Daffodils For Colorful Garden Effect Beyond Landscape Lights
For more than 40 years I (Thomas Fryd) have been growing daffodils in small gardens in eastern Canada and in California, usually just planting them wherever I could find room. But it is only recently that I have realised that daffodils are primarily garden flowers. Now I am acutely aware of the casual way in which they are generally treated and would like to pass on some of my experiences to other gardeners who want daffodils to he an integral part of their garden picture in spring and not too great a liability thereafter.
First of all, don’t plant daffodils in single or even double lines; they are flowers to grow in clumps in a small garden, in masses in a large one. Like other seasonal flowers, they are out of place used as year-round foundation plantings or along front walks; shrubs are best for the former and flowers of long season for the latter. If you must do most of your gardening in front of your house, plant groups of daffodils between shrubs and use clumps of them in perennial borders.
Of course you must remember that daffodil foliage must be allowed to ripen for next year’s bloom. By inter planting with Dutch iris (the daffodils 6 inches deep, the Dutch iris. 3 inches), I can get a second crop of bloom a month or six weeks after the daffodils. Since these iris have inadequate foliage, they look far better than if planted alone. Later I plant petunias or other recumbent annuals between these two. This gives a fair effect in summer and the water they require does the bulbs no harm. Many Californians apparently, believe daffodil plantings must be left dry, but they do best where summers are short and rainy.
The war years, when garden help was unavailable, were a survival test for the daffodils in my one-acre garden on the eastern slope of the Berkeley Hills, where aspect, good, deep soil and the long, cool springs of the San Francisco Bay climate never hot, never really cold – favour most daffodils. In 1945 I planted a two-part daffodil border through the middle of the property, from south to north. Fortunately, there were already shrubs and flowering trees, mainly Japanese cherries, crabapple’s and magnolias, these extending throughout the whole border. Deciduous trees, I have found, provide ideal shade for spring-flowering bulbs.
The main approach is from the south and there is a natural tendency for the flowers to turn in this direction. Planting the upper part of the property was easy. as most of the trees were up the hill to the west and the daffodils naturally turned their faces to the sun – and to the path. On the lower side the plantings were made less wide and more marginal (for purposes of design, the plantings on each side of a path should not be of the same width). By the use of evergreens below these plantings, the daffodils were also induced to face the path.
The scale of my garden is large and the groups of varieties must effectively suggest this; a gardener with a smaller lot must make necessary adjustments. Where I may plant at the rear of the lot 100 bulbs of TUNIS. FORTUNE or CARL-TON, he may use 25 or perhaps only a dozen. Middle range varieties are used in smaller groups. In the path plantings I tend to use novelties, grouping those of similar garden effect together, not only for comparison but because they give a more homogeneous effect.
Although cloud like or fish like outlines are often recommended, this is not practical where one has occasionally to lift the bulbs. I have resorted with daffodils, as with iris, to rectangular plantings of different depths and lengths, labeling each group at the upper left-hand corner. I also make a plan of the whole planting, as I have not yet discovered the imperishable label or the stake which will never be pulled out although I have even attached some labels to my path lighting.
I have found it best to use groups of early, midseason and late varieties, although there are more late ones at the southern approach to the border. Visitors always proceed at once to those in full bloom early in the season. Early and midseason varieties (predominantly yellow trumpets and large cups) are best planted to the rear, with the late-blooming varieties, mainly whites, along the edges of the paths, for the eye carries back over them and focuses on them when they are in flower and the rear ranks gone.
Whites which make good combinations with flowering magnolias are grouped near them and the yellows are placed near shrubs with which they do not conflict. This may sound complicated, but as you become better acquainted with your daffodils, you will find it an added pleasure to plant them just where they will be most effective.
We dig and replant our daffodils only when they show that they resent overcrowded “slum” conditions. This is where a summer house or other garden building is useful. giving me a sheltered area to work. Each named daffodil is an individual, with its own characteristics. Some varieties increase very rapidly, others hardly at all. Some are thinned out by incursions of the daffodil fly or reduced in numbers by the stripe virus or basal rot. We leave large plantings alone. for several years. for only in this way can we get thick mass effects and replanting is a big job to avoid as long as possible. Novelties receive special consideration, however, for we want to increase our stocks of them.
The main border is never really weeded but is left to dry off; such weeds as come up in it are hoed off when the daffodil foliage turns yellow. We found that removing every weed early in the season left the ground so bare that during heavy rains many of the flowers were badly muddied by splashing. The only feeding our daffodils ever get is from the rotted humus dug in before planting. Daffodils are not gross feeders.
As a daffodil fancier for nearly 25 years, I feel qualified to say that for garden effect novelties are unnecessary. The same general results I get could be obtained nearly as well from the best standard varieties. Mixed daffodils are a snare and a delusion. Their different flowering periods, their varied forms and colors give a restless, casual effect, while our objective is a more carefully planned effect, with groups of the same variety massed to lend homogeneity.
Seen in the mass, daffodils are either yellow or white. It is the perianth which determines the all-over effect. Lovely as the coloured cups in red, orange or pink are, their beauty is for closer examination. In selecting varieties, consider sturdy constitution, free flowering, stiffness of stem, stance (long necks mean drooping flowers), clear coloring, good substance and a fairly flat perianth. A show perianth with completely filled-in, rounded petals is not necessary.
So that they will make a strong root system plant them outdoors early. Before planting dig fine peat into the soil and apply at the same time bone meal or any good complete fertiliser. If you use manure be sure that it is old, and be sure that you dig it in deep enough that only the roots will reach it. Set the bulbs 5 to 6 inches deep, 4 to 6 inches apart.
Grow Daffodils in “drifts” which simply means in irregular masses, either large or small. This can be done by scattering the bulbs broadcast and planting where they fall. Let them fall thickly in some places, lightly elsewhere. The result will be more natural-appearing.
Daffodils shine when planted in clumps in the mixed border, along walks and in combination with single early Tulips they are especially showy. Plant some Daffodils with tulips for an effect that is startlingly bright.
Daffodils are very satisfactory grown indoors in pots. During October pot up a number of varieties. Place them in a cool dark basement or maybe your potting shed; remember it must be cool, about 40 to 50 degrees; and let them root about 12 to 14 weeks before bringing to light. When planted soak well, allow to drain, and water regularly once or twice a week thereafter. The easiest way is to plunge the pot in a bucket of water and leave it there until bubbles cease. Remove, drain, and set the pots, where you have chosen to root the bulbs. The best time to water is about mid-day. When the bulbs are brought to light the temperature should not be over 60 degrees. Do not try to flower them in a room where an incubator temperature prevails. Remember, root them in a cool dark place at least 12 to 14 weeks.