Tuesday, October 16, 2012

You say Narcissus, I say Daffodil

It’s an incredible day to garden, but I’m stuck inside sick as a dog with a head cold that has left me flattened so naturally I’m online researching (ha! lets call it what it is really – compulsively shopping for) bulbs.

Okay, so sitting on my front porch right now are three boxes of bulbs just waiting to be planted, I just receive an email telling me that another shipment is on it’s way, and I have three different websites open with bulbs in all their online carts, because there’s really nothing like the flourish of spring bulbs. And although I must confess that a lot of those bulbs on my porch are tulips, today I’m going to focus on the daffodils. I have five new varieties arriving this week. One called Manly and another called Obdam, are both doubles in the white or cream family. I already have Acropolis and Sir Winston Churchill, also white doubles, but there’s really nothing like an ironstone pitcher stuffed with fistfuls of these beauties to perfume your kitchen and pull you out of your winter crankiness.

I’m also getting a bag of Misty Glen, an all white single with a hint of green at it’s center and a bag of two types of daffodils that are both bicolored white and creamy yellow. One that’s larger with soft yellow petals (the perianth) and a creamy trumpet (the corona) and the other that’s smaller with a creamy petals and a stronger yellow cup (another name for the corona). I don’t know the names of either of the two plants, they’re being marketed under the name “funhouse” but I’m loving the colors together for around my new baby pink, spring blooming camellias.

Daffodils are the easiest of all bulbs to plant and the most rewarding as they are not (yet) eaten by deer or voles. They are sometimes dug up, but since they’re not really palatable they do tend to survive. Remember the rule of thumb is to plant a bulb three times as deep as the bulb is wide, so get your daffodils dug in deeply and they’re most likely start rewarding you by multiplying like crazy.

There are of course some caveats, you need to feed your bulbs, when you plant them, but also when they start come up in the spring or late in the fall so the food is there for them when they need it, and they do need sun, so planting them under the branches of a white pine is not really the best idea. There are bulbs for the shade, think Scillia and English Bluebells, but a daffodil really wants its head in the sun. They’re happiest nestled in the lawn, with no competing shrub and tree roots, but you MUST leave the leaves up for at least six weeks after the flowers are done to make sure the bulbs can recharge themselves -- and rarely do we find people who are willing to forgo lawn mowing for a couple of months. My guys do it for me, but under duress. I think it pains them to leave the tall hillocks and tufts scattered around, like a drunk who tried to shave his face while on roller-skates onboard the Titanic.
Oh and all you folks who are tying your daffodil leaves in tight little knots of order, it’s actually not the best thing to do as you are limiting the leaves’ exposure to sunlight.  Try planting them next to perennials that will come up quickly and hide the withering foliage.

If I was a little more organized of a gardener, or obsessed in a different way, I would think collecting daffodils could be madly entertaining. There’s even an American Daffodil Society associated daffodil show on Shelter Island every year, normally mid April. When I go to the society’s website to explore I find Daffseek.org a website that helps you identify or find various cultivars, where I discover that there are over 100 double white daffodils that I could collect, my four are just a beginning, a tease, a smattering.

The problem I have with becoming a true collector is that I would have to memorize a whole bunch of terms and subtleties, as seen from the description of Misty Glen below,

“… perianth segments broadly ovate in outline, rounded at apex and slightly mucronate, spreading, sometimes creased, overlapping half; the inner segments angled at shoulder, a little inflexed, with margins wavy; corona long cup-shaped, bluish white, with green prominent at base, mouth straight, loosely frilled.”

I can’t do it. I’m impressed that I’ve been able to jam all the Latin names of plants into my brain, especially since I really didn’t start learning them until I was in my thirties, but I’ve decided that in the same way I’ve discovered you can buy wines based on what the label looks like and still end up with something delicious, I really don’t need to be able to remember how to classify all thirteen divisions to find and enjoy my daffodils.  I just need to know where to look online where I’m curious.

