Gar­den­ing David Wheeler


The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

The daz­zling days of danc­ing daffs will soon be with us once again. Hooray! In truth they’ve been around since Christ­mas – cul­ti­vated in our warmer coun­ties for in­door scent and dec­o­ra­tion, or nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring in such va­ri­eties as ‘Cedric Mor­ris’, a stead­fast De­cem­ber-flow­erer that Beth Chatto says is ‘a joy to pick with early snow­drops’. And daffs will be around un­til May, when the ex­quis­ite pheas­ant eyes – dainty, leggy, danc­ing, fra­grant – bring down the cur­tain on a five-month nar­cis­sus ex­trav­a­ganza of blaz­ing trum­pets white and gold.

Is there a bet­ter known, bet­ter be­haved or bet­ter re­garded flower? All gar­den­ers grow a few, surely? And most peo­ple at some point in the daffs’ long and glo­ri­ous sea­son flaunt a bunch or two of tro­phy stems in a vase upon a sill.

Daf­fodil bulbs are avail­able from early au­tumn, but right now ready-planted shop-bought ones can be turned out of their pot-bound pots when the flow­ers be­gin to fade and plunged into ac­com­mo­dat­ing cor­ners of the gar­den where they’ll re­peat their cycli­cal magic next year and be­yond.

Un­like, say, tulips, daf­fodil flow­ers are ‘di­rec­tional’. In the north­ern hemi­sphere they project their noses south­wards. Planted there­fore along an east/west path they should be sited on the north side. In shrub­beries or light wood­land they will please them­selves, star­ing into patches of sun­light wher­ever they find it.

In the an­cient Greek myth, Nar­cis­sus, son of river god Cephissus and the nymph Liri­ope (whose name has been given to an­other flo­ral genus), was be­sot­ted with his own over­whelm­ing, youth­ful beauty. Dis­dain­ing oth­ers who loved him, he pre­ferred in­stead to gaze ad­mir­ingly at his own mir­rored im­age in a pool. Pin­ing, he was changed into the flower that bears his name. Thus we have nar­cis­sism. And per­haps it’s a sim­i­lar self-ab­sorp­tion or ego­tism that fu­els our own de­sire to make re­s­plen­dent gar­dens, patches of per­sonal par­adise in which we too can bask in re­flected glory.

The Daf­fodil So­ci­ety was es­tab­lished in 1898 and this year holds its an­nual show at Coughton Court in War­wick­shire over the week­end of 15th and 16th April, fol­lowed by a com­pe­ti­tion at the Henry Street Gar­den Cen­tre, Swal­low­field Road, Ar­bor­field, Read­ing, on the 22nd and 23rd. The Throck­mor­ton fam­ily’s his­toric gar­dens at Coughton nur­ture a re­mark­able col­lec­tion of daf­fodils in recog­ni­tion of a dis­tant rel­a­tive, Amer­i­can physi­cian and hor­ti­cul­tur­ist Dr Tom Der­cum Throck­mor­ton of Des Moines, Iowa. Dr Tom cre­ated a daf­fodil colour-cod­ing sys­tem – the Tom D Throck­mor­ton Daf­fodil Data Bank – an an­nu­ally up­dated re­source pub­lished by the Amer­i­can Daf­fodil So­ci­ety that helps afi­ciona­dos to de­fine and de­scribe their col­lec­tions.

But it’s to the woods I go in March, in search of wild or nat­u­ralised daffs in their count­less thou­sands. I choose a brisk, bright and prefer­ably sunny day when cau­li­flower clouds are chas­ing each other fit­fully over high pas­ture. My first stop is at Broms­ber­row Heath, south-east of Led­bury on the Here­ford­shire/glouces­ter­shire bor­der where, with­out leav­ing the car, I can sur­vey teem­ing daffs be­neath a canopy of old oaks. Then to Newent, tak­ing the B4216 south look­ing out for an even greater spread of wildlings on the left-hand side be­fore turn­ing back on my­self to­wards the vil­lage of Dy­mock, aglow with golden botan­i­cal trea­sure. Here walked the Dy­mock Po­ets 100 years ago: Las­celles Aber­crom­bie, John Drinkwa­ter, Ru­pert Brooke, Robert Frost, Ed­ward Thomas…

At home, the daffs were push­ing through frosty ground be­fore Ad­vent. In ad­di­tion to the wild ones planted in drifts, my cur­rent favourite of the cul­ti­vated va­ri­eties is ‘Thalia’: white­flow­ered, vig­or­ous, en­dur­ing, colonis­ing. You can’t have too many.

The daf­fodil is a flower for all gar­dens

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