Tag Archives: Narcissus cyclamineus

Rays of golden sunshine

The narcissi tell us spring is here, irrespective of what an arbitrary calendar says.

A representation of those narcissi currently flowering

We once went to the National Daffodil Show when it was held in our local town. Alas, despite trawling through my files, I can not find the photos I took to convey the nature of the show. It was beautifully staged and moderately spectacular – in a daffodil-y sort of way. It was also an interesting insight into how those who breed and show daffodils are on a different trajectory. Bigger was undeniably better, extraordinarily long stems topped with enormous flowers, split corollas galore, a lot of different colour combinations and novelty variants. These were blooms grown to be staged as cut flowers. The little dwarf and miniature types were confined to one very small and somewhat insignificant table.

Our interest in narcissi begins and ends with them as garden plants or naturalised in a meadow situation. I cut some simply for photos yesterday. Because we over-heat our house in winter, we don’t generally cut flowers to bring inside where they immediately wilt and die. And those big show daffodils don’t make good garden plants in our conditions. The heavy heads pull them over and heavy rain and spring wind knocks the blooms about too much.

Peeping Tom at the front – reliable, tough and maybe a little too enthusiastic in its rate of increase. We do seem to have rather a lot of it.
These will be named varieties from the 1950s because they are a relic of original planting done by Felix and Mimosa when they started the garden here.

We don’t have a single big King Alfred type often favoured by people wanting to planting swathes of daffodils. Amongst other things, they flower later in the season. We prefer the early flowering types because they are largely done and dusted before the narcissi fly are on the wing.

Cyclamineus type

Our narcissi flower over a reasonable period of time and some are still to show any colour at all. While we probably have a respectable collection of named dwarf varieties (Tête-à-tête, Jetfire, x Odorus, Twilight, Beryl, Peeping Tom and others), many of those we grow are unnamed, controlled cyclamineus crosses that Mark and his father before him have done to increase numbers. It takes a lot of bulbs to naturalise around the garden and the plant budget here has never stretched to buying bulbs by the hundreds or even thousands needed to put on a good show. We could not afford to garden on the scale we do if we had to buy all the plants.

I have never unravelled the different narcissi groups in detail. We grow the hooped petticoats – N. bulbocodium – in lemon and the later flowering bright yellow but they are not my favourites. The bright yellow is showy but increases somewhat too readily, the lemon (citrinus) may need a bit more love than it gets here to flower well.

I would like to say Ralph is tiptoeing through the daffodils but I would be lying. His movements are more akin to thundering.

I love the look of Narcissus poeticus but it doesn’t love us so the best we can manage is the poeticus hybrid ‘Beryl’. We have some from the triandrus, jonquilla and tazetta groups but the reason why our collection is heavily dominated by cyclamineus types is because they are the best performers in our conditions. The ones with swept back petals are a particular delight for me.

Managed meadow! Planting on the slope gives and even better view from the path below.

It isn’t necessary to have big King Alfred types for meadow situations. I think our smaller dwarf ones are just as showy but we plant in clumps and drifts rather than scattered single bulbs and they flower before all the spring grass growth that would drown them. We need to get the timing right for mowing or strimming the meadow grass before the foliage comes through but otherwise, they are self-maintaining. And what a joy they are at this time of the year as the snowdrops of winter fade.

The bad news is that most daffodils sold commercially in this country are of the later flowering King Alfred type – big strong growers with big heads. The smaller growing ones are sometimes available in garden centres but you may have to search to find much of a range, or start raising your own from seed.

These are the largest varieties we grow. The manky first one of the left may be Narcissus pseudonarcissus double, then Soleil d’Or, I don’t know what the next one is, the centre one with white petals may be the Narcissus pseudonarcissus (the wild daffodil), then Peeping Tom and Narcissus x Odorus.
Mid-sized dwarf varieties including Twilight, Twinkle, Jetfire and unnamed seedlings
And the littlies with bulbocodiums to the left

Spring is in the air ♫ ♫ ♫

Mount Taranaki is an active volcano but the dark above its crater is cloud not smoke

I was prophetic. Just two weeks ago I commented that bringing in a film crew from outside the area to capture our view of Magnolia campbellii and Mount Taranaki was fraught with problems, that we could go ten days without being able to see it. In fact it was fourteen days this time – a period of cloud and intermittent rain which kept te mounga shrouded. Yesterday was fine and sunny and the cloud over the peak cleared in the afternoon. Is there a lovelier sight?

