Daffodils are the darlings of spring. They’re easy, elegant, early-blooming flowers, capable of warming a gardener’s heart while the weather outside is still chilly. They’re old-fashioned flowers with lots of modern style, and they fit into gardens of every size and description. Fall is the time to plant them. For gardeners who have to deal with deer, this is a flower you can safely indulge in: deer won’t touch daffodils.
Most gardeners know yellow daffodils best, but there are thousands of daffodil cultivars. “I
have made it a goal to prove to the public that daffodils are not just yellow,” says Jason
Delaney, curator of the bulb collection at Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. “I’m trying
to get as many different kinds as I can possibly squeeze in.” At a recent count, the garden’s
sweeping bulb beds were planted with almost 600 different daffodil cultivars, all labeled, so
visitors can compare and take notes.
Daffodils from all but one of the 13 official divisions of the genus Narcissus are represented
in the collection. (The divisions are based on the form and size of the bloom.) Delaney’s
favorites are frilly Division 11 daffodils, whose blooms have split coronas (the trumpet
portion of the flower).
"Some of them are amazing," Delaney says. "The colors are really intense, especially in the
pinks." Delaney hybridizes daffodils and exhibits them at flower shows every spring, but he
still gets a thrill from everyday daffodils. These sturdy flowers stand up to the challenges of
spring, he says; they can take the disheartening late freezes that test the hardiness of even
the toughest gardener.
Daffodils are also great perennializers, coming back every spring for years. In some old
gardens, big clumps of daffodils are the living legacy of the gardeners who planted them years
In St. Louis, the daffodil season begins in mid-March, peaks in early April, and keeps running
through about the first of May. Daffodils are planted mostly in drifts in large beds, but they
can also be seen in perennial flower beds and among annual pansies of every hue. Big yellow
trumpets like ‘Dutch
Master’ and ‘February
Gold’ bloom first. ‘Fortissimo’,
‘Ceylon’, and ‘Jetfire’
— daffodils with showy orange trumpets — are right behind them, followed by bicolors like ‘Professor
Einstein’ (which has white petals and an orange trumpet). At the very end of the daffodil
season, the fluttering, snow-white petals and tiny red-rimmed corolla of ‘Pheasant’s Eye’ and
other poeticus daffodils have a charm all their own — and then the summer is upon you. The
daffodils will be back next year.