Time to put my money where my heart is
When I was in college, I lived in a third-floor walkup with two fellow students. Whenever anyone shut the front door to the building, all the tenants felt the resulting vibrations. And we subconsciously monitored the sound of footsteps on the stairs, calculating in the back of our minds how likely was the prospect of company. Consequently, my roommates and I looked at each other inquiringly when footsteps going at a dead run did not stop at the second floor but continued up to our landing. Was the stair climber for us, or for our neighbors? Are you expecting anyone?
Our door rapped insistently, and I opened it to face the hugest bunch of flowers I have ever encountered. I don’t mean the individual flowers were huge, but the bouquet itself was so big two hands could barely surround it. On the other side of the bouquet was my fiance, just one month before he was to become my husband. He was breathing hard.
“Here,” he said between gasps for air. “These are for you. . . . They grow in our field. . . . I had wanted . . . to give you some . . . last year, but you went home for the summer before they were blooming.” A car horn honked from the street below. “Oh, that’s my dad. Gotta run. See ya.” He tore down the stairs as fast as he had arrived.
Barely contained in my fully extended fingers were several dozen Narcissus poeticus, in the same genus as the yellow trumpet daffodils I knew from childhood, and yet so different. First of all, they’re fragrant. I have since met up with yellow trumpets that have a faint perfume when I thrust my nose into the trumpet and breathe deeply, but the fragrance of poet’s narcissus is generous enough to carry on a spring breeze. Secondly, the poet’s narcissus doesn’t have a trumpet, but a shallow cup, making the six floral leaves of the perianth much more prominent. Thirdly, the demeanor of the plant is different, nodding gently downward as the mythical Narcissus must have gazed into the mirror-like water. Finally, the color is all different, none of this brash look-at-me yellow, but “petals” of purest white and a green-eyed, red-rimmed cup.
And how can I look at them without thinking of that young lover bounding up the stairs?
So I was greatly surprised several months ago to overhear this conversation between two offspring:
“What’s Mom’s favorite flower?”
Upon reflection, I realized how this grave misconception of their mother’s floral psyche could have occurred. I had been buying colchicums, planting colchicums, keeping records on colchicums, and blogging colchicums. In the case of narcissus, I had, for the most part, merely been dividing and replanting the ones I already had. But while colchicums stimulate my curiosity, narcissus had captured my heart long ago. Yet I had so many of the more common ones around that I took them for granted.
I decided it was time to switch obsessions.
It was time to indulge in some flowers that made me sigh with their exquisite beauty. I still wanted something out of the ordinary, but I wanted to evoke the romantic nostalgia and sweet fragrance of the poet’s narcissus. And I knew exactly where to start shopping.
I had come across David Burdick Daffodils (DBD) while searching online for some other thing that I no longer recall. I soon realized they had an amazing selection of narcissus, but as it was not the time to be ordering I bookmarked the site and went on. It is a testimony to how much the selection impresssed me that I went back looking for that bookmark more than a year later, when I decided my fall garden budget was going to be allocated to choice narcissus not much seen in gardens. The only difficulty would be in limiting myself to something less than one of everything. (And yes, I used a spreadsheet to help me decide.) These are the ones that made the final cut:
I don’t know where I saw a photograph of ‘Angel,’ but I know it was love at first sight. In the 1990s it was one of the more expensive daffodils–The Daffodil Mart was selling it for $28 for 25 bulbs in 1996. In 1997 I decided expensive or no, I was going to have some–and it was no longer listed in The Daffodil Mart. It was no longer listed anywhere. Eventually I wrote to Becky Heath (the Heaths owned The Daffodil Mart at that time) and she led me to believe that something catastrophic had happened and that it would be many years before it was offered again–if ever. So I saved the 1996 catalog as a memento of my loss, a reminder that it is possible to be too prudent.
