Gardening: Don’t miss the Daffodil Show!

Eleanore P. Labrozzi photo

‘And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.’
— William Wordsworth

The every-other-yearly Daffodil Show, under the aegis of the Shelter Island Garden Club, will take place at the Ram’s Head Inn on April 16. It promises to be very extensive. You probably think you know everything you need to know about daffodils — they’re yellow and they bloom in the spring, right? Well, they are yellow, as well as orange, cream, white and more. And they do bloom in the spring, if you mean at the end of winter and well into May. But there’s a much longer story.

Narcissus is the proper name for this genus of hardy, mostly spring-flowering bulbs of the amaryllis family. They are native to Europe, North Africa and Asia and there are almost 100 different kinds, including species, variants and wild hybrids. New variations become available from specialists almost every year. The American Daffodil Society divides all narcissus into 13 horticultural divisions, based partly upon flower form and partly upon genetic background.

These include the Trumpets, the Large Cups, the Small Cups, the Miniatures, the Tazettas, the Doubles, the Triandrus, the Jonquilla, the Cyclamineus and the Poeticus. See what I mean by a longer story?

One Poeticus deserves special mention — Actaea, known as the “Pheasant’s Eye” daffodil, looks as if someone took a scissor and cut the cup or corona almost completely off, opening it as far as possible and bending it back towards the flower — and then played with what was left, decorating it with bright and beautiful colors — red, green and orange. It’s also sweetly fragrant. But it’s for another reason why it’s the only one I grow — it’s one of the latest to bloom and consequently, because the woods have already leafed out by then, the deer leave it alone. It’s true they don’t like daffodils, but the young ones find that out by eating them, and the starving can’t afford preferences.

Daffodils make great cut flowers and they should be brought into the house by the dozens. But take care when cutting to take only the stem and the flower, leaving the leaves intact. All bulbs have to “ripen” in order to bloom again. “Ripen” doesn’t really communicate here — it sounds like something good is happening. In fact, the leaves are slowly withering until they’re brown and totally crisp at which time they can, yes, by hand, be cut off and disposed of.

It’s for this reason that daffodils are usually “naturalized,” i.e. planted in meadows or open fields where their “ripening” is hidden by other foliage. If you want to use them in your beds, best plant them around ferns or hosta whose leaves will spare you the sight of the tan uglies and the need to clean them up.