As I walked around the garden with my camera, it was clear that, midwinter or not, the plants are telling us that spring is here. Is it earlier this year than usual? We are reserving judgement; these things tend to even out over time though this winter has been relatively mild There have only been a handful of days when it has been too bad to be outside for at least a few hours.

Magnolia Vulcan – the ragged flowers to the right will have been chewed by kereru

Magnolia season is probably our showiest with the grandeur and vibrancy of blooms against the sky, complemented by drifts of snowdrops and dwarf narcissi below. Vulcan has opened its first blooms, showing the colour intensity we get here in the garden of the breeder (Felix Jury) which is rarely matched in colder climes in the northern hemisphere where it can be smaller and more of a murky purple.

Magnolia Felix Jury

So too Magnolia Felix Jury (bred by Mark) which opens red for us. It, too, tends to colour bleach in colder climates so is more a rich pink but with its magnificent size and flower form, it doesn’t seem to matter. Nobody complains about it to us and we only get rave reviews from around the world.

Hybrid cyclaminues narcissi with their swept back petals making them look perpetually astonished

With the rush of spring, comes a rising sense of urgency. This anxiety has yet to afflict Mark but I am feeling it. Opening the garden at the end of October takes planning. I have no idea what preparing a small garden for opening is like but I know a lot about preparing a large one. Timing is everything. Unlike routinely maintaining a garden – and we routinely maintain ours to a level that makes us happy – opening for a festival means having it all ready at the same time.

Major work includes laying a path surface in the new areas. Mark’s Fairy Magnolia White with Camellia yuhsienensis in front. The pink at the back is Prunus campanulata.

My plan is to have all major work and the first round of the entire garden completed by the end of August. That leaves about seven weeks to do the second round which is more about titivating and detail. The final week is then about cleaning public areas and doing the last-minute presentation stuff (including, believe it not, cleaning the house windows). I think we are on track but it feels like there is a lot to do. Well, there is a lot to do.

The big-leafed rhododendrons flower now, not at the beginning of November. This is Rhododendron protistum var. giganteum.

We have never targeted our plantings to the annual garden festival. I think that is more a small garden approach. Back in the days when we used to retail plants (and that is a long time ago now – over a decade) most locals who opened their gardens for the festival would only buy plants that we could assure them would flower in the prescribed ten days. They actually geared their entire garden to peak over that ten day period. Each to their own. We garden primarily to please ourselves and we like flowers and seasonal interest all year round. So there is always something of interest in bloom but also plants that have ‘passed over’, as we say, and plants that ‘yet to come’.

We are currently at peak snowdrop

There is a lot ‘coming’ right now and that brings us great pleasure, even if sharing it is done vicariously. It will look different when we open for festival – not better, not worse, just different. Probably tidier, though.

A school of chocolate fish

Finally, in my occasional series on reinterpreting New Zealand confectionary in flowers, I give you the chocolate fish. I was a bit disappointed when I cut into the fish. I am pretty sure that the marshmallow interior used to be a richer pink shade – raspberry-ish even, but I have taken some floral licence.

Cyclamen coum, schlumbergera, azaleas and camellias on a bed of Acer griseum bark

Floral Skypaper – the garden in August

Magnolia Felix Jury

Magnolia Felix Jury

Not for us the refinement of declaring we garden for foliage and form. Give us floral extravaganza, we say, and August obliges. In the deciduous magnolias, it is the reds that dominate. By the end of the month and well into September, the softer pinks and whites come into their own but at the start, we have an unrivalled display of the stronger colours which just gets better every year as the trees get ever larger. Floral sky-paper, I call it when looking up from below. I say it is an unrivalled display because nowhere else in the world gets the same intensity of red in these magnolia, nor have they done the breeding on them that has been done in this country over the past 40 years. First Felix Jury, now Mark Jury and also Vance Hooper have pushed the boundaries with the reds. Mark was very pleased to find recently that Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society has given an Award of Garden Merit to the magnolia he bred and named for his father, ‘Felix Jury’. While we admit to being biased, it still takes our breath away each season.

