April 8, 2019 By Moss Elvis In Garden Plants
Of all the genus the little cup or bunch-flowered narcissus, N. tazetta is the most cosmopolitan. Its range extends from Syria through Kashmir to China. Paintings offer a record that this narcissus was grown in China, one thousand years ago. There it is persuaded to grow in time for the Chinese new year, hence the popular name new year lily. The Tazettae section of narcissus is not easy to establish in gardens, except those with a very climate, though some of the varieties bred from species are of stronger constitution.
By the early part of the nineteenth century there were about three hundred varieties being grown by Dutch nurserymen. A species of the Tazettae section, which has become natural on the Scilly Isles, occasioned a change in the islands’ farming economy and practice. Boxes of natural ‘Scilly Whites’ which were picked and sent as a speculation to market by a local farmer proved so profitable that it encouraged him to include cultivating narcissus as part of his crop rotation. The practice spread the islands’ farmers until exporting cut blooms became a major source of income.
It is a pity that the Tazettae section are not truly hardy, as the cluster-headed, sweetly-scented flowers appearing as they do so early in the year would be a most welcome addition to the garden scene. They are, however, excellent for forcing under glass; cultivated varieties such as ‘Paper White’ (TV. papyraceus) and lovely ‘Soleil d’Or’ make a brave show in mid-winter, given just a modest amount of heat.
Reports on how the narcissus was introduced to the Scillies are contradictory. The most romantic is that of a ship carrying bulbs as a cargo being wrecked on the shore – whether the bulbs were washed up on the beach or were taken ashore by looters is not clear. In fact, the suggestion that Benedictine monks carried bulbs with them from Spain when they established a cell on the island has more validity.
A cross-pollination made late in the nineteenth century by a firm of Dutch bulb growers between TV. poeticus (pheasant’s eye) and TV. tazetta resulted in hybrids which flower later and are hardier than TV. tazetta – known as TV. x poetaz. One of the best known of the hybrids, ‘Geranium’ carries up to six pure white flowers per stem, each with an orange-scarlet.
Comparisons are easily made in some things, never between flowers do they have any great deal of meaning, yet in company with the majority of gardeners when TV.
As would be expected with any bulb which inhabits the north Spanish mountains, TV. triandrus adapts to the cool climate of these islands more readily than the species from the hot Mediterranean. In my experience the flowers last for several weeks when the bulbs are planted in shade, even seeding themselves if the bulbs are left undisturbed. I have never seen the true species except in the wild, as the bulbs sent as N. triandrus have always proved to be hybrids.
All have green rounded leaves and pendant flowers with petals. N. triandus , commonly known as the angel’s tears narcissus, are white. Deep yellow-flowered forms are found in the subspecies color and N. triandus from northern Portugal. In spite of never having acquired the true species, I find the nodding, pensive charm of N. cultivated varieties irresistible. All of them flower during April in my garden.
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