The trouble with daffodils

The bulb meadow on Marsland Hill

I headed back to see the bulb meadow in town that I wrote about a fortnight ago to see how it was evolving. My friend Susan had told me that this and another beside the race course opposite New Plymouth Boys High School had both been planted by Fiesta Bulbs about four years ago. The first year, she said, they were absolutely glorious. The second year, there was so little flowering that she thought ‘well that was a one season wonder’. But now they are at least staging some repeat blooming .

Where purple meets yellow – I really don’t like those murky brown tones 

The clear blue that was also used is my preference

The Marsland Hill planting is being carried by the Dutch iris. They are simply splendid and I think I need more of these easy-care bulbs to carry some of our own larger scale meadow plantings. I still particularly dislike the purple and yellow variety with the brown tones (sorry, pcsecretary who left a comment disagreeing with this assessment but at least I found out that you should be able to source it from Fiesta Bulbs, if you live in NZ) but there was also a clearer blue one being used and the pastel variety didn’t look so anaemic with many more of it in flower. So a big ups to the Dutch iris.

Too much leafage! Poor light conditions but you can see what I mean in the planting by the racecourse

But the daffodils – too much leafage. This was even more the case on the racecourse plantings where fewer Dutch iris were used. This is why Mark has never been a daffy fan when it comes to garden plants. Dwarf narcissi – yes, in abundance. Big full-on daffodils, no. The foliage swamps them and the flower heads are too heavy to hold up well in the spring wind and rain.

Pretty enough at home but still too high a ratio of foliage to flower. And the outer blooms all fall over in the weather. 

I came home and looked at my patch on the back lawn and thought yes, there is too much foliage there for the number of flowers. And I don’t think the ratio of blooms to leafage is going to get better.

Big daffs are best as show blooms and cut flowers 

Narcissus x odorus never drowns in its foliage but its season in bloom is brief

The big daffodils are better as show blooms and cut flowers. But as meadow plants, not so much. I looked again at the narcissi we are growing at home. Narcissus x odorus (N. jonquilla x N. pseudonarcissus) is gorgeous, fragrant, does not have a lot of foliage to drown in but its flowering season is brief.  ‘Tête-à-tête’ (I assume it is meant to have the French accents) is a great performer which keeps on blooming well even when left undisturbed for many years – most narcissi respond brilliantly to being lifted, divided and replanted but stop flowering as they get congested. Ditto ‘Twilight’ and most of the cyclamineus types we grow. Bulbocodiums are not so good for meadows because you can’t pick the foliage from grass when it is coming through.

I rather think that meadows may be better with alternative bulbs like ixias, strong growing lachenalias, sparaxis and tritonias. And Dutch iris. Daffs are not compulsory.

Maybe a N. pseudonarcissus hybrid rather than a straight species selection

A Facebook friend posted a photo of her double daffodil which was most likely a form of the wild N. pseudonarcissus. I asked Mark if this one flowering in woodland conditions here was too. He didn’t know on that one but directed me down to the old orchard area established by his great grandmother, where the old classic is growing. Okay, there weren’t many flowers but that patch has been there, undisturbed, for anything up to 140 years, which is quite amazing really. It is the common old double that is often found growing wild alongside snowflakes (leucojums) on the sites of original early settler cottages. N. pseudonarcissus is a wild daffodil throughout the UK and Europe, more commonly single but the double has long been prized as a garden plant. It has the same problem of the weight of the head dragging the flower down but at least this one has some personal history for us.

Great grandmother’s flowers – snowflake (leucojum, not snowdrop), double daffodil (wild N. pseudonarcissus) and grape hyacinth (muscari, not bluebell)

The upshot of all this is that it is entirely understandable that, in this day and age, Council would contract a commercial bulb supplier to come in and plant a designated area. But if you want to establish a bulb meadow at home that has greater longevity, there is no substitute for spending some time observing and researching. And shun selections that are best as cut flowers – unless they are Dutch iris which seem to be able to fill both roles.

5 thoughts on “The trouble with daffodils

  1. socialworknz

    Love this info. The daffs are not coping with the rain. You mentioned lachenalia. They are my favourites but this year I couldn’t find any for sale. I hunted on line , but no luck! I’d be grateful if you could point me in the right direction.
    Liz
    PS I really enjoy your tweets and blogs

    Reply
    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Thanks. Probably wrong season to find lachenalias because they will mostly be sold dormant. If you are just after the common orange and yellow aloides, maybe take up walking around your area and strike up a conversation with some gardener with them. Trade Me seems to be best place to find these less commercial plants these days -try in summer?

      Reply
  2. tonytomeo

    I thought that was only a problem where they don’t get enough chill. Daffodils are one of only a few bulbs that will naturalize for us, so I don’t mind that they get leafy. It seems to me that they don’t bloom so well in their second year, or maybe their second year, but by their third year, have multiplied enough to bloom at least comparably to their first year. The only difference is that they are crowded with foliage. I don’t really mind. The flowers are nice anyway. Sadly, the best field of daffodils that I remember was an abandoned cut flower crop that was bulldozed ‘after’ a home was built next to it. (I think I mentioned it earlier.)

    Reply
    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I am not sure that anything gets much winter chill here. Bulb fly are a major issue, particularly with the larger growing forms that keep their foliage longer. That can cause the bulbs to multiply and make leaves, not flowers. I just think they perform best in situations where they are lifted and divided regularly.

      Reply

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