6006000160632_10001035_l Poeticus Recurvus
Narcissus, commonly known as daffodils or jonquils, flower in the spring in my zone from bulbs planted the previous fall.  They are native to southwestern Europe and North Africa. From Wikipedia,  “The species are native to meadows and woods in southwest Europe and North Africa with a center of diversity in the Western Mediterranean, particularly the Iberian peninsula. Both wild and cultivated plants have naturalised widely, and were introduced into the Far East prior to the tenth century. Narcissi tend to be long-lived bulbs, which propagate by division, but are also insect-pollinated.” It is generally accepted that there are about 50 species of narcissus, and another 60 known naturally occurring hybrids. Named narcissus hybrids number in the many thousands. The species daffodil Poeticus var. Recurvus pictured above is commonly known as Old Pheasant’s Eye.  It is remarkably tolerant of wet soil.  The delicate flowers bloom atop a grassy foliage usually 12″-15″ tall. It is sweetly fragrant, and very persistent. Planted in moisture retentive soil that has a decent percentage of organic material, it will increase and bloom for decades with little or no care. The flowers are diminutive and graceful; up close, the blooms are stunning.

narc_triandrus_lemon_drops_mainThe narcissus Poeticus does not remotely resemble the large brassy yellow trumpet flowered daffodil that is common in spring gardens throughout the US. From the Missouri Botanical Garden website (a plant reference I use frequently), “King Alfred was introduced in 1899 and quickly became recognized as the standard yellow trumpet daffodil. And it remained the standard until the 1950s when new yellow trumpet daffodils featuring larger flowers, better form and/or better performance became available. Since the 1950s, ‘King Alfred’ production from bulb growers has decreased rapidly to the point where this daffodil is not currently available in commerce today except through a very limited number of specialty nurseries. But the legendary name lives on. Most bulbs sold today as ‘King Alfred’ are not in fact ‘King Alfred’ but are large all-yellow look-alikes (such as ‘Dutch Master’) that are being marketed under the famous ‘King Alfred’ name by use of such descriptive labeling as “improved King Alfred” or “King Alfred type”.” In my opinion, bigger and more showy is not necessarily better. There are so many species and heirloom varieties of narcissus that are so much more beautiful in flower than the standard large yellow daffodil. The narcissus triandrus variety “Lemon Drops” pictured above was bred and introduced by Grant Mitch in 1956. The small nodding flowers are especially fragrant, and have a natural subtle beauty.

narc_trumpet_pink_silk_extra_3_It is no secret that I am a big fan of spring flowering bulbs. Though planting those dormant brown orbs in the chill of the late fall is not my favorite garden activity, I truly enjoy how that planting creates a sense of anticipation for the spring. There is a wide range of spring flowering bulbs that are well worth planting, but I have a special affection for the narcissus. They are truly perennial when properly sited. They perform reliably. They increase over the years with little or no maintenance. I have clumps that have never been divided, that still bloom profusely. Deer want nothing to do with them. Narcissus Pink Silk is a descendant of that famed first “pink” daffodil Mrs. R.O. Backhouse, and was introduced in 1970. This heirloom daffodil is as lovely now as it was 45 years ago. There is nothing over bred or flashy about it.

spring3 DallasNarcissus make fabulous and long lasting cut flowers, provided they are conditioned properly. The stems exude an irritating sap when cut.  I condition them for at least 24 hours before arranged them with other flowers. I do deadhead my daffodils when they are done flowering, as I would rather that they expend their energy expanding their clump via the production of offsets than setting seed. The above pictured daffodil Dallas was bred in 1942, and is classed in division 3-daffodils with small cups.  Daffodils are classed in 13 different categories, which relate to size, color and shape.