Mark's new 'Fairy Magnolia White'

Mark’s new ‘Fairy Magnolia White’

It is also michelia time – or as they have been reclassified botanically, magnolias. Do not confuse them with the evergreen grandiflora magnolias which are the summer flowering trees with big, glossy, leathery leaves. I admit we still call them michelias in conversation or we go with the “Fairy Magnolia” branding that has been placed on Mark’s new cultivars. Because michelias flower with their leaves, they are not as individually spectacular as the deciduous magnolias but they are a wonderful addition to the spring garden.

Mark has been breeding michelias for coming up to two decades now and we have many hundreds, maybe over 1000 of them, planted around our property. Out of all those, he has only named and released three so far. Fairy Magnolia White is the earliest of the season to open and has the loveliest star flower as well as being strongly fragrant. There is a purity in such white flowers, especially when contrasted with deep green foliage and wonderful velvet brown buds. One of the breeding advances has been to eliminate the tendency of some cultivars to drop their leaves and defoliate after flowering. Readers with Michelia doltsopa ‘Silver Clouds’ may recognise this trait.

???????????????????????????????Nothing excites the tui more than the Prunus campanulata. These are somewhat controversial, especially in warm northern areas, because too many of them set seed freely, threatening to become noxious weeds. Both the tui and we would be grieved to see all campanulatas banned, though we are vigilant weeders on the germinating seed. We have a number of different trees that come into flower in sequence and we can have literally scores of fiercely territorial tui bickering and fighting in these trees as they try and claim their feeding space. There are times it can appear as if the trees are dancing with the tui.

Until a whole lot more work is done on selecting and marketing sterile forms of campanulatas (in other words, they don’t set viable seed so will never become weedy), if you live in Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Marlborough or the West Coast, where regional councils are understandably touchy on this topic, look for Prunus Pink Clouds or Prunus Mimosa which are sterile options.
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From the big to the small – narcissi season is in full swing here. The little pictures they create give wonderful detail in a big garden. We have such a problem with narcissi fly that we struggle with the later flowering hybrids which comprise most of what is sold through garden centres (commonly called daffodils). The dwarf forms tend to flower earlier so they are over and going dormant when the narcissi fly are on the wing later in spring. The little cyclamineus ones, with their swept back skirts, seem to have a look of perpetual surprise. We are delighted with how well they are naturalising on our grassy banks where conditions are harder than in cultivated garden areas.
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We looked enviously at Russell Fransham’s magnificent bananas in the June issue.
They are a pretty marginal crop this far south and as we live 5 km from the coast, we have to take extra care and cover them in winter. We do this with giant bamboo frames and old shade cloth. A bunch of 50 is a triumph for us so we were in awe of Russell’s 200. We won’t remove the covers from ours until later in spring, just to be on the safe side. I call these constructions here the Theatre of the Banana.

First published in the August issue of New Zealand Gardener and reprinted here with their permission.

The Winter Garden

Magnolia Lanarth has a short but glorious season

Magnolia Lanarth has a short but glorious season

I have been away for a couple of weeks. To the tropics, no less, but I need to let the experience percolate in my brain a little longer before I can translate it to anything of relevance for gardeners in our temperate climate.

What amazed me was coming home to our winter garden. When I left in mid July, the earliest magnolias were just showing colour and the first blooms, along with some of the narcissi. By early August, we have trees full of bloom. The garden is awash with scores of tui as the campanulata cherries flower. I briefly thought of writing about plants for winter colour but there is just so much in flower that it would quickly descend to a boring list.

If narcissus could look startled, these cyclamineus  growing in the park certainly do

If narcissus could look startled, these cyclamineus growing in the park certainly do

This is our winter, dear readers. Technically spring does not start until September 1. Gardening is different here to many countries.

If you have looked at British and northern European gardens, there is a long spell in winter when nothing happens. People basically put their gardens to bed and retreat indoors. A heavy dependence on deciduous perennials means that gardens which are full of foliage and bloom in warmer months look dead in winter. The majority of their trees are deciduous so become bare skeletons. It is why the definition of form becomes hugely important because that is all there is to look in the depths of winter. Hardy plants like buxus, yew and conifers give accents which are often the only statement plants in those cold months.

