The Worcestershire hybridiser John S.B. Lea registered this tall and vibrant daffodil in 1997, named after a favourite fishing lake in Scotland. If you require a glistening splash of colour you’ll not find a finer bulb.
The temptation is that newer is best. Of course, sometimes it takes a few years to cement certainty. So I’m pretty sure ‘River Queen’ is an exemplary white. Introduced in 1977 by the American hybridiser William Pannill who registered no less than 2010 varieties during his life. He died in 2014 and his orbituary is testament to a great life. As to the bulb, I bought three last year and have six today so it is vigorous and stands proudly.
A former American Daffodil Society President, Jaydee Ager named this jewel of a daffodil after his daughter,Brooke, who died tragically young. It was registered in 1997. ‘Brooke Ager’ has been awarded the AGM and of the many narcissus varieties we have in the garden this has the most red corolla, startlingly so in fact. In division 2, large cupped, it is smaller than the previous two but just as lovely.
We have many varieties in flower at the moment and of the larger ones, these three are delights.
Let’s commence with a daffodil identified today after I posted on my Instagram account (#galanthus69) a lost label picture of a real beauty right by our front door. Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ stands out from the crowd and is so vigorous and long lasting it dominates its prominent position. Thanks to Daffseek I discovered it’s an old variety going back before 1953 from Dutch growers and awarded the desirable AGM in 1993. It gradually turns a more pure white as it matures. I recommend this one.
‘Sunnyside Up’ does not appeal to everyone as the split-corona varieties are rather odd. There are some gaudy varieties around. This is not one. Bred by J. Gerritsen & Son, the Dutch growers, it also was awarded the AGM although I’m unable to give the date. I grow this in a very large pot with different varieties and, to be honest, I thought I’d lost it, until it, and its fellows, burst out confounding my doubts. A durable beauty. The Gerritsen family grew daffodil varieties from 1900 until 1980.
Narcissus ‘Rapture’ extends over one corner of the front garden and frankly I would not have planted it in such profusion if it was not a favourite. The long, frilled and splayed trumpet makes for a wonderful sight. Unfortunately the weeds seem to be germinating underneath. Plenty of work to do in the spring garden. Naturally it has the AGM and was hybridised by Grant E. Mitsch in 1976.
Two miniatures to finish off with in this listing of recommendations and they are gorgeous. ‘Hummingbird’ is well named for this is a tiny cyclamineus form and again from the prolific G.E. Mitsch, though a year earlier in 1975. We have it at the front of the border. Small in stature but sturdy. Hugely recommended. As is the final offering…
‘Beryl’ has shot out of a bunch of mass of aconite leaves to continue the Spring show. This is an old variety, registered before 1907 so again a hardy, tough beauty that belies it ‘miniature’ status because small does not mean fragile.
Northern Ireland’s Brian Duncan has introduced a stream of wonderful hybrids and ‘Little Surprise’ is wonderful with its blunt corona and swept back petals, together with a lovely pale yellow colouring. No idea why the ‘surprise’. Brian should be used to his wonders. The cyclamineus x species poeticus was introduced in 2015.
‘Eaton Song’ was bred by Virginia hybridiser, Harry I. Tuggle, Jr in 1989 although it was first noted in 1973. The outer petals are a lighter yellow than the trumpet. This is a dependable miniature. I’ve grown some in a pot and others at the front of a border.
‘Tiny Bubbles’ is similar though the miniature has a deeper yellow and a rather longer corona. Most conspicuously, each stem possesses two or three flowers, a bonus although in some I find the blooms a tad squashed together. It is an introduction from Brent & Becky’s Bulbs in Virginia. Two Virginian introductions. A record for my blog..
‘Wild Carnival’ was an introduction from the Dutch grower WF Leenen in 1982. This large cupped daffodil with its blistering orangle frilled corona is not subtle in its beauty. You wouldn’t want them surrounding Ullswater. As a burst of carnival colour you could not ask for more.
We are all familiar with images of hepaticas in close-up to reveal their almost unnaturally perfect symmetry. They lend themselves to posed shots. Indeed I have posted one myself a time or two. Given their almost unnatural cost you’ll not see too many sprinkled through the typical suburban garden here in the north of England. Candidly you’ll not find many in my borders either but here is one scarcely attended pot that features miniature narcissus, a hardy fuschia, whatever annual takes my fancy and four hepaticas, three in full flower on a chilly, blowy Mother’s Day. It brightens up a spot that at this time of year only gets an hour or so of morning sun. They flowered last year and are healthier this.
