by William Wordsworth
I wander'd lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch'd in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced, but they
Outdid the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed -- and gazed -- but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
Jocund company indeed… I love this poem by William Wordsworth, for I truly believe it captures the reaction a gardener or flower lover experiences upon site of daffodils.
The genus Narcissus can be identified by their central corona (trumpet like center) and six surrounding petals or perianth. In the Deep South, Daffodils are often referred to as jonquils and are the birth flower for March. “Jolly and as jonquil” my Mama and other Southern prim and proper grand dames would say.
Yet, this spectacular genus is full of so many amazing characters, and named for Greek character to boot. Narcissus, so full of admiration for his own beauty, drowned next to a pool of water while constantly gazing at his reflection. Narcissi thus sprung up from the spot where he fell in. Yellows, salmons, creams, oranges, and arrays of citrus hues are donned by daffodils each and every spring around the world. Naturalizing readily and perennial a source of delightful fragrance and cheer, daffodils grace woodlands, vales, gardens, and valleys alike as heralds of spring.
Though epitomized as spring flowers, Narcissi papyraceus or Paperwhites begin to bud and bloom in late fall and at Christmastime here Dixie, thus starting a cadence of narcissus flowing into spring. Does that species name sound like any other word? Papyrus maybe? Thus the paper part of the Paperwhites’ name. Strongly fragrant, Paperwhites remind me of childhood, where dozens upon dozens of tiny tubular white flowers scented the hills, woods, and landscape of our farm – having done so perennially for better part of the twentieth century.
Paperwhites lead the way and then a host of other fun flowered Narcissus will follow, gracing the garden and carrying on through the Lenten season and deep into the vernal equinox. For fascinating facts and more info on these dynamos of the plant world, visit the American Daffodil Society’s website… www.daffodilusa.org
Plant your daffodil bulbs in the fall. Depending on the variety, you can plan a orchestral event of Narcissi with crescendos and decrescendos of color, aroma, and flower size from late winter well into spring. Towards the end of February and into March, the daffodils in the Deep South begin a chorus of floral glee, striking a severe complement of the wintry landscape and the bold, crisp daffodil display.
Excellent as cut flowers, daffodils make for lovely bouquets. Keep them arranged with themselves, since daffodils contain the alkaloid poison of lycorine and the calcium oxalate in the sap, which is harmful to other cut flowers. Just don’t confuse your daffodil bulbs with onions or eat them and you’ll be fine. You can mix daffodils with other daffodils and enjoy them for days.
After you’ve cut your daffodil blossoms or they have become spent on the plant, DON’T CUT BACK THE FOLIAGE! Common mistake among gardeners, cutting daffodil foliage back robs the plant of the following year’s nutrients. You’ll get lots of leaves but no blooms. Rather, tie your daffodils’ strappy leaves into a bundle or single not, and let them disintegrate naturally, thus returning nutrients back to the bulb below.
Since daffodils erupt with color in late winter and then play out towards spring, plant them in areas where daylilies, ferns, hostas, or liriope will cover their fading foliage with their new growth. Daffodils and daylilies make for perfect complementary plantings, especially since they both boast similar colored leaves and flower colors. These two are quite a classy combo found in many gardens throughout history and modernity.
On a crisp, cool, late winter day, nothing is more charming than a row, clump, or naturalized area brimming with jolly jonquils. Whether as “lone reeds” in a pecan grove, the dainty little yellow minnows in a ditch, the sparks of fiery warmth against a bleak winter sky, or the first messengers of spring, may your heart be filled with the pleasure of daffodils.