A long time ago when I was in high school, we read and studied literature from Shakespeare to Bronte to Melville. One of my teachers was fond of having us memorize literary stanzas and as the topic being covered at the time was poetry, we all were to memorize a poem. Always being a flower lover, I chose the poem, ‘The Daffodils’ by William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850).

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/daffodils (Read entirety)

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Tete a tete with cat statue

Even today when I see a naturalized planting of daffodils, some of the words (albeit not as many as I’d like) come back to me. I don’t know if it was Wordsworth’s poem or the rather large yard that inspired me but I planted dozens of daffodils when I first moved into our present home. There are now I bet close to a thousand!

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Daffodils in the shrub bed.

Daffodils are members of the Amaryllis family and belong to the genus, Narcissus. All daffodils are narcissus but not all narcissus are called daffodils. The genus is divided into about a dozen divisions depending on flower type. There are a large number of hybrids as well. Daffodils refer to flowers with the large coronas or trumpets. These bulbous plants have also been referred to as jonquils, Lent lilies and daffadown dillies.

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Trumpet daffodil

Plants of the narcissus genus have been around since ancient times. They are native to parts of southern and western Europe and neighboring countries. In some parts of Europe they have naturalized. Daffodils symbolize different sentiments in various places. They represent vanity to some, and wealth and good fortune to others. Some cultures consider them unlucky because the flowers tend to bend like heads held in shame. White flowered varieties have been associated with graveyards perhaps because they were said to be the flower that carpeted Elysian Fields, the legendary Field of the Dead.

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White narcissus

I can’t say that I have seen very many white daffodils in local cemeteries but I have seen clumps of yellow daffodils lingering on old house lots. European settlers brought the bulbs to the new land with them. Anyone who has grown daffodils knows they are quite long-lived and some species, especially the yellow trumpet ones, have a tendency to self-seed as well as to produce offsets. While I doubt the plants blooming today were planted several hundred years ago by the early settlers, it is romantic to think about the bulbs crossing the ocean and lovingly being planted next to their new home. Each spring when they bloomed, they would serve as a reminder of what was left behind as well as hope for a brighter future.

Daffodils are not only beautiful, cheerful and often fragrant but they are among the toughest plants I have grown. Never are they bothered by insects or diseases and the deer do not eat them. Actually, the leaves contain various alkaloids that serve to protect the plant from nibbling.

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Daffodils in birdhouse and white gardens.

Most of my daffodils are the bright, golden yellow trumpet narcissus and they all bloom pretty much at the same time. Because there are so many species, cultivars and hybrids, real daffodil aficionados could select ones that bloom from early to late spring providing a 6 week or so show depending on the weather. The cooler the spring, the longer the blooms of spring flowering bulbs last.

While I am quite fond of my daffodils when they are in bloom, I do wish the foliage would ripen and turn brown quicker than it does. A good number of daffodils are in flower beds and as the foliage turns yellow and then brown it is a bit of an eyesore and hard to mulch around. One needs to leave the foliage to photosynthesize and send back carbohydrates to the bulbs so they have enough energy and food to survive the summer, fall and winter to send up their cheery flowers the following year. I will admit to braiding the foliage in some of the closer beds even though you are not supposed to do that.

Many of the daffodil flowers are pollinated and go on to produce seed heads containing dozens of viable seeds. It was becoming challenging to weed out all the little sprouts the following year so I do my best do clip any seed heads I find before they ripen.

As the bulbs multiply, clumps of daffodils form and after a few years, fewer flowers are produced because the clumps need to be divided. This is sometimes easier said than done as the bulbs have contractile roots that pull them deeper and deeper into the soil.

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Plantings increase in size each year.

Those with a fervent interest in daffodils might want to consider joining the American Daffodil Society (http://daffodilusa.org/). If you live or plan on visiting the Litchfield, CT area, the Trustees of Laurel Ridge Foundation invite folks to visit their daffodil planting from April through mid-May on Wigwam Road. Their website is http://www.litchfielddaffodils.com/.

Enjoy the cheery, fleeting blooms of daffodils. They signal the return of spring.

Dawn

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Bulbs in package, CQuish photo

If, like me, you are a gardener of good intentions, you probably have a few bags of spring flowering bulbs you never got around to planting. Well it is not too late! They can be planted as long as the ground is not frozen. It may not be as comfortable or enjoyable digging the holes in December as it would have been in early October, but better late than never. Bulbs not planted will not bloom.