moschatus-3s.jpgThe species daffodil Moschatus pictured above is large flowered, but subtle in form and color. Many hybrid narcissus have this daffodil in its parentage. Famed American garden writer Louise Beebe Wilder called this her favorite daffodil: “The solitary pale nodding flower has an infinite appeal, a fragile tender grace that I think is not duplicated in the race….No more exquisite flower could be found for a cool, tended corner….Not to know this daffodil is to be poor in experience.” This photo by Becky Matthews was taken in rural Tennessee in March 2004. The species daffodils are more likely to “naturalize”, meaning the clumps will increase in size, and persist for many years. The fancier, newer hybrids may not perform as well over the long run.

narc_pink_passionale_mainI have more than a few large clumps of the daffodil Pink Passionale in my garden.  Enough so that I can cut them and bring them indoors in the spring. This large cup variety was a favorite of garden writer Henry Mitchell.  It is easy to see why.  I brought a bouquet of them to Rob this past spring.  That vase of flowers encouraged him to look into assembling a daffodil collection for Detroit Garden Works this fall.  All of the varieties under discussion here are on his A list.

BroughshaneThe daffodil Broughshane was bred by an Irish hybridizer, Guy Wilson. From 1930 and into the early 1960’s, he was widely acclaimed as one of the best breeders of white narcissus.

Narcis Sea Princess _2164.jpg_f1The narcissus Sea Princess is a small cupped narcissus bred in 1984.  It is perfect for naturalizing.

DA980 April QueenDaffodil April Queen was first offered for sale in 1936. The blooms are reputed to be one of the longest lasting in flower in the daffodil kingdom.  The small orange cup is strikingly beautiful.

Croft-16-Daffodils-Mrs-Langtrydaffodil Mrs. Langtry, introduced in England in the late 19th century.

narc_jonquilla_sailboat_extra_1__1 fragrant multi floweringThe narcissus jonquilla Sailboat features wind swept petals-thus the name. The jonquilla group features narcissus with multiple blooms on a stem that are quite fragrant. I am sure you are seeing by now how difficult is it to choose which daffodils to grow. Interested in the classification system for daffodils?  daffodil classes

narc_small_princess_zaide_mainThe miniature narcissus Princess Zaide, how could we forget this one?  late flowering, shallow cupped, and sporting a chartreuse eye.

Narcissus_W.P.MilnerRob’s list is long, but each one of these daffodils would make a fine addition to the spring garden.  Forgive me all of these pictures, but once you take the time to study the available narcissus, it is easy to be taken by a plant that is so carefree and persistent in the landscape is so beautiful. W. P. Milner, here.

DA971 glory of lissedaffodil Glory of Lisse

narc_cycl_toto_main_2narcissus Toto

bacec9d68af99a7ee04ad4a4191b985f narcissus British Gamblenarcissus British Gamble

daffodil Fidelitydaffodil Fidelity

DA985 horn of plentydaffodil Horn of Plenty

DA944 daffodil romancedaffodil Romance

angel_daffsx1200 thaliadaffodil Thalia


narcissus Bath’s Flame

narc_large_stainless_mainnarcissus Stainless

1008398 miniature nbarcissus Elkaminiature narcissus Elkanarc_small_dreamlight_mainnarcissus Dreamlight

1280px-Narcissus_Xit miniatureminiature narcissus xit

215 narcissus Firebirdnarcissus Firebird

PL2000008432_card2_lg Nivethdaffodil Niveth

narc_triandrus_katie_heath_extranarcissus Katie Heath

narc_triandrus_katie_heath_extra_1_This closeup of narcissus Katie Heath-breathtaking. Surely there is a daffodil here that would enchant you.