The only ingredient hepaticas lack is fragrance so let me recommend a sweet smelling beauty I’ve featured before, one of Bill Welch’s introductions from 1986. ‘Avalanche of Gold’ is sensational. Imagine a bulb that provides up to fifteen small though not insubstantial flowers per stem and up to four stems at that. Add a sturdy quality that stands up to gales and clumps up readily and we have daffodil heaven. Every garden should have them. And have I mentioned the fragrance….
I certainly don’t dream of hellebores but if I did it would something like Harvington Double Purple Speckled. Do you know, looking at the photograph now it is almost perfect and although all the blooms failed to front up, this one turned its face directly to the camera. I mentioned Twelve Nuns Nursery yesterday and this is one of their introductions.
Whilst photographing the hellebore I nearly trod on Narcissus ‘Mitzy’. That would have been a nightmare, continuing the dream imagery. I only have two of the bulbs …. though great ambitions. It doesn’t quite show in the photograph but ‘Mitzy’ has the longest, thinnest nose of a Pinocchio telling the most outrageous porkies. It is a tad taller than ‘The Englander’ featured yesterday, the corona a similar size if stretched out in a truly attractive manner. A distinctive miniature from that most prolific of breeders, Alec Gray, in 1965. Some of my favourite daffodils were hybridised by Alec.
I thought I’d lost ‘Trena’, drowned in our largest sink garden but there she was this afternoon, pictured after a sudden shower. I’m going to move her because she hasn’t thrived and although this is not a rare variety – she goes back to 1971 and has been awarded the cherished AGM from the equally cherished RHS – I hate to lose plants. Half as big again as ‘The Englander’, the bulb was bred by the late New Zealand breeder, Mavis Verry.
The most significant improvement I have made to the early Spring borders this year has been the addition of clumps of narcissus cyclamineus. They are simply wonderful, bright yellow and impervious to the strong winds that have been a feature of the last three days. The shape of the flowers looks designed for the wind tunnel. Cyclamineus are species narcissus thriving in damp but not waterlogged conditions, not something that comes easily to our light, sandy soil. So I’ve banked up the contents from the compost bins and it seems to have worked. Picking out a few weeds this afternoon I was aware of the number of earthworms, always a good sign. I never dig over this area of the garden. I bought the bulbs from the Stamford, Lincolnshire, Twelve Nuns Nursery, another wonderful source of plants and arguably a business that takes packaging into art form territory. You’ll notice this if you read two posts from February 2016 when I ordered the plants after visiting the stupendous Saville Gardens and then receiving the new plants. The 2020 version of packing was equally as fabulous. I’ve bought many hellebores from them over the years.
Narcissus ‘The Englander’ is a hybrid miniature introduced by the late founder of the excellent and second featured Lincolnshire business, Pottertons Nurseries, specialising particularly in alpines. (Four outstanding nurseries recommended in successive days.) The bulb was introduced in 1992. Clearly it is a seedling of cyclamineus. It does not possess the relexed petals of the parent or quite the splayed, frilled corona and it is, say, half as tall again though still definitely a miniature. To give an idea of perspective I have included a photograph of a group beside some late flowering snowdrops and another attractive miniature ‘Camborne’.
They are not the easiest plants but hepaticas have a huge appeal. From what I understand the doubles are the more expensive, most sought after and most rare. Personally speaking, as a garden plant I rather prefer the single ones. So the beauty below is the most striking. There are two main suppliers of hepaticas in Britain, both absolutely superb – Edrom Nurseries in Scotland and Ashwood Nurseries in the West Midlands. I have purchased hepaticas from both and frankly can’t remember which this indigo seedling came from. You can buy unnamed seedlings, singles being less than doubles. When the wind diminishes sufficient for me to photograph outside, I’ll feature an expensive named variety that bears a striking resemblance to the japonica seedling.
Hepatica x media Buis was purchased from Edrom Nurseries and has repaid the investment. The meaning of these terms perhaps requires a little explanation. The ‘x media’ strain is a cross between the two European species, noblis and transsylvanica, pioneered in the late 18C by Prof. F Hildebrand. I have one of the professor’s cultivars bearing his name … when the wind calms down. Meanwhile ‘Buis’ is a lovely cultivar indistinguishable from ‘Blue Eyes’ which I do not possess. The photograph below captures the magic of hepaticas.
