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Dreaming of Daffodils

Christine Dann
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March already — and time to dream of daffodils. During the last month, the warm colours in my garden have come from the roses ‘Buff Beauty’ and ‘Graham Thomas’ (the best yellow rose ever — with him you’d be pleased to be jilted). There have also been the achilleas ‘Fire Beacon’ and ‘Terracotta’. ‘Fire Beacon’ is a pleasant deep rose pink fading to shell, ideal for planting among yellow roses, whereas ‘Terracotta’ is something else — a hot burnt orange fading to old gold. Then there are some stunning dahlias that grow 1.5 metres tall with flower heads up to 20cm across. The flowers have red-on-gold centres and pale-butter outer petals.

But by June all this floral warmth will be gone, and the long wait for the first yellows of spring will ensue. Better get ready and buy the daffs now. I have been painstakingly comparing four catalogues (Daffodil Acre, Joy Plants, Kaydees Lifestyles and Taupaki Bulbs) for the best deals. Daffodil Acre is far and away the best for choice, in daffodils and in some other special bulbs — but it is not the cheapest. Joy Plants has a great South African selection to choose from, the best deal in bluebells and the hoop petticoat daffodil, Narcissus bulbicodium, and they also boast the glorious 2 metre tall Himalayan lily, Cardiocrinum giganteum. Kaydees has a good deal for daffodil connoisseurs who want the original poet’s daffodil (they sell it as ‘pheasant eye’) and is very economical for bulk tulips, freesias and crocus. Taupaki Bulbs have a good selection of the more common bulbs, and are the best for Dutch iris.

Taupaki Bulbs have also just started selling the organic wherewithal to keep your bulbs growing strongly and free from pests and diseases. Their range of organic garden products, which they say they have tested on their commercial bulb crops with excellent results, include a liquid seaweed soil concentrate, and a natural seaweed fungus/viral/aphid spray made of seaweed brewed with herbs to combat against blackspot, mildew, white fly and aphids. There’s also a garlic spray to repel slugs, snails, aphids, codling moth, cabbage butterfly and fruit fly. I’ll be giving them a go — especially as derris dust is no longer the best organic way of controlling cabbage butterfly, which is turning my broccoli leaves into green lace at present. You can ring Taupaki Bulbs on (09) 412 7760 (0800 285 271 if outside Auckland) or visit/write to them at 167 Taupaki Rd, RD 2, Henderson, Auckland.

With so many bulbs to choose from, how does one begin to decide what one needs? (As opposed to what one wants, which is just about everything, up to and including the rare and stunning Chilean blue crocus, Tecophilaea cyanocrocus, a connoisseur’s item at $18 a bulb for a 10 cm plant.) The local climate and soil must always be the first consideration, of course. Bulbs are like diners on pease porridge — some like it hot, some like it cold. Predictably, the heat lovers come from warm parts of the world like southern and northern Africa, while the chilly types come from the northern and southern extremities of the globe. Nature has kindly made bulbs in all colours, sizes and shapes from all parts of the world, so don’t despair if you can’t grow red tulips from Amsterdam, and try a dramatic blood lily from Africa instead.

But beware of the particular trap that lies in wait for the buyer of cheap bulbs — the mixture. The mixture (of all colours and forms of one particular species of bulb) is a good way for growers to sell bulbs cheaply, without the extra care and hence cost required to keep up adequate separate stocks of guaranteed colours and varieties. This can be a very good deal for the buyer if a mixture of colours and varieties is desired for a cheerful display in a bed with no particular colour theme. But for the gardener who wants to naturalise bulbs (drifts of bluebells under budding trees, clumps of daffodils in orchard grass, windflowers (Anemone nemorosa) as a carpet for a woodland) the mixture must be anathema. Bulbs do not naturally grow five different varieties in one clump! At the opposite end of the natural/unnatural spectrum the formal gardener must also be wary of mixtures. Tulips planted in solid blocks of a single colour look so much more striking than when the colours are mixed. (For nature does mix a little, if not as much as the bulb growers.)

So I’ve eschewed the cheap and cheerful daffodil mixtures and gone for lots of poet’s daffodil only to naturalise in the long grass, whereas mixed species crocus will be just fine for the edge of the lawn. You pays your money and you takes your choice…

Reader reply:

I was interested to read your comments about bulk buying of Daffodils and Tulips...........I have recently been bitten by the bulb bug at 72 it has been a joy to select lots of named lovelies this planting season. In the end, I weakened and bought a "naturalizing" mix of Daffodils as well as some "mixed" Tulips..... these have all been planted with the same care as those bought with "names". But the difference is they have been planted as singles and I hope to mark them when they bloom to select those I wish to keep. You can have no idea what a pleasure and extra anticipation these mixed offerings have given. No doubt many will not bloom this coming season and others will be disappointing but I like to believe there will be some that are as satisfying as the more costly acquisitions. I believe that these bulk buys may bring a lot of fun and enjoyment.
I found your site interesting, thank you,

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