The UK is now enjoying milder if not necessarily sunny weather. Still, it has triggered an explosion of growth. So I’ll commence with the first of this season’s narcissus, the lovely diminutive Cyclamineus. I’ve not enjoyed undiluted joy with this joyful miniature. It requires a moist, sheltered position and my first batch was planted in a dry sunny spot and simply disappeared after their first and only flowering. Undaunted I tried again and the first flower appeared today. This is a gem or rather gems because there is a mass of buds.
Two rather similar snowdrops next. One is so rare I am unable to discover anything about it save it was purchased two years ago from a specialist and expert. It failed to flower last time round. ‘Wayfarer’ and the still rare ‘Prague Spring’ make a good contrast with the more conventional snowdrops in the garden, always a good thing when planting.
If the previous pair is rare, ‘Augustus’ is a well established variety named after the famous EA Bowles, the ‘A’ being for ‘Augustus’. The foliage is distinctive though it is the puckered appearance that stands out. This short, sturdy snowdrop is a must for the garden. It stands repetition: the cost of bulbs does not signify better quality.
Two more snowdrops before I publish. First is ‘Greenfields’ which I like very much. In a sense it is a very conventional snowdrop but the outer petals open out to reveal that very dark, inner marking to make the white all the more pristine. And a snowdrop I find superior to the famous ‘Grumpy ‘, Galanthus Big Eyes’ is a large, rounded plant that is prominent in the border even without that appealing face.
A chastening, unpleasant image today as I reveal the murky secrets of the Narcissus Fly larvae. They make a home out of a nice plump snowdrop or narcissus bulb that serves them as food and shelter through the winter. This little dwelling is or was ‘Pieces of Eight’ – a warning for those who fork out lots of cash for the latest varieties of snowdrops. For the record, it is possible for a bulb to survive although in the case of smaller bulbs, and this one, I rather doubt it. I live in hope. Whatever, from top down: bulb, grub, adult fly. Pretty things aren’t they. There does not appear to be a pesticide on the market to deal with the pest. Prevention is better than cure I read though how one might practically whack every passing two winged bumblebee (real bees have four wings) is beyond me.
I once read an article about the threats posed by bright, modern daffodils encroaching on the traditional more subdued flowers of Ullswater, immortalised in William Wordsworth’s poem. ‘Corby Candle’ is too bright for the Cumbrian lake. A hybrid from the Northamptonshire enthusiast, John Gibson in 2003, this is a vibrant highlight in the Spring border. John is very active in the Daffodil Society. Indeed, should you require a copy of the latest RHS Daffodil, Snowdrop & Tulip yearbook, John is the port of call. One of my favourite modern narcissus.
A lovely plant for a shady position today. Omphalodes Cappadocica ‘Cherry Ingram’ was purchased from a plant stall at a local fair and it may not be the named variety. However it flowers in the most shady part of the garden and whereas it perhaps does not have the density of flower it might attain in a more favoured position it does lighten up our side gate area beside a dark purple hellebore and holly bush. Photographed on 3rd April.
We tend to believe the best plant varieties are the products of modern hybridisers, learning from mistakes, breeding from a huge stock. In the case of the cyclamineus ‘Jenny’, photographed on 29th March, the breeding goes back to 1943 by the English writer and grower, Cyril F. Coleman. The relexed petals are a milky white and the trumpets a slightly deeper cream, after an initial dalliance with a lemon yellow. I love this daffodil and certainly it is a favourite. In the fifties and sixties Cyril F. Coleman was one of the RHS’s leading experts on narcissus and tulips, the author of several books on bulbs, one of which is featured below.
