Daffs old and new

It has been a good week in the garden. The sun has been shining much of the time, winds have been light and there has been no rain. This has allowed some serious gardening. There is so much preparatory work to do that I look forward to next year when it will be all ‘proper’ gardening. But raised beds for veg are getting done, I have edged the one pond that has been lined, we have put down the base for the summer house and I have been given a couple of trailer-loads of manure that needed attention. But, among all the work, the daffodils have started to bloom. The three-year-olds are doing OK and the two-year-olds are blooming at least as well as last year – a good sign – but, of course, it is the new ones that are the most exciting.

I am very fond of daffodils and can’t decide which I like best so the 100 or so I have planted so far are a very eclectic mix. Though I love the newest and biggest, I also adore the older kinds. When I was 8 we moved from East Anglia to Surrey and, dad being a teacher, we were allocated a council house. But it was a bit different to the usual. It was an old, Victorian vicarage and was basically derelict. No one else would live in it. Just one part was – just about – habitable, though damp and infested with mice. The main part was uninhabitable, though there were hints at the grand past with rooms with servants bells, a billiard table and wide stone stair cases. It was a great place to be a child though not for mum! There was no heating and the windows froze, on the inside, in winter. The garden was overgrown but, in the fields surrounding it, rows of daffodils appeared every spring, remnants of the cutting garden I assume and overgrown shrubberies were dotted with others. It was too long ago to be able to identify any of these old daffs, with the exception of ‘Van Sion’ the old double with the trumpet stuffed full of petals. Though all daffs are fragrant to some extent, I particularly love the scent of these old gems. Incidentally, when we moved out of the house it was vandalised and demolished.

Along one border I have planted all the oldies and, to satisfy the curator in my soul, I have kept all the modern kinds well away. And along the fruit walk (I think I can call it that since there are a dozen plum, cherry and pear trees) I have grouped all my Poetaz daffs. More of that later.

One of the cutest of all is ‘Barrii Conspicuus’, now called just ‘Conspicuus’ (3Y-YYO). This is a real oldie, dating back to 1869. This type, called Barrii, was thought to be a cross between  N. psuedonarcissus and N. poeticus and as such, is an important daffodil, giving rose to short and large-cupped daffs, and some orange to the cup. ‘Conspicuus’ was raised by William Backhouse. Writing in ‘My Garden in Spring’ in 1914, E A Bowles said ‘It is good to see that Barrii conspicuus is still in favour even with experts, for in the voting list returns as shown in the RHS Daffodil Year Book, it heads the list of cut flowers from the open, those suitable for planting in grass, and also of the yellow-perianthed Barrii, and is well up in the lists for other purposes. William Backhouse must have been a happy and proud man when he first saw it in his seed bed.’

By  the standards of today it is a scrawny thing, with narrow petals, slender stems and slightly nodding blooms. I should have planted it in grass really but it has pride of place in the bed, next to ‘Van Sion’ because of its age.

Nearby is ‘Sunrise’ (3W-YYO), a youngster by comparison, dating from 1901. The flower below is only just open and will fade a bit as it ages. You can see that the petals are already broader, as breeders work towards making flowers with better, broader, petals. But it still has a gentle elegance and is utterly charming.

Just by way of giving a clue as to what daffodil breeders have achieved, here is ‘Plymouth Hoe’  (1 Y-R), a trumpet daff with broad, smooth petals and a trumpet so orange it is classified as red. It is also (hopefully) sunproof. The red and orange colour is derived from the thin rim on the cup of N. poeticus and red cups were notorious for burning in the sun. It is still best to be careful with red cups and keep them out of the blistering sun (some chance). Bred by Ron Scamp of Cornwall, it was registered in 2012.

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One Comment on “Daffs old and new”

  1. Paddy Tobin
    March 22, 2021 at 8:50 am #

    I’m very fond of the old daffodils also – Van Sion, eystettensis and the likes. We have a good patch of what were unnamed seedlings from Richardson’s here in Waterford – nothing special but one with a huge trumpet which is different. I like the smaller ones also, the species.

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