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November 1, 2005 > Daffy-Down-Dillys


by Pat Kite

Since the weather is serene, you can still successfully plant daffodils. You can also plop in jonquils and narcissus alongside the daffodils, since they are all Latin legally narcissus of some kind. Terminology is very confusing, but pay no mind and plant anyhow. Back in 1629, English garden author John Parkinson wrote, "Many idle and ignorant Gardeners... do call some of the these Daffodils narcisses, when, as all that know any Latine, that Narcissus is the Latine name and Daffodill the English of one and the same thing."

Even in our clay soil, some of the many daffodils that I've planted re-emerge each year. I actually have paper-whites or Narcissus tazetta "little cup" blooming in my garden right now. In narcissus genealogy, this is the same narcissus variety found entwined in the funeral wreath of an Egyptian mummy from around 1570 B.C.

Garden plant history is replete with adventure tales, some of them harrowing. A Peter Barr was horticulturally known as the Daffodil King. From Scotland, Peter's accent was so thick even his own grandchildren had trouble understanding him. But that was no deterrent. Beginning in 1887, he was determined to collect narcissi where they grew wild. Up and down mountains, on horseback and mule-back, once sleeping under a rock ledge, he searched. Language was not a barrier. Peter showed pictures, then brought bulbs home. At age 72, he began a 5-year tour of the world, learning and talking about his favorite flower.

The early daffodils probably came to America tucked in settler baggage, brightening the doorways of early log cabins and Spanish missions. The name purportedly comes from the Old English "Affo dyle," or "that which cometh early," from its prompt spring flowering. Then, depending on location, this became Daffy, Dilly, Daffadilly, Primrose Peereless, Daffadowndilly, Churn, Yellow Crowbells, Chalice-flower, Gracy Day, Lent Rose, Butter and Eggs, etc.

Even a plaid-thumb gardener can grow daffodils. Put them indoors by a sunny window, outdoors in a pot by the front portal, scatter them in a flowerbed, or plant them en masse. They are happy enough in ordinary soil. Select the healthiest looking bulbs you can find, heavy, no mold or softness; two prospective "noses" are better than one. Place about 5 inches of soil over the top, i.e. dig a hole for each bulb about 6 to 7 inches deep if you can. Personally, I seldom can trench that far in my clay surrounds, but it's worth a try.

Daffodils need sun. When blooming, they will face the sun; something to keep in mind as you plant. If the weather isn't damp, you'll have to water after putting them in. No flooding please, the bulbs might rot. By early spring the first will pop up if you plant now. Putting in different varieties gives you a longer spring span.

"Daffy-down-dilly is new come to town,
With a yellow petticoat and a green gown."
Mother Goose nursery rhyme 1805

Even the smallest garden is a source of great joy....Pat

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