Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Host of Daffodils

Daffodils are blooming in fragrant sweeping waves around the house and down the hill, lighting our woods with a blaze of gold, white and orange, thousands of them; every shape, variety and size from big golden yellow King Alfred, huge frosty white Mt. Hood, pink trumpeted Mrs. Backhouse, fancy doubles and split coronas, to dainty multifloras, miniatures and tiny three-inch tall Hawera. They normally flower in succession starting with February Gold in late January, to orange-centered Poeticus in early May, but winter lasted so long that early varieties were delayed and are blooming along with their on-time midseason cousins. Late season bloomers still hold tight to their buds. Smaller bulbs, ferns  and wildflowers weave a magic carpet at their feet.
 Most of these daffodils are the offspring of a hundred or so bulbs planted in the woods long before we made an actual garden there; when it was still a wild tangle of honeysuckle, euonymous, poison ivy and gooseberry bushes. Bulbs were dropped in holes poked in rocky ground with a heavy pointed bar, and covered with a handful of topsoil. They thrived undisturbed for years, multiplying into huge masses, piling on top of each other so thickly that they stuck out of the ground. As the garden was expanded, some of those clumps were divided, many of them yielding up to a hundred or more bulbs of all sizes. (I’m not exaggerating, I counted!) We replanted them all, scattering bulbs everywhere under trees, singly at first; finally resorting to dropping four or five tiny immature bulbs in the same hole when we ran out of patience. We did this for several years, a clump or two at a time, sticking them in the ground until we were tired and our backs were sore; finally giving away bags and buckets full of them until our friends started avoiding us for fear of being gifted with another load of bulbs.
 Many old clumps still need dug, but these days I mostly just pull off the top ones that are above ground to replant. This year I’m thinking they can go under a newly planted row of oak leaf hydrangeas at the end of our property. Daffodil bulbs are toxic, so deer and other critters won’t eat them. I have read that they might serve as a repellent.

 I don’t store harvested daffodil bulbs to plant in fall; when they are dug in June they go straight back into the ground. No fertilizer has ever been applied except what nature gives them. 
 All those young daffodil bulbs have finally matured into flowering size, and they are putting on an exceptional show. Last spring when they were growing, plentiful rains and cool temperatures helped them develop an abundance of buds for this year.
But I have a love-hate relationship with these bulbs that make such a wonderful spring display. I am so thrilled to see them bloom, but then, when their party is over and the flowers are gone, those long strappy leaves keep on growing into big floppy masses that fall all over everything else that is coming up. They need that foliage to grow and provide food for the next year’s buds, however, so they have to be allowed to mature and turn yellow. When gardeners complain that their daffodils don’t bloom very well, it is usually because they are mowed down or cut off right after the flowers are done.
To keep them from smothering and killing their neighbors, tomato cages cut in half or foot-high rings of fence wire are put around the bigger clumps for support until the leaves ripen. I like to do that when they first come up, before they get big and unwieldy. This year bad weather prevented me from getting out there early so not a one is propped up yet. It will have to be done soon, before the leaves start to stretch.
 Virginia bluebells have colonized among the daffodils, just starting to bloom this week; another plant which must be allowed to grow and ripen after it flowers, but they are not a problem, disappearing in only about three weeks after the flowers are gone. Woodland phlox will be following soon to add more blue. Bloodroot, trilliums, anemones, Dutchman’s breeches, hepaticas and wood hyacinths are in full flower; wild ginger and crested irises are up and Mayapples are unfurling leafy umbrellas.

 A few years ago I began planting a “stream” of blue grape hyacinths to wander down the slope through the woods, inspired by Keukenhoff Gardens in Holland. My little rivulet is not quite so spectacular as the one pictured there, but I keep adding more bulbs each year, digging them from paths and other places where they have spread underfoot. Grape hyacinths transplant easily, even when in full bloom. I’ve scattered their seeds at the end, so maybe one year soon I too will have a bright river of blue, flowing through the dogwoods, past the giant Solomon’s seal, under the pines and into a “pool” at the bottom of the woods.

You’ll have to excuse me now, the sun is shining and I must see if the apple tree is budding, trailing arbutus is going to bloom, poke around to see what hostas are coming up, and look at all those daffodils some more. It’s spring!

“Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle …
a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl.
And the anticipation nurtures our dream” -Barbara Winkler

The Joplin Globe "Speaking of Gardens" column by Sandy Parrill, April 5, 2014




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