27 April 2008

an old daffodil

Over on Musings of a Kentucky Gardener, fellow blotanist Historiana wrote a lyrical post about rescuing old plants in general and, in particular, a primitive daffodil she found along a back-road fencerow about ten years ago. Now it’s growing in her garden. Here’s a link to the post: Primitive Daffodil Mystery.

The flowers of this daffodil are a twisted, ruffled mass of greenish-yellow petals; the buds look more like amaryllis or chive than daffodil because they’re jammed full of petals. I was fascinated by the pictures she posted and, of course, began to plot how to get my hands on some crazy-looking, old daffodils of my own. Hmmm, perhaps Historiana would send me some, or B and I could do a little investigative work of our own in Kentucky.

Fast forward to Saturday morning: Our friend Betty rang me up on the telephone and told me that I had to come over and see her daffodils: They were truly shining in the sun. So, after I finished planting and watering in nine blue spruce seedlings (I saved one for Alan in the city), I washed my hands, hustled Dale into the car, and drove over to Betty’s house.

While Dale sniffed and rolled on the greening grass, Betty and I toured her garden, coffee cups in hand, and let the sight of her thousands of daffodils wash over us. One daffodil is a miracle, I think, and a garden full of them is heaven.

We discussed how B loves a later-blooming variety that sends up clusters of very fragrant creamy double flowers. And my particular favorite is the pheasant’s eye daffodil, Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus, also a late-bloomer. Each blossom has a beautiful fringe-y red rim around the small corona that is perfect in the way a baby’s fingernails are: It’s hard to fathom something that small being that well formed.

Then Betty showed me a beautiful, old, multi-petaled daffodil that her father rescued from the dooryard of an old abandoned farm many years ago. It looks to me like the slightly-less-insane, northern cousin of Historiana’s find. Beautiful, eh? I whooped when I saw it.

Is this a named variety, or could it be—as Historiana wonders—a mutation of a common daffodil from long ago? And who originally planted it in Washington County, New York, and where did they acquire the bulbs in the years before White Flower Farm and Brent and Becky’s Bulbs? Whatever the answer, the sight of these flowers must have given a lot of pleasure to a farm family tired of winter and ready for warm sun and green grass.


  1. Most of all, I loved that you whooped when you found this daffodil -- I don't think we whoop with reckless abandon often enough, do you? :) It's a lovely flower and certainly looks like it could be a mutation, which makes it all the more special.

    Along the wooded road we travel from here to my parents' house, is an old farm lot. The house and buildings have long since tumbled to and merged with the earth, but in a far corner of the overgrown lot is a small, family cemetery. It has only two headstones in it, both nearly unintelligible from age and neglect. It is surrounded by an ornate, iron fence - as graves were in those days - and at the base of that fence are dozens of daffodils which somehow manage to poke their lemony heads through the tangle of previous years' grass and weeds. It always takes my breath away and it's a photo I try to get every year, though I'm afraid I'll be too late this spring. These daffs are just the common, yellow variety, but I always feel like applauding their determination. :) Talk about blooming where you're planted...

  2. Great daffodils! Isn't it fun to think people are just FINDING little gold mines like that? Me? I'm just planting them for the next fellow to enjoy. (And, in the meantime, I'll enjoy them too - of course!) ;-) I have ordered all manner of daffs over the years. Because we moved 5 years ago, I left several variety behind (like the pheasant eye), but I brought a lot of different ones with me and I planted a few new ones last Fall! Yea! :-)

  3. Jared, I just read Musings of a Kentucky Gardener. Those ARE my daffodils. They come out just the way she describes them.
    Your pictures of mine don't look quite like hers because they need to be thinned out I think. They are packed tightly. But they have a way of traveling somehow. Maybe the moles move them. Betty

  4. OG: Eureka! I think you're absolutely right. Thanks for investigating!