In a normal year, I’d consider myself lucky to have one or two daffodils blooming in May. By May Day their dominion is over and tulips reign supreme. This year is an exception; I have more daffodils in flower now than at any time previously. An Entente Cordiale has been reached between the two exalted genera, resulting in an unprecedented fanfare of flower in both gardens. Although completely unexpected and unplanned for, it’s a situation I am relishing.
Of course there are daffodils that naturally flower later in the spring, for example Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus, the old pheasant’s eye daffodil. It’s always nice to plant a few of these, although perhaps they are not as deeply treasured as those that bloom in the depths of winter. Like a tiresome relative at a wedding, somehow they seem to have outstayed their welcome. This year’s late blooming has been encouraged by a chilly winter followed by an exceptional cold and dry spring. Plants big and small have hung back, waiting for more comfortable conditions. Those that have braved the weather have been slow to develop and vulnerable to frost damage. No such problems here on the coast, but it does seem as if our garden has been preserved in aspic for two months, the rapid explosion of growth restricted to small, almost imperceptible changes each day. This is where photographing one’s garden regularly helps, making comparisons with the previous week or the equivalent time last year straightforward as well as illuminating. If you’ve grown daffodils, tulips and other spring bulbs this year, you will certainly have had your money’s worth by now.
I list here the cultivars that are still in the their prime today, May 8th 2021. In terms of lateness, please take this roll call with a pinch of salt as the timing may well be a consequence of the weather, rather than the variety’s natural tendencies. N. ‘Misty Glen’, for example, is noted by Ron Scamp to be a mid-season daffodil and yet it’s only just getting going as I write. The list follows the image below, starting from the top.
- Narcissus ‘Mrs R.O. Backhouse’ – when first introduced in 1921, this was billed as the world’s first pink daffodil. The trumpet is patently not pink, but a very pleasing pale, coral-orange. The bulbs should flower in March and April, hence they were almost over when this picture was taken. Older blooms start to fade towards white at the base of the trumpet, which is rather charming.
- Narcissus ‘Thalia’ – almost as revered as N. ‘Tête-à-Tête’, N. ‘Thalia’ is loved for its scent, generosity of bloom and tolerance of damper ground. Curiously, it does not have an AGM from the RHS. No matter, because N. ‘Thalia’ is a brilliant naturaliser and neutraliser in the garden, exceptionally lovely planted in huge drifts. Plant enough bulbs so that you can pick a generous quantity through the season. If you fancy trying something similar but different, I’d recommend N. ‘Tresamble’.
- Narcissus ‘Obdam’ – our only disappointment this year. Of forty or so buds, only five opened. The remainder shrivelled miserably within their paper cases. This phenomenon is called ‘bud blast’ and was most likely caused by hot weather last spring and summer, wherever the bulbs were grown. Unfortunately for me, the impact is only evident the following year. The blooms that opened were pleasant, but rather heavy and I am not convinced I will trouble myself with N. ‘Obdam’ again.
- Narcissus ‘Salome’ AGM – for a few days I was convinced that I had mixed two cultivars in the same pot, because N. ‘Salome’ opens with yellow trumpets before fading to pinky-peach over the course of a few days. The in-between stages are most attractive, as I hope you can see from the two blooms pictured above. In a sense, you get two daffodils for the price of one. I have found N. ‘Salome’ perfect for pots since the plants are not too tall and very weatherproof.
- Narcissus ‘Jack Snipe’ AGM – not normally a late-flowering cultivar, this year N. ‘Jack Snipe’ seemed to be frozen in time. This is a fabulous little daffodil for pots, troughs and window boxes, taller that N. ‘Tête-à-Tête’ but pleasingly so: I find N. ‘Tête-à-Tête’ a bit overly compact. Expect flowers in March in a normal year. Plant generously in large clumps or drifts. (My Australian friend Helen refers to drifts of daffodils as ‘floats’, which sounds much more magical.)
- Narcissus ‘Misty Glen’ AGM – if Farrow and Ball did daffodils, this would be one of them. Every inch a modern daffodil, N. ‘Misty Glen’ is neat, well-composed and strong-growing. Each bloom displays satin-white petals with a trumpet flushed palest moss-green. The foliage is a dark, silver-green that might be called something like ‘Leaf Beetle’ or ‘Basement Grey’. It’s all achingly beautiful and a masterpiece of hybridisation, however the formality of this bloom does feel better suited to the show bench than the garden.
- Narcissus ‘Sun Disc’ AGM – I love a bargain as much as a nice surprise and these daffodils ticked both boxes. I purchased three large potfuls of unnamed bulbs from my local nursery in February, planted them in the ground and they turned out to be N. ‘Sun Disc’. The tiny flowers are as flat as buttons, surrounded by foliage as fine as grass. Naturalises well, so perhaps we’ll have more next spring.
- Narcissus ‘Lemon Beauty’ – I generally detest split corona daffodils (i.e the trumpet is divided and often flared backwards against the petals) but this is an exception. The best way to describe its colour is luscious lemon curd swirled through an ice-white sorbet. It’s a dazzling daffodil. The split corona is well disguised so that only the yellow markings are perceived roughly as a star at the centre of each flower. The only annoyance is that the flowers face downwards, like a hellebore, requiring some effort to appreciate them properly.
- Narcissus ‘Stratosphere’ AGM ? – this was ordered as N. ‘Hawera’, which it most evidently is not! Some lazy detective work suggests it may be N. ‘Stratosphere’, but whatever the name it’s marvellous. The flower colour is rich and clear, and the stems are upright. A very welcome error on the part of the bulb merchant, so I will let them off this time.
- Narcissus ‘Cotinga’ – Although wonderful, I have my doubts that the flower pictured above is actually N. ‘Cotinga’ and not an imposter. The trumpet appears to be much shorter than it ought to be – but perhaps it might lengthen over time. N. ‘Cotinga’ is a diminutive Cyclamineus daffodil, with small, nodding flowers. Ideal for the top of a wall or on a terrace where they can be appreciated from below.
- Narcissus ‘Bridal Crown’ AGM – if truth be told this is not one of my favourite daffs. It’s a bit clumsy and the stems tend to bend over quite easily, here at least. The fussy flowers remind me of a dessert my grandmother used to make called Russian Cream – as sort of jelly with egg-white froth on the top (it tastes better than it sounds!). N. ‘Bridal Crown’ is scented and often forced for early blooms.
- Narcissus ‘Mount Hood’ AGM – a daffodil of my childhood and fondly cherished. These bulbs were kindly sent to me by Dutch Grown and I am delighted because I would not have considered growing this cultivar in a pot, having always thought it better for the border or naturalising. Turns out N. ‘Mount Hood’ is a good sport in a container, although the bulbs I was given were so enormous that they have almost exploded out of the compost. The trumpets start out primrose yellow before fading to ivory white, as shown above.
If, like me, you are having a day doing ‘indoor jobs’, may I extend my sympathies. Tomorrow promises to be the start of a period of warmer weather which will have gardeners jumping for joy. TFG.