The obliging daffodil.

All things green.
Sept. 27 2006 1:11 PM

In the Company of Daffodils

The obliging and uncomplaining flower.

Click here for the latest installment of Slate's guide to planting a beginner's garden.

Daffodil. Click image to expand.
Daffodil

Here is what is true of almost every green thing you plant: It will die, or it will do well and take up four times as much space as you planned.

The exception, thanks be, is the daffodil bulb. It takes effort to kill this flower, and growing it from a bulb is the closest thing in ornamental horticulture to a 100-percent guarantee. If you have never turned over a square centimeter of soil in your life, you can still succeed. Nor do daffodils take up a lot of room. They'll bloom and make your heart sing, and then the leaves will yellow and slump down to nothing. And the following spring they'll do it all again, obliging and uncomplaining.

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According to the American Daffodil Society, you should have ordered your bulbs last April (for delivery in September) after attending a few daffodil shows to see what colors and shapes you like.

Relax, now is fine.

You need not go to a show. You can run a search on the Web and call up a picture of any daffodil, from the big bright obvious trumpets ("King Alfred" and "Carlton") to the lovable miniatures ("February Gold"), and the subtle whites ("Thalia"). Over the last couple of centuries, about 12,000 varieties of daffodil have been developed by the hand of man from the original wild narcissus, native to the Mediterranean.

Speaking of making the heart sing, a brief digression by way of William Wordsworth. His famous poem, as you remember, begins, "I wandered lonely as a cloud … " So our poet appears to be alone. First problem. In fact, he was with his sister, Dorothy, on the walk in question.

He sees

"a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils … "

Now he has some company, albeit silent and floral. Then the second verse begins. The daffodils are

"Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:"