As more and more of my embarrassingly large collection of narcissus varieties burst into flower I’m going to risk boring myself and readers of this blog. Perhaps I should change the name of the blog to ‘My Daffodil Garden’? Meanwhile I’ll try and suggest sizes of blooms when presenting them here, miniatures looking just the same as larger daffodils judged in isolation. ‘Gambas’ may be judged by placing them alongside some iris reticulata flowers in one of our stone troughs. ‘Gambas’ was one of the Cornish breeder Alec Gray’s cultivars first registered in 1964. I have quite a few of this wonderful breeder’s introductions. Perhaps I’ll write a blog post devoted to him.
Hepatica japonica ‘Hakurin’ self-seeded a few years ago much to my surprise when I spotted it as I was weeding the pots. I’d previously collected the ripe seed from several plants only to discover the seed tray waterlogged. I threw it out, probably rashly as there’s always hope. Luckily nature stepped in where nurture failed. Here then is the proof of the pudding, so to speak. Mother, daughter. Mother is semi-double, daughter single. Beauty is in the genes. Sadly there was only one seedling and, come to think, it may just have been there in the pot when I bought it from Edrom Nurseries.
Hellebores have infiltrated my winter garden consciousness. They provide a rich colour to the winter border, in sun or shade, rich or arid soil. ‘Anna’s Red’ is a commercial success and generally I like to grow something less obvious. However I sought this cultivar out in the autumn having seen it at RHS Harlow Carr. Anything they can do I can do …. less well. Do look at that rich red/purple and the yellow stamens; and although my photograph fails to show it, the foliage is beautifully marked. It was named after The Independent’s gardening correspondent, Anna Pavord, by breeder, Rodney Davey.
Galanthus ‘Priscilla Bacon’ is my newest snowdrop, obtained from an authoritative and delightful friend via my #galanthus69 Instagram account. Social media can do this. I now have a clump of this textured, late flowering snowdrop. She’s similar to ‘Augustus’, still in flower here, only more globular and slightly bigger. It was named after the late galanthrophile, Lady Priscilla Bacon, discovered in her garden at Raveningham Hall in Norfolk.
And one of my hepaticas, shown here as a pot of blooms all showy, temperamental, glorious. The flowers of Hepatica japonica Momohonabi have a deep purple to commence their display then expand to this bit of magic. Oh for an alpine house.
And just time to throw into the mix just one of a number of yellow seedlings discovered in a border today, all very adjacent to named varieties. Easy this breeding lark.
Narcissus ‘Little Stuff’ is a cheerful, orange nosed miniature daffodil that is new to me this year. It was bred by the late New Zealander, Peter Ramsey. I can testify to its hardiness having twice survived being knocked off my shelving, first when the clay pot disintegrated in my hand and second due to my clumsiness. The corona truly is as richly coloured as the image. Beautiful. I wish I had bought more than three.
Narcissus bulbocodium ‘Early Bird’ is a miniature all right though somewhat larger than ‘Lemon Flare’ featured recently. I loved these hoop petticoats when I first spotted them at RHS Wisley’s alpine house. Perhaps my regard has waned slightly in favour of the miniature cyclamineus varieties – see below – though this particular variety looks vigorous to my eyes and I believe they look better in clumps, though I photographed the first to bloom. The miniature was bred in Worcestershire by the writer and breeder, Michael Jefferson-Brown.
So to those cyclamineus varieties. Smallest first, in fact one with the same diminutive frame as the species. Narcissus ‘Snipe’, not to be confused with ‘Jack Snipe’, has the same corona as Cyclamineus and the same reflexed petals except they are cream. A charmer. A smidgen larger than the species come to think. I’ll plant them side by side for next season.
I’ll conclude my parade of early miniature narcissus with one I’ve covered before. Half as big again as ‘Snipe’, which means tiny, is one I’ve featured before from Matt Bishop, he of the glorious if pricey snowdrops and encyclopedic knowledge of his subject. I doubt whether ‘Userpa’ is registered and certainly it was an impulse buy added to a snowdrop order but it has been dependable up until last year when it broke down into several grass like shoots, fleshing out this season to five or six flowering buds, of which this flower is in the vanguard. Theme: don’t give up. Plants are worth persevering with. For this year think ‘Green Tear’, last year a shoot, this year a thin shoot with a flower. Snowdrops and all plants sulk some years.