Plant Daffodils And Narcissi NOW, And Tulips Very Soon
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

November 1, 2015

Typical bed of daffodils at an arena complex in Nanaimo; ‘February Gold’ miniature daffodils growing in one of our deck containers. Below, potted tulips growing in the garden near our main bench; Parrot tulips growing in one of the many displays at Keukenhoff Gardens in The Netherlands; and a newer par-rot tulip, ‘Barbados’ which is newly released. Author photos.



In past years, I've planted Spring-flowering Dutch (and Canadian and British) bulbs as late as a few days after Christmas. In fact, if there is little or no frost in the ground even in early January, you can still plant Spring-flowering bulbs and have them perform well in just a few months. Well, at least that applies for most bulbs including tulips. But, it does not apply for daffodils and the other narcissi. These latter like to get a good root system established before the ground freezes and therefore the last week of October is a good "artificial deadline" for the planting of daffs and their close relatives.

As regards those two names--daffs and narcissi--in Holland the professional nurserymen who grow the bulbs call them narcissi, and in England they're called jonquils, but here in Canada most people know them as daffodils. There are 12 separate divisions and more than 8,000 cultivars of "daffs" and no one could possibly get to know them all. A number of the major ones are considered musts for a distinctive colourful planting--especially if you have a slightly shaded area--possibly beneath some large trees such as maples. Some daffodils bloom as early as the fourth week of March, others as late as May. If you select carefully, it's possible to have a progression of daffs in bloom throughout the entire spring season. Daffodils are a good investment because they flower year after year and spread with age.

Miniature daffodils, that grow only 15 to 25 cm (6 to 10") tall, are ideal for rock gardens, inter-planting among shrubs, or with low-growing tulips, hyacinths and grape hyacinths. For a naturalized look, gently toss handfuls of bulbs in a wide arc, planting them where they fall. Early-blooming cultivars 'Tete-a-tete' and 'Minnow' are two enchanting and dissimilar miniatures. 'Te-te-a-tete' has lemon yellow petals and a matching centre cup, and 'Minnow', white petals and a pale yellow cup. Another best bet miniature is 'February Gold', a deep yellow.

Taller-growing cultivars--on 35 to 40 cm (14-16") stems, are the Tazetta, small-cup and, double divisions. Good choices in this group are Tazetta 'Geranium', a sweet-scented cultivar which produces five to six blossoms on one stem. Its petals are cream coloured with a burnt orange cup in mid-April. The small-cupped 'Barrett Browning' is highly recommended for naturalizing; it has pure white petals and a burnt orange cup, also in mid-April. 'Cheerfulness', a double-flowered daff, blooms in May; its sweet-scented, many-petalled flowers are white with variegat-ed shades of yellow, and the favourite of many southern Ontario gardeners.

The Trumpet and large-cup divisions offer the tallest-growing daffs of all, with stems reaching 45 cm (18"). Almost all of these bloom in April; the bright yellow Trumpet 'Unsurpassable' personifies the poetic image of the sunny daffodil. Its counterpart is the all-white cultivar 'Mount Hood'. Large-cupped 'Ice Follies' appears in mid-April too; its petals are frosty white and the interior of the frilled cup is dusted in pale yellow. Another choice trumpet is 'Goblet', its petals are cream white, topped with a golden yellow cup. In the large-cupped division, 'Professor Einstein' is an outstanding one. The petals are pure white, the cup a hot, orange-red.

Now, don't forget, all these beautiful daffodils SHOULD be planted in October, and at least by early November.

I've found that specialist bulb dealers offer the widest choice in bulbs, along with the knowledgeable advice needed by those new to the planting of bulbs. And, contrary to what some may say, many garden centres also offer better prices on bulbs than some of the chain stores. If you are comparison shopping, be sure the bulb size is the same; and have a garden centre person such as the garden centre manager advise you on the pros and cons of the different sized bulbs.

Daffodils and narcissi only do well if they have time to put out roots before the ground freezes solidly. While that does not apply to tulips, it is not an excuse for gardeners to delay getting and planting those bulbs as well.

With a little care in selection, you may now enjoy a tulip garden in bloom throughout the spring. Your garden can include early, mid-season, and late-flowering tulips which will allow you to stretch your "personal tulip time."

The earliest of tulips--the very early-flowering types--are among the most fascinating. They are the classes known as Kaufmanniana, Fosteriana and Greigii. My personal favourite early tulip is a Fosteriana known as 'Red Emperor'. Early flowering tulips include the Single Early and Dou-ble Early. The Single Early are single cupped in form, and come in a rainbow of colours that makes them more popular today than at any time in their 300-year history. I suggest you include one very old variety known as 'Keizerskroon' for sure. Double Early tulips have large, widely open double flowers which makes them excellent for mass plantings.

Midseason tulips to choose from include the Triumph and Darwin Hybrid classes. All of these bloom at approximately the last week of April and on into May. The Darwin Hybrids are especially fascinating, a fine achievement in the history of the tulip. They have the largest flowers yet produced and provide a striking effect in the garden with their many brilliant shades: orange-scarlet, golden yellow and carmine, for example. Be sure to include 'Apeldoorn' from this classification.

Late flowering tulips, formerly known as Darwin and Cottage, and now reclassified as Single Late, bring spendour to the garden in May. Darwin tulips, named after the great botanist, are important historically as the first few bulbs imported from Turkey to Western Europe were of essentially this type. They have large-cupped flowers distinctively squared off at the base and top of the petals. Darwin tulips come in a wide range of colours, all with a distinctive satiny texture. These make excellent cut flowers and may also be forced in pots indoors. I like the wine-red 'Halcro' in this class.

Also among the late-flowering tulips are the lily-flowered which actually look like lilies and are the most graceful and elegant of garden tulips. Plant a grouping of at least two dozen 'West Point' for a bright patch of yellow.

The Parrot tulips--a particular favourite of mine--have fringed or wavy petals; be sure to plant the red mixed with white 'Estella Rijnveld'. They will make an ideal focal point in your garden.

Finally, in this class, the Double-Late varieties. Try, for example, 'Angelique'. These resemble peonies so much that they are called peony flowered tulips.

There are still many tulips that I have not mentioned. If you have a rock garden, many of the Species tulips will provide something just a little different in the way of a spring show. Consider 'Orphanidea Flava', with unusual bronze flowers, striped green on the outside, and an inside of lemon-yellow which shades to red. This is just one example of the many available. Do your bulb shopping soon. These unusual varieties often sell out early!

According to the Dutch flower bulb industry, in recent years, pastels are taking the spotlight. The soft look in a natural setting is becoming more popular. Instead of placing tulip bulbs uniformly (side by side like soldiers) the current preferred look for some, is to plant bulbs in clusters or drifts of five, seven or nine (odd numbers look better than even). The apricot-coloured tulips 'Douglas Baader', and the so-called pink daffodils with their pale salmon or peach centres, such as 'Apricot Beauty' and 'Salome' are favourites, especially when combined with other bulbs such as Galanthus, Leucojum and Muscari. These bulbs will naturalize well, that is, will bloom year after year and multiply over time, creating an informal scene as if Mother Nature had planted it herself. The most important point to remember is to buy your bulbs from a reliable garden centre or specialist bulb dealer, where not only a wide selection of the largest bulbs is available, but also good advice on how to plant them.


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