follow the specific guide for the species and variety you have selected.

Be sure to plant bulbs quite deeply (about 20cm), generally twice the depth of soil above the bulb as the height of the bulb itself.

Deadhead flowers as they brown off as otherwise your bulb will attempt to produce seed which is a very energy demanding activity! Instead, allow your bulbs to recharge by drawing goodness back into their own bulbs from their foliage as it dies down. This is a great opportunity to apply a dose of liquid fertiliser high in potassium which promotes flower formation and is taken in at this time and stored for next seasons show. Never remove foliage until it is totally browned off. The more pernickety amongst us (myself included) like to tie the foliage into a loose knot to tidy it up a bit, but this is not necessary.

Growing in containers

Nothing appears more cheerful at the end of a dreary winter than a happy pot of daffodils! They perform well in this environment when given a rich potting mix/compost blend medium to grow in. Containers become more quickly depleted of nutrients as they are flushed out with each watering, so it is important to fertilise your potted daffodils as they die down. Water your pots as needed during the warmer growing season and allow them to dry out a bit more when they are dormant or plant out into the garden. Bulbs can be planted much more densely in pots, almost touching to create huge impact. They can remain like this for one or two years but then will need repotting.

Propagation & Uses

Propagation

Bulb division is probably the most common way of producing more plants as the bulbs will happily multiply in their chosen spot until they become overcrowded and flowering is reduced. 

Narcissus can be sown from seed but may not be true to type unless they are from the original species stock, as daffodils have been heavily hybridised, interbred and selected over centuries. If you do wish to grow from seed, take the seed head when it is swollen and brown and carefully remove the seeds to sow in a pot of moist loamy compost covered thinly with grit. Place the pots in a shady place and keep moist. As the first leaves emerge, gradually increase the exposure to sun and leave in the pot for at least a year to properly develop a bulb. Sowing seed in a pot avoids disturbing the bulb by potting on once it outgrows the propagating tray. Plants grown from seed will take a few years to flower as the bulb needs to build up its nutrient reserves.

Uses

Naturalised – Narcissus look most at home is a naturalistic setting. Fantastic results can be achieved by the tried and true method of tossing a handful of bulbs out into the area you wish to be planted and digging them in where they land. They look decidedly well under deciduous trees or in grasslands. Narcissus will reward you in this setting for many years to come.

Borders – Miniature Narcissi can work well toward the front of an herbaceous border. Be generous and plant in clumps but thin the group out toward the outside of the clump to allow for a less manufactured appearance. Plant taller varieties a little further back but using the same technique.

Rock gardens – Consider planting little pockets of miniature Narcissus to add a splash of colour and lush vertical appeal to this sometimes more challenging environment.

Cut flower – These little beauties last well as cut flowers and the foliage will often hold colour as they dry out. If growing daffodils for cut flowers, cut only a few flowers from each clump to avoid exhausting bulbs. Flower buds may be picked early when the buds just start to show colour, then kept in a fridge in water for up to three weeks. Once the flowers are in a vase, keep them out of direct sunlight and mist them with water to refresh the flowers.

Pests and diseases

Narcissi are a fairly trouble free bulb when planted out in a suitable site. Failure to flower would be the more common issue that seems to arise. This may be caused by several factors including an oversupply of nitrogen, drought, overcrowding or too much shade. If your daffodils are not blooming, lift, divide the clump, prepare and enrich the soil with well aged compost, then you may find the cheery faces of the daffodil bulb return the following season. 

A variety of hover fly pest known as Narcissus fly (Merodon equestris) may also cause failure to flower and can affect bulbs in the Amaryllidaceae family. Inspection of the basal plate of your affected bulb will show the larvae having eaten away sections, and it is best to destroy any plants affected by this pest. Firming down the soil around your bulb after flowering may make egg depositing more difficult for the female fly.

Bulb and stem eelworm is a microscopic parasitic plant nematode (Ditylenchus dipsaci) that affects a range of plants including bulbs. Symptoms may appear at the end of the season as swollen bulbs, distorted or stunted growth and malformed leaves. They thrive in cool wet situations. Nematodes can be eradicated from an area by removing all plant material (including weeds) and leaving the area fallow for three years. Bulbs can also be lifted then, when dormant, treated for three hours in water at a temperature of 45 degrees. Neither are very practical solutions for the home gardener, but ones that have been found to work. Alternatively, destroy bulbs. Do not place in the compost. To avoid this situation, buy from reputable growers.

Occasionally viruses are transmitted by sap sucking insects. These show up as pale colourings in streaks or patches on the foliage. Lift and burn any plants with evidence of this disease. 

Although Narcissi will tolerate temporary waterlogging, permanently wet soil will cause the bulb to rot, so ensure the soil drains well.

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