The narcissus family
Daffodils come from the large narcissus family of approximately 150 species, mainly originating from north Africa and Europe. The name comes from Narcissus, a beautiful young Greek. He became so infatuated with his own reflection in a pool that he pined away and was turned into a flower by the gods. The daffodil’s nodding head represents Narcissus leaning over the water to gaze at his reflection. For centuries, swathes of the wild daffodil, Narcissus pseudonarcissus, have bewitched passers-by. The most famous are the Ullswater daffodils, immortalised by Wordsworth in his famous poem. There is uncertainty as to whether this wild species is a true British native. One theory is that it was introduced by the Romans, naturalising over time. The oldest daffodils known to still be in cultivation include species such as Narcissus x medioluteus, which can be traced back to the 16th century. It was not until the 19th century that increasing numbers of hybrids were bred from species daffodils collected in Europe. Over the ensuing centuries, 156,000 different cultivars have been developed from the original species. This creates ever greater diversity in terms of size and shape. To bring order to this multiplicity, daffodils are split into 13 divisions, based upon distinct characteristics. These start at division 1, trumpet daffodils, which have flowers with cups longer than the petals. They include ‘Topolino’, and ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’. Division 2 are large cupped flowers that are not longer than the petals. An example is ‘St Patrick’s Day’. Other divisions include varieties that have multiple heads such as ‘Martinette’.
Despite their differences, all daffodils share much in common, including being mildly toxic if eaten. All develop from bulbs, which spend most of the year lying dormant underground. They awaken in autumn to produce roots and then, during winter or spring, send up leaves. These vary in shape from strap-like to slender or grass-like. Leafless stems follow, bearing flowers singly or up to a score in number. Each flower consists of six spreading petals or perianth segments in shades of yellow or white and occasionally green, surrounding a corona. This varies in size and shape from a shallow cup to a long trumpet that, according to variety, is coloured yellow, white, orange or pink. Modern breeders have developed daffodils with coronas that feature beautifully contrasted rims or frilled edges. There are also varieties such as ‘Reggae’, that come with coronas in pink shades. Other developments include cultivars with clusters of miniature petals, or petaloids, in the centre. “Daffodils can be grown from seed. It is years before they flower, and yet more while they are trialled and proven to be good garden plants,” says Christine. This is the reason why so many of today’s most popular daffodils are old varieties that have stood the test of time. One of the best known is ‘Tête-à-tête’. This prolific flowerer, registered in 1949, is both early-flowering and long-lasting. A miniature daffodil, its radiant yellow flowers will brighten even the dullest of spring days. Undemanding and easy to grow, they are ideal for borders, rockeries and containers for a sunny windowsill; or grow them in bold drifts naturalised in grass. “It was bred by Alec Gray, who founded our nursery,” adds Christine. “It is the universal, all-round daffodil.”
‘Tête-à-tête’ is a gardener’s favourite as its long-lasting flowers are produced freely and reach only 6in (15cm) in height. Broadleigh Gardens Barr, Taunton, Somerset TA4 1AE. www.broadleighbulbs.co.uk. The garden opens in aid of charity all year...