I’m attempting to move my snowdrops from pots to borders out of necessity. I have too many. However in the meantime here is a photograph of one of the racks replete with weeds to trigger a quick synopsis of my snowdrop year which commences after flowering when I split up the clumps and, in this case, transfer from pot to border. The second image shows a newly planted area of the garden, beefed up with compost and divided snowdrops, cyclamen and daffodils. If I remember I’ll feature this very spot in the spring. The pots have been fed with slow release fertiliser, so all I do is water them frequently. I have discovered the perils of compost drying out when the bulbs are busy plumping up. After the bulbs go into dormancy I repot at my leisure, mixing potting compost, grit and vermiculite. This can be an ordeal as it is depressing to root through compost to discover not discover a solitary bulb, perhaps the remains of bulbs or grubs of the narcissus fly. E.A. Beale has disappeared from two pots, the third and final time I’m growing the damn thing. Anyway, I discard any soft ones, and where there is any sign of rot apply a fungicide I was given by a friend. About now the autumn flowering ones are placed in a prominent position and I move the rest into a sunny area. Labels are a bete noire because they go walkabout. Then of course there’s the little matter of adding to my collection. I only have three new ones this year, a major change. Only very distinctive snowdrops will be added. I’ve certainly started to diversify. Bavk to the photograph of the pots. Plastic pots on top, terracotta ones at the bottom to ballast the racks. I’m not risking another collapse. And finally, the last man standing this year, a little glum in the wet.
I have featured some old varieties of narcissus on these pages though no older than Van Sion, chosen to illustrate Division 4, the double daffodil of garden origin. The description is defined thus: More than one flower per stem, with doubling of the perianth segments or the corona (or both). This ancient variety is very variable, indeed it can have a distinctly green cast and I had neater specimens than this, photographed on 20th March. In his seminal ‘A Handbook of Narcissus’, published in 1934 EA Bowles gave a historical perspective on the age and origins of this great survivor: “Its first appearance in England is that chronicled by Parkinson, who tells in the Paradisus that Vincent Sion, a Fleming, living in London, cherished it in his garden for many years before it flowered in the year 1620. He thought that John de Frauqueville might have given him the bulb, but that worthy disclaimed the honor, never having seen the like before.” Tough as old boots and very reliable, there’s a certain charm in having such an historical bulb in our garden.
A recent post concerned the demise of Cornwall’s world renowned bulb industry as the world famous daffodil fields were grubbed out for food production during WW2. I thought about this and remembered that Cornwall still has one of the world’s top hybridisers in Ron Scamp – the link is to a ‘Country Life’ article about him. So appropriately enough I chose one of his introductions ‘Cape Cornwall’ as representative of Division 2, large-cupped daffodil cultivars – one flower to a stem; corona (cup) more than one-third but less than equal to the length of the perianth segments (petals). ‘Cape Cornwall’, photographed here on 13th April, was introduced in 1996 and, true to type, has a large flower that is very bright and modern. Ron sells his bulbs by mail order and has plenty of new introductions, sadly sold out as I write.
I set out to see if I had representatives of all the 13 different classifications of narcissus varieties. Today it is the Tazetta daffodil and a tribute to the breeder of the very lovely ‘Avalanche of Gold’, William R. P. Welch who died in February at the age of 61. First the classification. This is a showy category, defined as ‘usually three to twenty flowers to a stout stem; perianth segments spreading not reflexed; flowers usually fragrant’. I have several and was tempted to feature the well known ‘Minnow’ or ‘Silver Chimes’. But ‘Avalanche of Gold’ won the day. A spectacular garden plant, photographed here on 22nd March, it has a spicy scent and between eight and fifteen flowers to each stem. Growing and selling his bulbs in Santa Cruz, Bill ‘Bulb Baron’ Welch seems to have been quite the character as his orbituary demonstrates. He was a witty man and a bright one, winning several major chess championships. His bulbs were his ‘bildren’. Given that the bulbs take up to seven years to raise from seed, he had a work ethic as well as wit. In 2019 he was awarded the Gold Medal of the American Daffodil Society. The image is of Bill taken from the society’s webpage.
Another daffodil and another division in my journey through the classifications of this most wonderful of bulbs: Narcissus ‘Park Springs’ glorious, early flowering variety – the photograph was taken on 19th March. Division 3 is defined as ‘One flower per stem; corona not more than one third the length of the perianth segments.’ To shorten it, this is the small cupped class. ‘Park Springs’ stood out in the garden. It was bred in Herefordshire by Mrs Barbara J. Abel-Smith, 1914-1995, and introduced to her catalogue in 1973. Barbara published a very comprehensive catalogue, selling many varieties, some of which were her own. ‘Park Springs’, from a cursory inspection, seems to have been her most successful introduction. She published catalogues up until 1992, most of which are on-line. She was awarded the American Daffodil Society Gold Medal in 1991. The detail below is from her 1988 catalogue, listing the plant’s show successes, followed by a similar snip from the 1973 catalogue when it was introduced.