May Rain

crazy rain (11)We have had an astonishing amount of rain in the past three weeks. Steady and generous rain. Lately that rain has been accompanied by very warm temperatures.  Timing is everything-as someone once said.  I am watching what regular spring rain and a little heat is meaning to my plants. All of my evergreens, shrubs and perennials are putting on a lot of weight.  I am delighted with the look.  It is no news that every living thing needs water to survive. You, me, the trees, and the planet. Some plants need next to no water-that would be the succulents on the roof of the Vatican that have been there hundreds of years,  they get vastly less than 3 inches of rain a year. Some need regular water and boggy conditions-as in Louisiana iris. All those plants in the middle of this spectrum, in my area, are soaking wet, and growing happy.

crazy rain (5)Water from the hose, or an irrigation system, is nothing like water from the sky. I have no science whatsoever to back up this assertion, but I believe that water from the sky is like no other water.  Water from the sky is imbued and super charged with life. This natural water makes everything explode with growth.   A rainy spring day is great for the garden in my zone.

crazy rain (2)Every plant in my garden is going shoulder to shoulder, given the steady rain.  No fertilizer at work here.  Just good soil that gets a top dressing of ground hardwood bark mulch once in a while, and steady rain. Not every spring is like this. Dry springs make for plants with a much more lean silhouette. Dry springs make every plant look needy.  My plants look ready to to talk to me.

crazy rain (3)This rhododendron is closing in on 30 years old.  It is blooming profusely this year.  I credit the regular spring rain. I do nothing to look after it, except to pinch off the dead flower heads. Just outside my home office window, it is a delight. This late May explosion of form and color is a delight.

crazy rain (6)The ivy growing across my side door steps has been there for 30 years as well, but is looking particularly lush this year.

crazy rain (9)The beech ferns and European ginger have decided to come on.  I was worried that our extremely cold winter would do them in-but not so.  They were slow to show, until the rains came.

crazy rain (18)The Princeton Gold maples are in full and glorious leaf.  Each leaf is bigger than my hand.  All of the yews are sending forth their new growth. The fountain garden is dominated by lime green, in various shapes and forms. As busy as I am, all this spring lime is arresting, and compelling.

crazy rain (13)The boxwoods have begun to grow.  The late afternoon light pictures that growth as another shade of lime.  Hellebores just planted last summer are sending up new leaves. This is a spring view of my garden that gives me so much pleasure.

May 27, 2015 (20)The clematis on the bench have grown by leaps and bounds. The buds are coming on strong. They are starting to lean on my moss cow, Lady Miss Bunny, for support. The pachysandra is loaded with limey green spring growth.  Milo’s path through it is obvious.  When the new growth hardens off, his tracks will recede.

crazy rain (16)When I see plants in my garden growing lustily, I am thrilled. I have gardened long enough to know that I am a second tier provider to my garden.  Nature calls the shots.  And I am well aware than nature bats last.

crazy rain (12)Buck and I sit here every night, after work.  We have nothing to look at in the way of roses.  This past winter finished all of the last of them off.  But every night I look at that space, and try to imagine what might be. But behind us, the boxwood is responding to all of the rain. We have a dialogue going on.  Spring talk-every gardener understands this.

crazy rain (15)The May rain we have had has my garden bursting at the seams. Nature at its most helpful and benign makes me look good. I have a lush garden life right now. For this, I am grateful. My spring could have been very different from this. Nature has her own agenda. She takes no direction. Nature is a wild force that knows no bounds.

crazy rain (7)Though my garden is as green and growing as it could possibly be, I think about people, farmers, and gardeners in California who are suffering from terrible drought. Would that I could FedEx them some of my spring rain. The people in Texas enduring devastating flooding from heavy rains-terrible.  Texas has a long history of flooding, but who cares about the history?  Any person in Texas whose house has been swept away by too heavy spring rains-I feel terrible for their loss and anguish. We have had rain that sustains.  This is my report, for my vicinity.  As for the rain that nature delivers-rain in one place is a gift. Mad and unrelenting rain somewhere else could be a disaster.

crazy rain (8)The spring water from the sky can be good.  Too much water from the sky can destroy lives. Nature is not a friendly force. Nature has her own schedule. Never mind any of us. She does not call for a meeting, before she delivers her water. Her water can be a steady fall over a number of hours.  Or it could be a deluge in minutes.  That water could sustain life.  Or it could wash away lives.

crazy rain (10)I am thinking about rain right now. There is no easy answer. Generous rain endows every garden. Torrential rains can be so distructive.   Nature is a very, very, and more very a wild card. Gardeners know this.


