Get Growing: Favorite daffodils

Friday, April 25, 2014
I’ve always been a tulip person; actually a lover of red tulips, but I have to admit that daffodils are much longer lasting and, therefore, more worthy garden plants.

For one thing, unlike my much loved tulips, rodents know daffodils are poisonous so they aren’t so apt to disappear over the winter. And there are so many varieties of daffodils in different shapes, colors and sizes, that you can have a beautiful display for up to two months.

Among my favorites is ‘February Gold.’ Yes I know it is a misnomer for those of us in the North, but when I discovered it in Washington DC 40 years ago it did indeed bloom in February. It is a cyclamineus type with a narrow trumpet. My daughter thinks it is anorexic, but I think it is charming. Like most daffodils, it blooms for weeks. Another cyclamineus favorite is ‘Jetfire’ with a golden-yellow perianth (the outer petals) and an orange-red trumpet. Yet another is ‘Jenny,’ a short pure white.

The late Grant Mitsch in Oregon developed marvelous daffodils, many of which he named after western birds: ‘Quail’ and ‘Pipit’ for example. These two are what are often called jonquils, scented and multi-flowered on a stem.

Miniatures can be charming, although I find they don’t last as long in terms of years in the garden. ‘Sun Disc’ is a lovely frilled jonquil while ‘Minnow’ is a miniature tazetta and ‘Segovia’ is petite short-cup with white petals around a disc-shaped corona of greenish yellow. I admired ‘Hawera’ at the local college bulb shows this spring and recalled seeing it in “Mrs. Allen’s garden” down the street from my Washington home.

I am especially fond of triandus daffodils with multi flowers on a stem. My absolute favorite is ‘Thalia’ and I also have ‘Ice Wings’ which is much shorter. ‘Lemon Drops’ is another Mitsch introduction with pale yellow pendulous flowers.

White daffodils are another wonder. ‘Misty Glen’ resides by my kitchen steps and is a delight in season. ‘Mount Hood’ is the old standby.

Large-cupped daffodils, of which ‘Misty Glen’ is an example, are reportedly the most popular type. ‘Carlton’ is a very reliable bright yellow with a vanilla fragrance and is an heirloom dating to 1927. ‘Ice Follies’ is another one I first saw in Washington, D.C. Almost 30 years ago Nora Hertzfeld gave me two pots of this lovely plant and they have multiplied in my main garden over the years. They have white petals in the perianth and a frilled lemon-yellow cup that fades to white.

A few years ago, when I knew that someday soon I would be moving from my South Amherst home, I decided not to take notes on daffodils at the show at Tower Hill Botanic Garden. But as I was leaving, I realized a whole new world would be available to me when I moved to a condo. So I went back and took some notes. Among the ones I’d like to try at my new home are ‘Itzim’ and ‘Surfside,’ both cyclamineus types. Of course, I’ll have to have ‘Thalia’ and ‘February Gold’ and it would be fun to get some miniatures.

Vita Sackville-West, the great British garden writer, once said that if she had a small garden — which she certainly didn’t at Sissinghurst! — she would buy only the best of everything. I’ll try to follow her advice in my new abode.

The annual daffodil show at Tower Hill and the New England convention of the American Primrose Society will be held the weekend of May 1. Both are wonderful events that coincide in a lovely part of Boylston. I highly recommend them.

SUSTAINABILITY FESTIVAL: Earth Day was earlier this week, but Amherst’s Sustainability Festival tomorrow is becoming the local Earth Day celebration. There will be booths for 100 nonprofit groups to distribute information on saving energy, planting trees, composting and other sustainable practices. Carl Mailler of the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Association will demonstrate raised bed gardening and there will be a program on backyard chickens. It’s a family event with music and games for the children. The hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the Amherst Town Common.

NATIVE BEE HABITATS: There is growing concern about the health of honeybees, so gardeners are turning to native bees for essential pollination. Learn about the habitats of these important insects at a workshop tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at The Sirius EcoVillage in Shutesbury. Tom Sullivan of Welcome Pollinators will lead the program. Fee is $30 to $40 on a sliding scale. To register, email SowingSolutions@gmail.com.

LITTLE “E”: In Greenfield there is also a festival called the “Little e” for energy. It’s held at the Franklin County Fairgrounds tomorrow and Sunday.

GRAFTING WORKSHOP: Fruit tree grafting is a time-honored technique for expanding an orchard. Learn about types of grafts and caring for your new tree at a workshop tomorrow, 9-11 a.m., or noon to 2 p.m. at Katywil Farm Community in Colrain. Andrew Rebello will lead the workshop and participants will take home a grafted fruit tree. Fee is $35 to $45 on a sliding scale. To register go to katywil.com/grafting-workshop-apri-26/.

TRANSPLANTING: Shrubs and small ornamental trees add much interest to the landscape, but they should be planted properly and techniques vary depending on species, size and type. Learn the differences between bare-root, container-grown and balled-and-burlapped trees and how to site and plant them during a workshop tomorrow from 9 a.m. to noon at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge. Ken Gooch of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation will teach the workshop. Bring work gloves and dress for the weather. Fee is $40.

SPRING EPHEMERALS: Ted Watt, naturalist at the Hitchcock Center in Amherst, will lead a spring exploration of Mount Toby on May 3, from 9:30 a.m. to noon, to observe a variety of early wildflowers. Fee is $15. Register at 256-6006.

PLANT SALES: If your nonprofit group is holding a plant sale this spring, please send information to valleygardens@comcast.net. I will list them here beginning May 2. There will also be a special column featuring local sales on May 9.