By Susan Morgan
Each year, the National Garden Bureau selects a bulb, annual, perennial, and edible as the featured plant of its category. This annual list can invite horticultural therapy practitioners and clients to research and experiment with new and heirloom varieties of these garden staples and, as a result, inspire practitioners’ efforts to keep activities fresh and interesting. Here, we take a deeper look at one of 2017’s picks – the daffodil – which is featured along with pansy, rose, and Brassica vegetables.
Also known as jonquils, narcissus, and sometimes paperwhites, daffodils are among the reliable harbingers of spring. With bulbs planted in mid fall to early winter depending on climate, daffodil foliage first emerges from the ground in late winter before trumpeting its cheerful and ephemeral blooms across the garden. Daffodils are members of the Amaryllis family and range in size from just six inches to more than two feet tall. Bulbs naturalize in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8(9).
Native to parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia, daffodils have long been treasured in gardens across Europe, particularly in England where they are also referred to as Lent lilies. In fact, when European settlers immigrated to America, women – who had limited room for personal luggage – reportedly sewed their beloved daffodil bulbs into their skirt hems to plant later at their new homes as a reminder of their native homeland (National Garden Bureau, 2016).
The plant’s botanical name is inspired by a young Narcissus, from Greek mythology, who fell in love with his reflection in the water. “The nodding head of the daffodil is said to represent Narcissus bending down and gazing at his reflection” (Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, 2016).
Bulb planting in the fall garden. Planting dormant bulbs in fall provides a powerful lesson in delayed gratification. In late summer, begin researching daffodil varieties and hunting for spots to plant them in the garden – in the ground or in containers. Cultivate a collection of interesting and unusual daffodils, such as ‘Professor Einstein’ with its tiny, carrot orange cups, the ruffled beauty ‘Tahiti,’ or the pint-sized ‘Tete-a-Tete.’ At planting, take a close look at the bulbs, noting their texture and identifying the bulb parts. In spring, a daffodil cut flower competition offers clients the opportunity to observe the similarities and differences between varieties and have a friendly contest amongst peers. Experiment with pressing daffodils and other spring blooming plants in plant presses.
Forcing bulbs indoors. Most daffodils need a cold period to bloom. However, paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta) don’t need this in order to produce flowers. Bulbs can be forced to grow indoors in water and soil, adding much appreciated color and fragrance in wintertime. Indoor dish gardens incorporate bulbs planted around large stones and topped with preserved mosses (optional), with enough water added up to the base of the bulbs. Or, add a generous layer of decorative pebbles, tumbled glass, or marbles to a glass vase or canning jar and set a paperwhite bulb on top. Fill the container with water until it reaches the underside of the bulb. Maintain water level at the base of bulbs, and watch the roots grow over the weeks. Bulbs bloom in four to six weeks. Stake and tie leaves and bloom stalks together with a decorative ribbon to reduce lodging.
Floral arranging. Across various cultural traditions, daffodils have come to represent friendship, rebirth, good fortune, and wealth. Its spring bloom time can be used as the bridge to a conversation about new beginnings. Let the creativity flow with floral arrangements or tussie mussies made using daffodil flowers cut from the garden or purchased from the florist. Incorporate other cut spring flowering bulbs, branches, and seasonal embellishments into arrangements or bouquets.
Caution: all parts of the daffodil have toxicity. Some selections also have a strong fragrance that may be unpleasant.
National Garden Bureau, The Year of…
Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Narcissus pseudonarcissus
Southern Living, Guide to Paperwhites