The Simple Pleasure of Daffodils

By: Richard G Turner Jr

Richard G Turner Jr is the editor emeritus of Pacific Horticulture. After receiving degrees in architecture and landscape architecture from…

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Daffodils in the editor’s childhood garden: Narcissus asturiensis, barely five inches tall (above), and N. ‘White Lion’, a double from the 1940s (below)

The Simple Pleasure of Daffodils

For decades, I’ve wondered if the folks staffing the mail-order desk at Grant Mitsch Daffodils in Oregon realized that the fellow ordering one each of two or three different Narcissus cultivars was only eleven years old.

Daffodils were among the first flowers that I learned by name as a child, and I was excited to be spending my meager allowance for those few bulbs each year. There was something magical—even mystical—about planting bulbs in the fall, as the leaves were falling all around. There was also an immense amount of trust placed in those brown, papery-sheathed bulbs—especially for a child—that they would appear five months later and brighten our garden. Finally, there was the thrill of watching the shoots break through the half-frozen soil and lingering snow, and burst into bloom in the hazy sunlight of a Michigan spring.

Bulbs such as daffodils were wonderfully dependable in that cold climate. As landscape architect for the University of Michigan, I worked with student volunteers to plant thousands of daffodils on the campus each fall, carefully selecting those cultivars that could be counted upon to flower during final exam week at the end of the winter term. The campus glowed in optimistic yellows, oranges, and whites.

I’m delighted to have the two articles by Donn Todt and Lucy Tolmach to anchor this January issue. As Donn and Lucy explain, daffodils are even more dependable here on the West Coast—perfectly adapted to our many versions of a mediterranean climate, and often lasting for a century or more where planted, especially when undisturbed by development.

Though my passions now lean toward the somewhat more challenging bulbs of California and South Africa, daffodils remain among my favorite spring flowers. Seeing the first shoots of all these bulbs, spearing soil moistened with the autumn rains, still gives me a thrill.

Given the distractions of the twenty-first century, I wonder if any kids, today, spend their allowance on the simple pleasure of a handful of daffodil bulbs.
Richard G Turner Jr