The bulb catalogs begin pouring through the mail slot in August, but they gather dust until the end of October, when I get around to thinking about planting some spring bling.
Daffodils are probably the bulbs that give the most impact and biggest bang for the buck. Squirrels don’t dig them up, and deer don’t eat them. They’re often more perennial than the other major bulbs like tulips, and they are quite eye catching. This is fantastic when they begin to bloom in early April, but the hairy underbelly of the big daffodils is their coarse, strappy foliage that sticks around until after the Fourth of July, getting uglier and messier all the time. Cutting off the leaves starves the plant of energy it needs to store to bloom again the following year, so you just have to stare at the awful leaves until they finally give it up and go away.
Anyhow, those big trumpet daffodils aren’t my favorite for most home landscapes around Philadelphia. They’re so . . . big, and kind of in your face. They also tend to look most impressive from a distance. And since I don’t have a meadow or sweeping arboretum-like vista, I prefer to plant the smaller, less swaggering daffodils. I’ve experimented with a bunch of these, and here are a couple that I enjoy growing and that seem to like our area:
One of my favorites is Hawera, which is only about eight inches tall. Unlike the big solo daffodils there are a couple of flowers on each stem, and they’re quite fragrant. The foliage looks like long blades of grass and the whole plant quietly melts away when it’s done blooming.
If you don’t like bright yellow, try Minnow. Its scalloped flowers are pale cream with a slightly more yellow center, and the whole effect is very soft and sweet. It tops out at about a foot tall.
One of the bigger daffodils that I do actually like is Thalia. It is the old fashioned Orchid Narcissus and is very fragrant the way that white flowered plants so often are. The flowers are about 16 inches tall, but the plant itself isn’t too beefy for a small garden.
Gardening sages advise planting bulbs in the next few weeks, but in my experience as long as the ground hasn’t frozen, bulbs will succeed even if planted in the beginning of December. The downside of procrastinating is that some varieties sell out, but the silver lining is that you get great deals the longer you wait- at least fifty percent off.
The big payoff, of course, will come in the spring. Imagine how happy it will make your withered senses to see and smell such beauty after a long winter still yet to come.