The Spring Garden

May Day (3)Despite a run of very warm weather, and the tomato plants I have seen sitting outdoors for sale, it is still very much the spring season here. One of my favorite things about gardening in the mid west is the fact that the seasons change.  I like all of them.  Spring is a special favorite, as it comes on the heels of the dregs of the winter.  Speaking of the dregs, we have a forecast for 37 degrees overnight. Our last frost date is the end of May-some 2 weeks away. This is no hardship.  The spring season, even on the coolest of days, is a delight. My variegated lily of the valley is proof positive of that. My tulips are on hold, in full bloom. The dogwoods are just about in full bloom, as are the lilacs.

DSC_0457The spring flowering trees are at their best when the spring is cool and moderate. Some years ago all of the flowers on my magnolias were frosted off, and the new shoots sustained damage as well. Our past winter was terrifically cold-especially in February. As a result, my magnolia flowers are so so this year. But I have seen lots of crab apples, cherries, red buds, and Bradford pears striking in bloom. The spring flowering trees-I would take a chance on them. My dogwoods are just beginning to bloom. Spring blooming trees are a marvel, and there are so many kinds to choose from. I see very few young flowering trees when I drive through neighborhoods.  And not so many stands of tulips either.

spring season (5)I ascribe this to the notion that many people feel the spring is especially ephemeral, and is shorter than the other seasons. However, the spring is just as long as every other season. The spring does not begin with a flowering phase.  The long process by which plants emerge from the ground and break dormancy is every bit as beautiful as a patch of daffodils in bloom. That pale limey green I call spring green is as visually lush as the new growth.

DSC_0219These dwarf spruce are not so dwarf any more, after 30 years in the ground.  When the new growth emerges on the tips of every branch in the spring, the visual effect is spectacular. The hellebores have been in bloom for at least a month. The warm weather pushed every plant full speed ahead.  At times there was too much to look at, and not enough time to look.  A good friend in the nursery business told me years ago that his gardens are designed to peak in late summer-this is when he has the time to appreciate them. I want it all.  Every season. This is why I make a special effort to enjoy the spring, even though it is a very busy time of year.

May Day (4)This patch of creeping jenny, campanula, and sweet woodriff is lush and fresh.  That quality applies to every inch of the spring landscape. All of the failures in the garden now are winter failures. Everything in the spring garden is growing robustly.  Regular rain sustains all that growing. There hasn’t been enough time for bugs and fungus to take hold. The time for disappointment comes much later.  The spring is about promise and possibility.

spring season (2)My yellow magnolias are rarely in bloom longer than a week or 10 days, but each one those days is heavenly. I look forward to them with great anticipation. The spring garden has an expectant atmosphere. How ephemeral the flowering makes the experience of that blooming all that much more sweet.

spring season (1)My perennial garden is finally beginning to fill in.  The delphiniums should be so beautiful this year.  They have just about filled the tomato cages that I hope will keep them aloft when they flower. Would that the catmint would keep this shape.  By midsummer it will fall to the ground, splay out, and need shearing.  This moment is a good one.

Mother's Day 2014 (41)Rob plants lots of spring pots, many of which feature lettuce, bok choy, chard, and herbs. This pot is good enough to eat. That luscious quality speaks to the best of what spring has to offer. There is no other fresh like spring fresh.

DSC_0433This new garden we did for a client last year has a few early flowering perennials-notably euphorbia polychroma and anemone sylvestris.  My client planted yellow and white viridiflora tulips, and white triumph tulips.  What a charming spring garden she has.

