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Yellow Trumpet Daffodils

It wasn’t until we had a really cold rainy snowy spring that I realized why trumpet daffodils are shaped the way they are: to make a protective tunnel around their sexual parts so they can be pollinated in any weather. Duh. (I have had many “Duh” moments in the woods and garden. I hope to have many more.)

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As you can see, this bee is working under fair-weather conditions. It’s in amongst the stamens and pistil of a Dutch Master, probably the commonest cheapest kind of yellow trumpet daffodil. I get mine in the hardware store at $9.99 for a bag of fifty. (NB: Why don’t they just charge $10 and get it over with?)

A lot of the time I’m a varietal plant snob, so it’s interesting that Dutch Masters (or anything like them) are the yellow trumpet daffodils I like the best. I have some genteelly-bred heirloom yellow trumpets that bloom later, and I enjoy them; I’ve grown Tenby daffodils, which are basically a species version of a yellow trumpet daffodil and bloom at about the same time (maybe a little earlier). I really like the Tenbys; they’re smaller and more graceful, qualities I generally gravitate toward. But there’s something about the exceedingly garden-variety Dutch Masters that appeals. Maybe it’s that I remember my mother bringing home daffodils like them from the grocery store every spring, a rubber-banded half-dozen for the kitchen table. Maybe it’s because of their faint astringent-sweet smell, just like those childhood bouquets. Maybe it’s because they’re cheap.

In many areas, yellow trumpet daffodils are the heralds of spring. In my zone 8 garden, north of the palm trees and south of the wild rhododendrons, the first narcissus is often a tazetta type, the really fragrant ones with the tiny little cups (tazetta means “little cup”) and many blooms to a stem. (For those of you who don’t already know, a daffodil is a kind of narcissus, but not every narcissus is a daffodil.)

This year we had lots of snow on the ground, and really hard freezes below 20 F ( -6.67 C, for the rest of the world). So the yellow trumpets are the heralds of spring here, as they are in so many colder-winter areas. (Warmer-winter gardeners can grow yellow trumpets, too, but they have to choose their varieties carefully: only certain ones will grow without winter chill.)

Trumpet daffodils are defined as one flower to a stem, with the cup as long or longer than the petals If you read good bulb catalogues, their daffodil selections will be split into several divisions. This is not just to annoy you and make it difficult to find things. The divisions of daffodils have certain kinds of shapes and, may I say, personalities. They come from different family lines, bloom at different times, and may require different growing conditions. Usually daffodils of the same division bloom at the same time, but it’s not true for the trumpets. White and pink trumpets are in the same division as yellow ones, but the varieties I know bloom later than common yellow types like Dutch Master.

A lot of times people refer to these early yellow trumpets as “King Alfreds”, but this king is a pretender. If you read the fine print, you will see they are actually called “King Alfred type” daffodils. The real King Alfred is an heirloom bulb which is no longer in mass cultivation, though you can find it in catalogues that specialize in antique and less-common bulbs. The official horticultural line is that the King Alfred types are an “improved” version of the old original.

I’m not sure about this. It often seems to me that what people mean by “improved” is that the flower is bigger. I don’t count this as an improvement by itself; often a bigger flower is less graceful than its smaller forebear, and improvers also tend to breed the scent and character out of flowers in the search for the bigger brighter new new new version.

And yes, I know this is a contradiction to what I just said about liking Dutch Masters over the smaller, more graceful Tenbys.

But to continue….I can’t really say that the real King Alfreds are better, because they’re one of the many bulbs I haven’t yet gotten. I don’t have an infinite budget for bulbs (in fact, many people would consider me crazy for the amount of money I spend on bulbs, considering my income), and the real King Alfreds are expensive. (Anything that is no longer in mass production is expensive. It’s unfortunate that these are the bulbs I’m often most drawn to.)

Whatever type of yellow trumpet you get, it will be amazingly trouble-free. Narcissi are forgiving: you can plant them very late (like, say, about now…) and they will still grow, though they might be blind (horticulture-speak for: they don’t bloom) one year to make up for it. It’s better if you give them bulb fertilizer occasionally, and good soil, but daffodils will keep on blooming and even spread under the most unkind circumstances. (I’ve given them that, so I know for sure.) Even better, no critters will eat them, because all narcissi are poisonous. (Before you get on my case for using the latinate plural, think about this: how good does it sound to hiss “narcissuses”?) The only thing most divisions of narcissi can’t stand is being too wet. They rot.

I’m enjoying my innocent yellow trumpets while they last. It’s a good thing that I love the cheap and reliable Dutch Masters, because when it comes to white trumpet daffodils, I care deeply about getting only the most beautiful (which are, as fate would have it, expensive). As you will soon see. References:“Foolish…hobgoblin” quote:R.W. Emerson, “Self-Reliance”—which I pulled from Bartlett’s Quotations.To be honest, I’d never realized this was Emerson—though it sounds like him. A nice guy, but given to Pronouncements.I had known about the “foolish” part, though—this quote is often rendered, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” You can impress your friends with this esoteric tidbit. Or not.

Here’s the larger quote in Bartlett’s (Familiar Quotations, John Bartlett, Little, Brown, & Co., 1980 (fifteenth edition), pg. 597): “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do….Speak what you think today in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said today.”

I’m thinking of adopting this as my blog Mission Statement.

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Daffodil Planter March 17, 2009, 9:23 am

    Pomona, Excellent defense of the vitality and appeal of this Narcissus. Thank you also for your cogent explication re King Alfred. When I see a bulb catalog advertising “King Alfred bulbs” I immediately conclude that the owners are fools with whom I do not want to do business. Not that it will make a huge difference to their bottom line :-)

  • Pomona Belvedere March 17, 2009, 1:39 pm

    DP, if you approve my writing on daffodils, I feel I’ve indeed done it right! (And you are sadly right about the purveyors of false King Alfred.)

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