August 16, 2008

You Say "Narcissus" and I Say "Daffodil"

As fall is approaching, gardeners are being inundated with flower bulb catalogs for fall planting to get those wonderful spring blooms. The temptations often lead to impulse buys (on my part). Perhaps you have more control.

Before I go into why I like bulbs so much, let's just go ahead and talk about the confusing terms -- narcissi, daffodils and jonquils. I don't want to get this information wrong, so here's what the Merriam-Webster online dictionary says about those three bulbs:


Main Entry: nar·cis·sus
Pronunciation: \när-ˈsi-səs\
Function: noun
Etymology: Latin, from Greek Narkissos
Date: 14th century

1 capitalized : a beautiful youth in Greek mythology who pines away for love of his own reflection and is then turned into the narcissus flower
2 plural nar·cis·si \-ˈsi-ˌsī, -(ˌ)sē\ or nar·cis·sus·es or narcissus [New Latin, genus name, from Latin, narcissus, from Greek narkissos] : daffodil; especially : one whose flowers have a short corona and are usually borne separately


Main Entry: daf·fo·dil
Pronunciation: \ˈda-fə-ˌdil\
Function: noun
Etymology: perhaps from Dutch de affodil the asphodel
Date: 1548

: any of various perennial bulbous herbs (genus Narcissus) of the amaryllis family; especially : one whose flowers have a large corona elongated into a trumpet — compare jonquil, narcissus


Main Entry: jon·quil
Pronunciation: \ˈjän-kwəl, ˈjäŋ-\
Function: noun
Etymology: French jonquille, from Spanish junquillo, diminutive of junco reed, from Latin juncus Date: 1664

: a Mediterranean perennial bulbous herb (Narcissus jonquilla) of the amaryllis family with long linear leaves that is widely cultivated for its yellow or white fragrant short-tubed clustered flowers

For simplicity, I'm going to use the term "daffodil" as it's just easier than trying to sort through the narcissi and jonquils in every sentence. I'm going to use that as my collective term for the group. Maybe not correct, but that's what my grandmother always called those bulbs. However, if you want to throw bulbs at me, I'll take them!

The multitude of daffodil choices astounds me. When I'm browsing an online bulb catalog, I have a tendency to get carried away and put so many in my shopping cart only to come to the realization of the planting efforts. One hundred (100) bulbs doesn't sound like a lot of flowers when it comes to daffodils. However, past experience has taught me that by the time I've planted bulb #30, I'm pretty tired of the whole process.

I'm going to confess that I've actually just tossed some daffodil bulbs into the edge of the woods by the time I got to bulb #90. Yes, those 10 thrown away bloomed without being planted!

When spring rolls around I watch for my daffodils with great anticipation. Then, they look so sparse scattered across the big outer garden. You'll notice that I don't have a lot of photos to show you of my daffodils. I don't have an impressive display. So that's why every spring, I make myself a promise to plant more daffodils in the fall. Look closely in the next photo. Maybe you can see those daffodils!

So, here I am full circle again on daffodils. Which ones...large cup, split corona, double, trumpet, pink, orange, yellow, white, fragrant, short, tall....okay, I'm getting tired!

At least one thing is simple. My daffodils have never been eaten by the deer nor the rabbits. I've never had the bulbs dug up by squirrels or any other critters. Daffodils are keepers!

I do tend to scatter the daffodil bulbs throughout the garden, staying away from the edges. Once upon a time (at a previous house), I eagerly accepted a lot of pass-along bulbs. Excited with my free daffodils, I planted them at the front of a large semi-circle garden bed in my backyard. They bloomed. Then I had to deal with the foliage uglies right in front of my daylilies and other perennials. Digging up daffodils is worse than planting them one bulb at a time. This is also why I don't dig trenches for them. I actually plant one bulb at a time, leaving enough space for the multiplication that will follow.

The yellowing foliage is a necessity. Every good gardening book will tell you not to cut off the foliage since the plant needs the nutrients. Once the foliage is totally unappealing, you can cut it off. Therefore, I try to plant my daffodils beside perennials that will provide generous foliage and blooms for hiding. Some favorites include nepeta, amsonia hubrechtii, verbena 'Homestead Purple' and perennial heliotrope.

Those daffodils in my photos were planted in the fall of 2006. We had a drought in 2007, but all of the daffodils bloomed in the spring this year. I'm looking forward to a more bountiful bloom next spring...especially since I will add more daffodils, more bluebells and more Dutch irises.

There's a poll at the very bottom of this screen where you can vote (choose as many as you wish) for your favorite online bulb companies. The poll closes soon, but the results will be available in the next article about planting fall bulbs for spring blooms.

Happy Gardening!
Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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