First I’d better define my terms. By narcissus, I mean plants in the genus Narcissus, which many know as daffodils or jonquils. By heirloom, I mean that I inherited them. There is probably an official definition of “heirloom” as relates to Narcissus, but I don’t know what it is. I have seen some of my daffodils called heirloom in other places, but I haven’t made a positive i.d. on all of them, so the names by which I call them have either been discovered after some research or simply made up. I will describe them all in order of their bloom time. Several of the heirloom narcissus that are growing in my garden now were growing here when I arrived. Most of them, however, were growing blind, and I didn’t know what I had. (Growing blind means foliage is coming up but there are no flowers. One cause of this is overcrowding due to not being divided for years and years.) I dug them up, divided and replanted them, and it sometimes took two or three years before I was rewarded with a blossom. These trumpet daffodils bloom early, earlier than the ‘Rijnveldt’s Early Sensation’ planted elsewhere on the property, and as you might suspect of a plant that survives long periods of neglect, they bloom and grow vigorously. How fortunate that I planted them near the road, where the whole neighborhood can enjoy them.
These are interplanted with the trumpet daffodils along the road. I had no idea I had two different kinds of daffodils on my hands, and I had never seen any like this. This daffodil is known as ‘Van Sion’ or ‘Telamonius Plenus.’ According to Scott Kunst of Old House Gardens (OHG), when at its best the “doubling is neatly contained within the trumpet.” I have a vague memory of seeing one or two like that, sort of like finding a four-leaf clover. The blossom in the lower right corner of the photo is about as neat and tidy looking as mine ever get. More often the petals look almost shredded, rightly earning the common name I understand they have in the South: green and yellow mops. And they are pleasantly, though not strongly, fragrant.
These are my favorites,blooming mid-season. The first time I saw them bloom, I thought, “How sweet!” and dubbed them ‘Kathy’s Sweetheart.’ (True confession: I am capable of bending over a flower and saying, “What a sweetheart you are!” but I would never say that to a dog or a cat. The only cat I ever appreciated was an expert rodent hunter yet very tolerant of young children, and I was perfectly content to let my children do the petting, cuddling, etc.) Debi Lampman, owner of Bedlam Gardens in King Ferry, NY, calls them Butterfly Daffs, because they flutter in the breeze like butterflies. And I have often wondered if they are the same flower that Fedco calls ‘Sara’s Stars:’
Flowers open with six distinct light yellow daisy-like petals (the stars) surrounding a small yellow cup. Petals fade toward white as the blooms mature. Weâ€™ve been on the trail of their official name for years. Sara brought them to Maine in the early 1960s from Brookline, MA. Durable and prolific.
That’s exactly how they do for me: open yellow and fade toward white. And I think I finally discovered their true name (not that I’m going to stop calling them ‘Kathy’s Sweetheart’). The picture of ‘White Lady’ in the Old House Gardens online catalog seems to match the flower in my garden. It was introduced in 1897. My house was built before then, so now I get to wonder which occupant is the one who planted the original bulb(s) from which mine are descended. And did they actually buy some, or did another gardener pass them along? Neither Fedco nor OHG mentions that these flowers are sweetly fragrant as well as demure and delicate, which I find surprising. Why do so many companies leave out fragrance in their catalog descriptions?
These were given to me by my sister-in-law, who got them from someone else. They look pretty much like OHG’s picture of ‘Trevithian’ or maybe even ‘Sweetness,’ yet these jonquils listed in the OHG catalog are considered hardy only to Zone 6. Well, we all know hardiness zones can be wrong, don’t we? They hardly bloomed at all for several years, and then this year they bloomed like crazy. The big difference, I think, is that last summer it was especially hot. And their fragrance is wonderful, but not like what I associate with daffodils–these little guys smell like honeysuckle. The most I can conclude is that they must at least have jonquil ancestry in them, even if they’re not pure jonquils. I wonder if I can find a “hot spot” for them, so they’ll bloom more consistently?
Narcissus poeticus [recurvus]: These were here when we moved in, and I also got some from my in-laws in 1993. They are often called Poet’s Narcissus or Pheasant’s Eye, but in my husband’s family they are simply called narcissus (as opposed to daffodils). I believe they were growing on the land when his parents moved in. They grew in rows in a field, almost as if someone had raised them to sell at one point. These are the first flowers my husband ever gave me, and my first introduction to the concept that daffodils are fragrant, so they will always hold a special place in my heart. You might even say they are a family emblem as well as an heirloom, and they were incorporated in the original logo for this website. White Flower Farm describes them nicely:
the true Pheasant’s Eye, with strongly reflexed white petals; a small, red-rimmed yellow cup; and a spicy fragrance. It’s also one of the very last Daffodils to bloom. Heirloom, early 1800s. Very late.
This is the double form of Poet’s Narcissus, also known as Narcissus poeticus var. odoratus ‘Albus Plenus’ or Albus Plenus Odoratus if you go way back. I have always found the double and the single growing together, and it is my understanding (though I can’t find it mentioned anywhere) that it is a naturally occurring sport of the single Narcissus poeticus.
Snowy white and richly fragrant, double pheasant eyes are one of the few daffodils that show up on almost every daffodil list from Clusius in 1601 through catalogs of the early 1900s. Carolus Clusius, a plants man in Antwerp, Belgium described and pictured ‘Double Poet’s’ in 1601.(â€˜APOâ€™ dates to 1861.) Though they tend to be erratic bloomers, but in the right spot or good years, theyâ€™re heavenly. Plant in full or partial sun. Grows 16-18″ tall. Zones 3-8.
(I found the description both here and here, and don’t know who is the original writer. It could be they both got it from the same source, such as a Dutch bulb wholesaler.) I marked all the doubles one year, dug them up and planted them in a different location. Now I’m not sure that was such a good idea. The euphemism “erratic bloomers” refers to the fact that the buds often blast, which means, you get buds, but then something happens and they rot or shrivel without ever opening. I have read several theories on what causes this, and have given up trying to figure out why. In a “good year” they are spectacular by themselves, or blooming in contrast with a purple columbine or an early veronica. But in a bad year, when all the buds blast . . . let’s just say they benefit from the camouflage of their exuberantly blooming single cousins, thought they do tend to open a bit later than them.
These are not all the Narcissus I grow, but these are the ones that not only have a history in terms of cultivation in gardens, but also a history of personal associations and memories for me and my family. I’ll always be acquiring one more daffodil, but I’ll never get rid of any of these.