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Tulip bulbs, plant roots down, point up. CQuish photo

Daffodils, tulips, crocus, hyacinth and scilla are commonly sold at garden centers, big box stores and through catalogs. Other species are available and all will need to be planted, and then experience a cold period of six to ten weeks to signal the bulb to bloom when the soil warms again in the spring. If the bulbs are not planted until next March or April, they will not bloom that year as they did not receive their needed chilling period. So get them in the ground now before we have to shovel snow.

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Crocus bulbs showing a little growth from the top, and roots from the knobby bottom. CQuish photo.

Larger bulbs such as daffodils and hyacinth should be planted four to six inches deep, or two to three times their height.  Smaller bulbs of crocus and scilla go two to three inches deep into the soil. Add a teaspoon of bone meal into the planting hole mixing it into the soil in the bottom of the hole. Then place the bulb in the hole, pointed side up and flat side down. The roots will grow out of the flatter side and grow down; the leaves and stem will grow from the pointed end and reach up. If you can’t tell which end should be up, lay it on its side and each will find their way where they should be.

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Scilla bulbs, notice the roots on the flat bottom. CQuish photo

Bulbs can be planted in pots in potting medium for forcing indoors, too. They will still need the about ten weeks of chilling period at 40 to 45 degrees F. They can be kept out doors in an unheated shed or porch, or placed in a refrigerator which does contain any fruit. Fruit gives off ethylene gas as it ripens which will retard or kill the growing flower inside the bulb. After the allotted time, bring out the pot and all to be placed in a bright window for the warmth of the house and light to signal the bulbs to grow. This provides a nice bit of spring in late winter inside the house. After they bloom, and later in the spring, these bulbs can be replanted outside.

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Potted daffodils, photo WS.edu

Annual care for bulbs planted outside is to leave the foliage on the plant. The leaves are the food factory for the bulb. Leaves are where photosynthesis happens, taking energy from the sun to convert it into carbohydrates to be stored in the bulb. If the leaves are green, let them be. Only remove them after they have yellowed and turned brown. Do not braid or wrap the leaves together either. The leaf is like a solar plate and must access the sunrays, which it cannot do if wrapped up. Flower stems should be trimmed off so energy is not wasted making a seed. Bulb beds can be fertilized after all foliage has turned brown. Fertilizing before flowering can cause disease to attack the bulb.

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Daffodil, CQuish photo

-Carol Quish

        This latest foot of snow has buried my newly emerging bulb foliage. The two inches of daffodil, allium and crocus leaves are about a foot below the cold, white surface. Will my bulbs survive under that much snow? This is a familiar question I hear at the Home and Garden Education Center. I have enough faith and have seen many years of snow on the daffodils and other bulbs to know they will all be ok. The foliage may turn a little yellow but the flower buds are still protected deep inside the bulb itself. If it were much later in the season when the flower buds are exposed above the soil, these cold temperatures and a foot of snow would harm them. Light snow and temperatures just around 30 degrees F usually will not cause damage. Meanwhile, I will wait for spring, dream of the new gardening year and remember my last year’s garden. This is a good time to recall what worked and what didn’t in last year’s garden.

            I am eating reminders of last year garden when I flavor my homemade plain yogurt with raspberry jam made with Heritage raspberries from the back yard. I love this variety’s ever-bearing canes that can be pruned half way for a June crop or down to the ground for a late August crop. I also planted an unknown variety that produces berries on wood grown the previous year. These were darker, larger, less flavorful and seemed to rot on the cane as soon as they became ripe. I am not sure I want to waste the growing space keeping these.

 

             I will again plant plenty of basil for pesto making and freezing. We are just finishing the last of it now. I dried various herbs by hanging upside down bunches in the garage and tried my hand at drying them in the microwave. After one small fire in the microwave, I think I will stick to the slower hanging method! My tomato harvest was light and so was the canning of them. I really miss opening that glass jar filled with summer’s red goodness in January. Much more pickles were made than we actually eat, but the cucumbers produced a bumper crop. The garlic was also plentiful and I should cut back on the area devoted to this bulb. The stored potatoes and winter squash ran out far too soon resorting me to purchase these at a local farm stand that stays open until January.

 

            Even if you don’t grow your own produce, buy from a farmer’s market or local stand to try your hand at storing food for the winter. A good site to check out is the  National Center for Home Food Preservation.  Our own UConn Food and Nutrition folks provide information food storage.

Let the planning begin and hope the snow melts soon.

-Carol