The golden age

I saw my first daffodils of 2013 in December 2012. True, they were very sheltered from the winter blasts, but they were also very early, particularly to someone whose own daffs are still at the green shoots stage.

Daffodils

That’s the beauty of spring bulbs – they don’t have to flower in spring. Any time from December till April seems to be fine for a daffodil. And yet while just about everyone can identify a daffodil, the narcissus family are a complex lot. There are many forms and numerous varieties offering all sorts of shapes and sizes and colours, ranging from pure white to brilliant yellow.

The name daffodil is applied to those large-flowered trumpets with a single flower on each stem.

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Classifying the genus is a task best left to a true expert and is certainly not a normal topic for conversation, but, basically, there are 12 divisions – from trumpet daffodils of garden origin right though to split-corona daffodils and miscellaneous.

Most bulbs are bought by the dozen as unnamed varieties, but if you want to be specific, then knowing the name of what you want and where it likes to grow, is a great advantage.

‘Peeping Tom’, a delicate cyclamineus daffodil, looks delightful in a small rockery or in a container, where it can be encouraged to bloom very early. For bigger borders, grow bigger varieties such as the mighty ‘King Alfred’, a long-loved and sturdy flower.

There is probably a daffodil to suit every situation; once planted in a decent, well-drained soil, they will need little attention for several years until their expanding colonies need lifting and separating.

Despite my December view of a clump of daffodils, they normally start to flower from late January (much depends on where they are and the conditions in which they grow) but the majority are at their best in March and early April.

Once they have bloomed, leave their foliage to die down naturally. As a treat, water it with a weak liquid fertiliser – this will help the underground bulb build up a store of energy for next year. If you chop down the leaves before they’ve finished dying, you’ll also be cutting off the daffodil’s food supply. Leave well alone for six weeks or so and then trim off the dead foliage.