Reflecting on narcissus
Many people, bored by common-or-garden varieties of daffodils, may have written off this golden bulb but there is so much more to them
An Oxlip, (Primula elatior)
Bulbs in the Keukenhof gardens in The Netherlands, including grape hyacinths
It’s daffodil time. By which I mean that now is the very best time to plant the bulbs of this lovely spring-flowering plant (more properly known as narcissus) in the ground, so that they can establish the sort of sturdy, vigorous root system that will allow them to be at their most beautiful next year.
If you’ve somehow fallen out of love with these flowers (perhaps as a result of growing some of the over-bred kinds), then think again.
A tour of some of The Netherlands’ spring gardens earlier this year reminded me (a lapsed daffodil lover) of what a versatile and valuable genus of plants narcissus are; there truly is a daffodil suitable for every plot, whether that be a tiny stone trough or several rolling acres.
In Hortus Bulborum, the Dutch bulb garden in Limmen, northern Holland, that’s home to a botanical collection of several thousand different cultivars, species and varieties of bulbous plants, including 1,000 different kinds of daffodils, I saw the lovely Narcissus ‘Rip Van Winkle’. This miniature, Irish double daffodil dates from the Victorian era and appears throughout March and April. Its multi- petalled golden flowers look just like fallen stars.
Also growing in this remarkable garden are many daffodils produced by distinguished Northern Irish breeders – such as Brian Duncan, Guy Wilson and Frank Harrison – who have been responsible for introducing a treasure-trove of garden-worthy varieties into cultivation.
On that same trip I saw daffodils flowering in profusion in the gardens of Keukenhof, either growing in the ground alongside velvet-purple violas, chionodoxas, hyacinths, scillas, early tulips and anemones (including the excellent, large-flowered A. ‘White Splendour’) or planted en-masse in handsome wicker containers.
But the Dutch garden that I remember best for its glorious display of daffodils belongs to the designer Jacqueline van der Kloet. Situated in Weesp, south-east of Amsterdam, in the grounds of an old fortress, the spring gardens of De Theetuin (The Tearoom) are filled with the kinds of plant combinations that have you reaching for your camera and notebook.
Among the stand-out daffodils that I saw there is one known as N. ‘Sailboat’, a long-flowering, fragrant, multi-flowered variety with ivory-white petals and the palest yellow cups, which reaches a height of 30-35cm.
Another is N. ‘Jenny’, a cyclamen-type daffodil with the graceful, reflexed petals so characteristic of that particular group. Pale-flowered and elegant, this RHS GM winner reaches a height of 30-40cm.
Van der Kloet grows these flowers in soft drifts alongside other spring-flowering bulbous perennials such as the inky-violet grape hyacinth Muscari latifolium (another standout plant) and Chionodoxa luciliae ‘Alba, a white-flowered form of the usually blue-flowering ‘Glory of the Snow’, as well as with the yellow millet grass, Milium effusum ‘Aureum’, forget-me-nots, and the semi-evergreen oxlip, Primula elatior.