Plants - Flower Bulbs

A nod to fragrant daffodils

Stephen Westcott-Gratton
Photography by
Jerry Pavia

Learn how to care for your narcissus and choose a few sweet-smelling cultivars to plant in the fall

“And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils”
—William Wordsworth (1770–1850), from "Daffodils"

From just the 50 or so species of Narcissus (native to Europe and north Africa), almost 27,000 registered daffodil cultivars have been developed during the past 200 years—most of them splendid examples of the diversity of nature coupled with human ingenuity and creativity.

Nearly all of the cultivars we grow today were bred during the first half of the 20th century—primarily in Holland—and the best of these were re-evaluated by the Royal Horticultural Society in the 1990s. Worthy varieties were given an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) rather late in their careers.

Where to grow
I have always preferred growing clumps of sweet-smelling daffodils under deciduous shrubs or in the lawn (creating a spring meadow look) rather than in flower beds, and this system works better than ever with some of the new low-maintenance turfgrass mixtures (e.g., Eco-Lawn) that often don’t need mowing before the daffodil foliage has matured.

Most cultivars are hardy to Zone 3; plant them deeply and mulch, and buy bulbs produced in colder climates to ensure hardiness. I plant extra bulbs for cutting so I can enjoy their scent indoors.

What’s in a name?
Daffodil aficio­nados have developed 12 divisions in an effort to manage a daft genetic muddle. They also have their own lingo for the floral structures unique to daffs: The trumpet (or cup) is called a corona, and the six petals that frame it are called the perianth.


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