Oh and for clarity, all daffodils are narcissus, daffodil is just the common name  while narcissus is the Latin. And the term jonquil should only refer to a division 7 or division 13 daffodil with especially shaped leaves, a flare to its corona and specific perianth spreading. So there.

The Compulsive Gardener

There’s a huge pile of plants in my driveway. Amongst the crowd are three Lindera benzoin or spicebushes, a plant I’ve been threatening to get for a decade, mostly for it’s fall color, but also because I pride myself on having a lot of early blooms for my bees even if they’re fairly subtle, like the lindera. Plus it’s also the preferred food choice of the black and blue spicebush swallowtail butterfly larvae, and since I’m trying to bring more wildlife into my garden, it really deserves a place in the garden. I also found two Ilex verticillata or winterberry at the same 50% off nursery sale and seeing as I’ve raved about those for years, but didn’t own any, they had to take the ride to my house as well. And there are three yellow Exbury azaleas in the pile, a plant I’ve longed for and lusted after ever since I saw them in their full glory at Winterthur, but couldn’t justify before my deer fence came into my life, since it really is adored by the creatures for snacking.

Of course, one of the reason these plants are still in a pile in the driveway is that two tiny, fluffy deer have figured out how to belly slid under my back gate whenever they feel like it and are demoing the place, so I’m working on how to deer proof the thing before I just had these lovely snacking morsels our to my two new friends. The other reason these plants aren’t planted yet is a little more complicated. I don’t know where I’m going to plant them.

There, I’ve admitted it. Part of the reason I garden is to find a place to put the plants I buy.  For me, one of the joys of gardening has to be the pleasure of trolling through a nursery and finding a great plant at a great price. Like the Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium' for that I found at the same plant sale for under $40 thus providing me with a great excuse to finally have one of my own. Or finding the hellebores at Whole Foods that were on sale for $8.00 when all the local nurseries were selling them for $24.00, a very justifiable excuse for getting 9 of them.

But if I’m really truthful, I just enjoy shopping.  I always have. Whether it’s art books or shoes or creamy tubes of oil paint or engraved French monkey prints, the process of ferreting out, narrowing your choice down and then plunking money down to own is exciting.  Of course with shoes, it’s easier, they live in their boxes until it’s time to show them off like the black kid Mary Janes with the rhinestone high heels and the jet bead embroidery on the toes that made an appearance at Ashley’s wedding.

Plants, well they’re a little tougher to squeeze in. I confess that I just recently found some pictures of my garden from when I first purchased it, and yes, I most certainly guilty of planting too many things way too close together. I most definitively did not leave room for these plants to grow. I left some room, but I really wasn’t thinking 15 years down the line.  I know better. I really do, it’s how I make my living, and I’m much better at steering clients towards a plan and not just taking them on a crazed shopping spree, but I could never do it myself. 

If I had to plan where the Chaenomeles speciosa 'Orange Storm' would go, I’d be stuck. I don’t really need it, I actually don’t really need any more plants, I haven’t for a while, but I want it. It has beautiful double orange flowers. Who cares that there’s not a place for it in the garden yet? I still need to work some oakleaf hydrangeas into this garden, and I have no bayberry or blueberries, plants I lecture about using constantly as they’re both fantastic.

Now if I can just figure out where to put the Cedrus libani a good friend gave me. It’s only a baby now, about a foot high, but a true Cedar of Lebanon will grow into a magnificent, enormous, soaring evergreen approximately 140’ tall. Simple to site, right? Hahahahaha. Whoops sorry, lost control there for a moment. Look, I know that wherever I put this tree it’s going to eventually take over, I inherited a copper beach with my house that suddenly, after 15 years, has decided to grow like it’s a white pine on steroids. It definitely needs pruning, as do a bunch of things, while others need transplanting, i.e. all the mophead hydrangeas that under skirted the hydrangea paniculatas and weigelas behind the garage, but that’s the way I like to garden. Impulsively, compulsively and with the knowledge that there’s always room for more.

Paige Patterson has three boxes of bulbs sitting on her front porch just waiting to be planted, oh and more on the way.