May 11  2015 009 I can hardly believe I have seen basil for sale outdoors already.  It despises cold soil, as do tomatoes, and many of the summer season annuals.  The best way to tell if you can plant for summer is to put your finger in the soil.  If it is very cold, wait to plant any tropical plants. A week of consecutive night temperatures above 50 degrees is a sign you might consider planting tropical plants. I am not ready for geraniums, or calocasia, or caladiums.  I want my spring as long as I can have it. The best way is to ignore the siren call to plant for summer when it is too early is to cultivate a spring garden, and enjoy the spring around you while it lasts.

Tulips For Mother’s Day

2015 tulips  3The tulips at the shop have been evolving over the past 3 weeks, when the first of them came into bloom.  How appropriate that they are usually about in full bloom on Mother’s Day.  My Mom would have loved it, and photographed them over and over again. I came in early today, so I could take my own pictures. I always plant a mix in front of the shop, as I plant lots of them. A minimum of three colors will make a good basic mix.

the 2015 tulips (4)There are other characteristics besides color that make up a good mix.  A mix of heights rewards the eye with flowers up, down, and in the midsection.  All the same type or class of tulips puts all the flowers at the same height. No matter whether you plant 20 or 200 tulips, there will be a horizontal band of green at the bottom, and a horizontal band of color at the top.  Tulips have big, splashy flowers, but I like to plant them close together. Choosing tulips of different heights means the individual flowers will read.

the 2015 tulips (6)Different classes of tulips bloom at different times. Creating a good mix of times is not quite as simple as planting an early, a mid season, and a late tulip.  A mix whose early tulip is finished before the mid season tulip comes on means the whole group will never be in full color for that one moment of tulip glory. For that reason, I usually include smaller numbers of a 4th and 5th-and maybe even a 6th tulip.    the 2015 tulip mix (6)Different types of tulips have different shapes-of course.  The classic mid season Darwin hybrid tulip flower is tall, and globular.  Single late tulips are very large, and more rounded in shape than the Darwins.  Lily flowered tulips have a lily shape-of course.  A variety of shapes keeps the mix interesting.

the 2015 tulips (1)Of course color plays a big part of the mix. Strongly contrasting colors makes for a very lively mix. Bright orange, bright yellow and white is a striking and dramatic mix.  That drama can be left as is, or tempered with pale yellow and peach. Pale violet or lavender added to this mix tones down the heat in a visually interesting way. Red would heat up the mix.  Leave out the white, the mix will smoulder. 1 part white to 1 part red yellow and orange will be sunny in a very springlike way.

the 2015 tulips (2)

Colors that are closely related make for a harmonious mix. Red and pink is a natural combination, as pink is red mixed with white.  In this scheme, there is a near warm white, a white flamed pink and red, a pale pink, a single late rose pink/red, and a medium pink.

the 2015 tulips (12)The varieties, from left to right:  World Expression, Silver Stream, Renown and Mariette, with Pink Impression at the bottom.

the 2015 tulips (13)There can be great color variations within an individual tulip.  Pink impression is a pale pink with blue overtones.  The midrib of each petal is darker than the body, and the edges of the petals are lighter than the body.

the 2015 tulips (15)World Expression and Silver Stream have the same two colors, though the color distribution is very different.  I think each of these tulips is all the better for its respective companion.

the 2015 tulips (11)The blooming of the tulips from start to finish is about 5, maybe 6 weeks.  I thoroughly enjoy that process, from the time the leaves emerge from the ground, until the last of the petals mature and fall. The flowers themselves are extraordinary.  I would always plant tulips for my Mom for Mother’s Day.  I would do my best to plant when she was not there, so she would not know what colors or where I would plant. I also schemed to be sure that the tulips were at their perfect best on Mother’s Day.  Though I rarely met that goal perfectly, the process of the selection, the planting, the anticipation of spring, and the blooming was a process we both enjoyed. I so appreciate that every time I see tulips in bloom, I think of her.