Bright and beautiful

Words by Adrian Higgins, The Washington Post


When it comes to daffodils, it’s easy for the novice to fall into the trap of believing that bigger is better. That means trumpet daffodils, named for their generous snouts. They are the largest narcissus and not just in flower. When the bulbs arrive in early autumn, they are burly enough to make you feel you’re getting a bargain, especially with a couple of daughter bulbs attached.


Young people may not be well represented in the ranks of daffodil fanciers, but small daffodils offer a cheap and practical way for urban millennials to luxuriate in the genus Narcissus, named after that handsome but lonely dude who couldn’t get enough of himself. You can find many small daffodils at a reasonable price. The bulbs are usually ordered in early autumn planting, though some mail-order nurseries offer discounts for early orders.


What miniature daffodils lack in bloom size, they can make up in the sheer number of flowers. Image: Adrian Higgins


It took me a long time to fully understand the delight of small daffodils, but now wouldn’t be without them. Everything about them is delicate and refined, from their buttonlike cups to their grasslike leaves. Many are intensely fragrant. What they lack in bloom size, they can make up in the sheer number of flowers.


An old yellow miniature named Tete-a-Tete has become the most common bulb used for forcing in pots. Miniature daffodils require little real estate and excel in pots and containers. The bulbs need winter’s chill — clay pots are fine in an unheated building, but those that stay outdoors should be of some frostproof material.


They need a sunny location and excellent drainage, both more easily achieved in containers than in the ground. If you use them in garden beds, they are so obliging. Washington Daffodil Society President Karen Cogar gave me a tour of her suburban garden that has one corner devoted to “minis.”


In an area of only six by eight feet, she was growing approximately 200 varieties of miniature daffodils. The term applies to those that grow under six inches and are on an ordained American Daffodil Society list, but many exquisite, small (if taller) daffodils are found outside those boundaries as well. Most varieties of triandrus, jonquilla and cyclamineus daffodils fit the bill.


Daffodils in full bloom. image: Unsplash

Cogar collected 20 or so varieties of minis to show me. It was hard to pick a favourite. Angel’s Breath had three descending blooms on its single stem, all a soft lemon yellow. Even after a few days in a vase, the fragrance was strong and spicy. Mitzy is a white-flowering cyclamineus type with its petals swept back against an unusually long and slender corona.


Cogar travels to shows across the eastern United States at this time of year — they start in the South and move northward with the growing season — and is heartened when she sees younger people growing and showing. “Now if we could get Taylor Swift to grow daffodils, the whole world would grow them,” she said. Meanwhile, think small.

Feature image: Unsplash