Few plants can induce a smile from me quite like a daffodil. I don’t think I am alone when I say that their bright, cheerful flowers can lift my spirit, even on a dull overcast day, and I always see them as a sign of the return of spring, and the longer, warmer days to come.
Originating from the Mediterranean, they have a long history of cultivation and were well known to the ancient Greeks. Their Latin name, Narcissus, comes from the Greek myth of a youth who, so infatuated by his own reflection, was turned into a flower. It perfectly describes how they would often have been discovered, on the banks of steams and pools, starting at their own reflection in the water.
We have taken these plants to our heart and after many years of breeding and hybridisation of the original species we have produced many thousands of cultivated varieties, which are now grown almost anywhere they will survive. Even our cold, damp soils have been adopted as home and in some of the Western counties, with the help of benevolent farmers and landowners, they have flourished and successfully naturalised, forming great swathes of gold in the spring which would have provided a useful, early, ‘cash-crop’ for the locals.
The daffodil world is full of great varieties; from the earliest types such as ‘February Gold’ and ‘Rijnveld Early Sensation’, which can start to flower just after Christmas in a mild year, through to the bicolour flowers of narcissus pseudonarcissus, which are seen naturalised throughout the Uk. There are blousy double and split-corona types with ruffles of petals like a country-show rosette like ‘Delnashaugh’ or large flowers in purest white like ‘Mount hood’. Then there are the smaller but highly-scented poeticus (pheasant-eye) and tazetta types, such as ‘Paperwhite’, that arrive in the late spring so they coincide with the blossom of cherry and pear trees, or the tiny, delicate, almost flat, flowers of ‘Sun Disc’, or the peculiar conical flower of the hoop-petticoat daffodils such as ‘Spoirot’ and ‘Oxford Gold’.
One of my absolute favourites must be ‘Thalia’, a white, smaller-flowered type with several blooms per stem and a delicate fragrance. They have a grace and elegance that is missing from their more bolshy, early-flowering brethren. With the right selection of varieties, the daffodil season can last from January right through until late April.
Perhaps it is myself who is being slightly narcissistic. By giving these flowers such human qualities of joy and optimism I am actually reflecting what emotions I wish to feel on to them. The daffodil itself is merely doing what comes naturally. Its bright yellow, trumpet is little more than a funnel to direct a bee to its nectar, encouraging it to do all the hard work of spreading its pollen, and hopefully create the next generation of daffodils, nudging its range ever so slightly further.