And how delighted I was to find it among Mr. Burdick’s offerings! There was no doubt in my mind that it was going on the order form. In the photo, the cup looks pale yellow. However, the Daffodil Mart described it as “very large white/white with small cup that sometimes has a tiny yellow rim” and DBD lists it in the all white page: “Another heavenly pure white, green-eyed flower. . . . has a smaller crinkled cup which opens pale yellow before going white.” You can be sure I will be giving you my own impression.
“The purity of white in its petals lasts forever, and the green-eyed white cup has a rim that progresses through shade after shade of yellow until ending golden,” reads the DBD catalog copy. Whereas ‘Angel’s’ cup starts out yellow and fades to white, this one starts out white and becomes progressively more yellow. Also, it is supposed to bloom earlier.
According to DBD, “Large distinctive pear shaped bulbs produce rounded flowers with overlapping petals of the purest white. The frilled, bowl shaped cup is a drop of crÃ¨me-de-menthe in the center of a pad of melting butter.”
Once again, the DBD description: “Without a doubt the most rapid increaser of all the hybrid poeticus types we offer. The slightly reflexed flower form is very similar to Fanad Head’s, but Malin Head has an even more pastel-colored cup. Its wide zone of pale yellow seen upon opening soon washes near-white, retaining just the drop of jade green in the center and the thin coral red rim.”
Those are the lovelies I chose. But that was not all I found in the shipping box. I always make a point of writing down substitutions if I possibly can. True, I am sometimes after one particular plant, and only that one will do. But often I am on a binge, and can say, “If you don’t have double-flowered primrose x, give me another double-flowered primrose in this price range.” Even more often, I have to pare down my order in an agony of indecision, and I put all the “almost-made-its” on the substitution list. When you deal with the smaller growers, they often look at that list and give you something on it, even if they don’t need to substitute. Sometimes they have more on hand than they expected, or they feel the quality of what they are sending you is not up to their standards. On the DBD order form, I had written in the “Preferred Substitutions” space:
If any of the narcissus are sold out, please send another one of equal price that is white with a small cup. No pink cups. Fragrance is a plus.
Mr. Burdick sent me three extra bulbs.
Two of these beauties were included “to make up for small sized ‘Rimmon’ and ‘Angel’ – both victims of Oct. 2005 flood damage,” as the handwritten note on the packing slip explained. On his website, this bulb is tersely noted as a “Prolific bulb producer; great cut flowers. Late Mid Season,” but “Beautiful late small cup – not much fragrance” is appended by hand to the paper stapled to the bulb bag.
“To try with thanks” was the only explanation given for the inclusion of this bulb. I couldn’t find it listed on the DBD 2006 website, but the typewritten description on the bag said, “The first all-white hybrid to join our list of dependable garden jonquils for the northeast. Mostly two, but sometimes three, rounded and fragrant flowers per stem. The short cup opens with a lemony tone, which soon pales to match the clean color of its petals. Around since 1968, when Grant Mitsch of the U.S.A. introduced it. Precious few have since tried to supercede it.”
I have a lot to look forward to this spring; however, Mr. Burdick’s discomfiture at the size of ‘Angel’ and ‘Rimmon’ leads me to believe that they might not be blooming size this year. None of them have poked through the earth yet, though almost all my other narcissus have emerged at least an inch from the soil, which is still frozen in spots. This does not alarm me, as I am accustomed to relocated daffodils being a bit off schedule. Did you notice how many of them were described as vigorous, or good multipliers? I hope eventually to be growing some of these in larger groupings in less frequently mown areas, with plenty on hand for a bouquet for my DH.
How about you? Is there any flower that holds particular meaning for you?
Photo credits: Narcissus ‘Rimmon’ and ‘Vernal Prince’ photos by Anne Nigrelli, used with permission of David Burdick. The following photos were obtained from DaffSeek, a service of the American Daffodil Society, and used with permission of Nancy Tackett. N.’Angel’–Tony James; N. ‘Malin Head’–Kirby Fong; N. ‘Achnasheen’–Wells Knierim; and N. ‘Eland’–George Tarry.