Daffodils - Legends, Notes on Poison Quality, How to Grow Tips, And Design Tips

Daffodils are flowering like mad in my garden so in keeping with the season, let me tell you of some research I've found about that wonderful bulb.

I won't bother to bore you with the old story of its species name narcissus being named after the handsome Greek lad who was tricked into looking at his own reflection in a pond and is - to the best of our knowledge - still pining away at that pond. Or, if you like flower legends, the lad eventually fell into the pond and was reborn as a nodding yellow flower. Instead, I'll bore you with some other arcane knowledge of this wonderful bulb.

Chickens & Daffodils

If you keep chickens, you may not want to bring daffodils into the house as cut flowers. An old saying in Herfordshire U.K. says that if you bring the flower inside when the hens are sitting, no chicks will be born alive. A variant of this in Devon, says that the number of goslings that will be hatched and reared is the same as the number of daffodil flower stems that are brought into the house in the first bouquet of the year. And while here in Ontario, we look for big, old lilac bushes to indicate a pioneer house, in other parts of the world, they look for daffodil colonies.

In the U.K., colonies often indicate an old religious site. Apparently the bulbs were planted by the monastery inhabitants and after the demise of the buildings, the plants continued to grow.


The daffodil family or narcissus, I note they're the same plant, is poisonous so you won't be invited to eat these as you would some other bulbs. I'm told by knowledgeable bulb historians that some Roman soldiers used to carry several bulbs with them and if mortally wounded, they'd chow down on the bulbs. The bulb would work its narcotic wonder and the soldier would painlessly die. I have never tried to eat one but am told you do not have to worry about your children eating them as they are one of the vilest tasting bulbs around. This vile taste is nature's way of protecting them from predators and us from predating them.

Now, a lesser-known epithet when applied to soldiery is to be called a daffodil. Apparently this means that they are nice to look at but yellow through and through. This term was apparently used in official British correspondence during the second world war to refer to soldiers the officials were blaming for the loss of Singapore. I'm told it caused a bit of a diplomatic problem between the British and Australians; the British saying it was the Australian daffodils that lost Singapore and the Australians pointing out the real nature of the problem was British leadership.


Daffodil 'Sir Winston Churchill'

Cold Hardy

Daffodils, all 1000 varieties of them, are one of the easiest and cold hardiest of bulbs to grow. These guys grow in almost any condition or soil and as long as you follow a few simple rules, you will have great success with them. Simple rule number one: measure the length of the bulb and plant it two to three times as deep as it is long. If it is three inches long, plant the bulb so its top is six inches deep. If it is a little fellow, one inch long - plant it two to three inches deep.

Simple rule number two says to try to give it as much sunlight as you can but plant it anywhere other than the deep shade and plant the bulbs 3-5 inches apart. The bulb wants at least a half day of sunshine and if you give it a shovel of compost every spring, it will thrive. Our third guideline suggests watering the bulb in quite heavily after planting and spreading some compost over the planting area. After that, merely wait until spring and a glorious show of bright sunlight yellow. As a general rule of thumb, do not water during the summer.

Companion Plants

Early blooms look good when planted together with Forsythia, Kaufmaniana tulips, while the later forms do well with Brunnera (a wonderful blue flowered perennial) Columbines and mid season tulips. If you want to grow some of the miniature daffodils, try planting them with Phlox subulata, Hellebore, Sedums, Ajuga, and Pulsatilla vulgaris. When you start filling your shopping cart, do remember the following guideline.

More is better. Yes, it is and if you plant them all together in one mass bed, they will be spectacular. Plant the large flowering ones close to the house where you'll see them and the single flowering forms in large masses further away from the house. Remember that the new daffodils come in a variety of colours - from traditional yellows right through to whites, pinks and some absolutely stunning coppery and bicolour shades.

Book cover spring bulbs

So, stay away from reflecting ponds, watch what you do with the cut flowers so you don't bother the chickens and do bother the geese. Don't get into serious sword fights, don't eat the bulbs, and do plant some daffodil bulbs. If you plant them, you, the chickens, and the flowers will be fine.

Trust me on this one.

planting bulbs

Daffodil 'Las Vegas'

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Multiple sources of daffodils - all heights and colors

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