The same is probably true of many inland areas in the world (outside the tropics) where temperatures plummet. My Canberra-resident daughter is always astonished when she comes home in winter to see how lush and colourful we are compared to her arid, hard conditions.

Those who shun deciduous plants miss out on the wonder of plants like Magnolia Vulcan

Those who shun deciduous plants miss out on the wonder of plants like Magnolia Vulcan

For starters, our native plants are all evergreen. So too are most of the ornamental plants we favour in our gardens. Over the years, I have met a swag of customers who point blank refuse to have anything deciduous in their garden, which I think is a bit of a short sighted view. Some of the showiest plants of all are those which go dormant in the colder months and then leap into spectacular display – magnolias, for example. To my mind, there is a place for both evergreen and deciduous plants in gardens.

I do, however, find it curious when I see people unquestioningly grabbing the fundamentals of garden design from other climates without considering the application to our conditions. Most of us like some element of design and definition in our gardens, though there are looser styles which don’t rely on these – meadow, woodland, prairie and food forests are examples. But that definition is not essential to give us something to look at in winter.

Similarly, I am inclined to silently snort when I hear people pontificating that foliage and form are the most important elements in plants because flowers are but transient (or worse, vulgar). I think we should celebrate living in a climate which is so temperate that we can have flowers and seasonal colour twelve months of the year, that we don’t need to put our gardens to bed for winter (or indeed for hot, dry summers) and that the clarity of light and the brightness of the sun seems just as great in July and August as it is in January. We just have shorter daylight hours, lower temperatures and a few more storms.

Being so temperate, few gardeners in this country have conditions where there is a sharp seasonal change. Most of us just drift imperceptibly from one season to the next with flowering extended over longer periods. The mid season camellias are at their peak here – more winter than spring flowering in this country. The snowdrops are passing over, but the dwarf narcissi are flowering all round the place and many of the lachenalias are blooming. Daphne scent hangs heavy in the air. The earliest rhododendrons are blooming already, michelias are opening.

And the magnolias. Do not forget the magnolias. Lanarth has a short but spectacular early season. M. campbellii is at its peak, red Vulcan is opening more flowers every day. The most spectacular time of our gardening year is upon us already, and it is still winter.

I rarely complain about the winter garden here.

While not usually fans of variegated flowers, The Czar var on the back lawn is an exception

While not usually fans of variegated flowers, The Czar var on the back lawn is an exception

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Tikorangi notes: Friday July 20, 2012

The very first flowers of the season on Magnolia campbellii

The very first flowers of the season on Magnolia campbellii

Latest posts:

1) Modern perennial plantings, more in the style of Braque than Mondrian.

2) When only one plant is ever found, it could be said that this is as close to extinct as anything could be – Pennantia baylisiana.

3) Grow it yourself: cauliflower (not that we will be. Growing them, that is)

4) Floods earlier this week – on Monday in fact. These events happen here. It certainly was not the worst flood we have had but these things are still quite exciting when they occur.

Narcissus cyclamineus at the base of Acer griseum

Narcissus cyclamineus at the base of Acer griseum

July is usually the bleakest winter month here, but aside from a few cold days and torrential rain on Sunday and Monday, it has not been too bad at all. Last summer was one of the least memorable ever, but autumn and winter (so far) have been significantly better than usual.

The first magnolia flowers have opened on M. campbellii and on Mark’s earliest flowering hybrids and more will open every day. The snowdrops are flowering and more and more of the narcissi are opening. Last week it was just the hoop petticoats (N. bulbocodium citrinus), this week there are various cyclamineus types opening. More camellias open every day. The cymbidium orchids are in flower (and need staking) and Cyclamen coum blooms on It is a magical time of the year and will just keep getting better as we progress into spring. We could never complain that winter is bleak here.

Lloyd is doing a major reconstruction of our steep path down to the park which has eroded badly with heavy rain. I am nearing the end of the major makeover on the rose garden – after the earlier satisfaction it has morphed into hard graft now. Three more fine days and it should be done.

Officially, we reopen the garden at the beginning of August but wait a few more weeks if you want to see the magnolias in full flight.