April 5, 2019 By Sara Giordano In Garden Plants
There are some flowers which even the most determined non-gardener immediately and greets with affection. Daffodils are one of the select band of universally popular plants. The name, so legend relates, derives from a handsome youth of Boeotia who, it was foretold, would live content unless and until he saw his own face.
One day he stopped to slake his thirst in a pool, saw the reflection of his own beautiful features mirrored in the still water, and became so captivated he refused to be moved from the spot.
Bewitched, he languished and died. Then, as Ovid relates, a flower sprang from the youth’s corpse. Anyone who cares may look in the flower’s cup and discover there the tears of Narcissus.
There is an interesting link between the poppy and Narcissus in the same legend. Pluto employed a flower of Narcissus to entice Ceres’ daughter, Persephone, to the underworld. The poppy was created to enable the stricken Ceres to forget her grief in sleep. Other writers, less romantically inclined, say the name comes from the flower’s narcotic qualities and its ability to dull the senses. That all the stories of a flower so pleasantly simple and beautiful are based on conceit or deceit is to do narcissus an unkindness.
Poets other than Shakespeare praised the Lent lily and , names which were formed from a still older title, a corruption of Asphodelus, which now relates to an entirely different family.
Narcissi have been grown in gardens for close on four hundred years. Gerard lists a selection in his 1597 Herbal, while Parkinson in the early 1630s writes of seventy or eighty different kinds. Then for two hundred years interest in the development declined, a curious neglect which defies explanation. That the scent from the flowers was supposed to have a baneful influence causing headaches, melancholy, even insanity, may have limited the popularity of narcissi as decorative plants. This could be an exaggeration of pollen allergy; presumably there were people in those days who suffered from what is now described as hay fever, and some narcissus, particularly the species N. tazetta and N. jonquilla, do have a very high perfume. Development of the flower in recent years more than makes up for the two centuries of neglect.
The greatest concentration of species occurring naturally is in the Mediterranean regions, Spain and Portugal being especially well endowed. Hybridisation occurs quite freely where the range of natural species overlaps, for example, N. x medioluteus (syn. N. biflorus) is suspected of being a natural hybrid of N. poeticus x tazetta by some authorities. Be that as it may, even without the bewildering variations in height, colour, shape, and flowering season which selective hybridisation has produced, the gardener who decides to grow species only will find these a fascinating field of exploration. From the tiny, delightful, though difficult to cultivate, N. watieri to the native N. pseudonarcissus, they welcome spring to our gardens alongside snowdrop and crocus.
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