NOTHING IS more agreeable than such early daffodils as 'Little Gem' and 'Little Beauty,' which chost about eight cents each, as I remember, inspiring me to invest in half a dozen bulbs of each sort.
They bloom when the weather suits them, sometimes in February, but this year not until the end of the first week of March. These are small versions of trumpet daffodils, a trifle rough and coarse, but fairly irresistible.
The flowers open when the stems are about two inches high, and remain open, of course, while the stem lengthens to a dizzy height of six inches.
A few days later - with me, March 10 - the bright, common and beautiful 'February Gold' flowers. This has stems about 13 inches long, and looks like a somewhat small (but not miniature) yellow trumpet daffodil. The texture of the flower is half wax, not so wonderful as the related 'Le Beau,' but waxier than average.
The petals reflex - sweep backwards - very slightly. The yellow has a good bit of green in it, but you may not notice this unless there are some strong yellow crocuses nearby.
The great thing about 'February Gold' and a few others, like 'Peeping Tom,' which is similar, is that the flowers remain open between three and four weeks.
Once for a period of a few years I did not grow 'February Gold' or 'Peeping Tom.' I took it into my head there were daffoldils more beautiful (and there are), but it gradually dawned on me something was missing, between the snowdrops and the first blooms of the dogwood, and I concluded it was the absence of these robust daffodils.
So now I have them again.
Another long-lasting daffodil that has, almost vanished from commerce, and which I miss nowadays, is 'Brunswick,' a large-cup sort that flowers a gew days after the ones I have mentioned, and which sometimes lasted in bloom outdoors ofor a month. It has white petals and a yellow cup that bleaches out a good bit, retaining a sort of lemon flush at the brim of the crinkled cup.
It has a grand disposition, and refused to rot, and it never seemed to be bothered by narcissus fly or nematodes or virus ailments, though that was probably mere lucky accident. Anyway, I regret the relative rarity of daffodils like this, the ones that have beauty, distinctiveness and vigor, all in one plant.
A fairly old white trumpet sort, 'Cantatrice,' has a way of getting basal rot so that you never know whether you are going to have it next spring. There have been many whit e trumpet varieties since this one was introduced but none more beautiful, perhaps.
The year the whit 'Empress of Ireland' was introduced, its breeder sent a bulb to a friend of mine, and we all went over to admire it. It had everything, I thought, except that radiance and tension that excites one in the most beautiful flowers.
I thought at the time it would probably turn into a fine workhorse of a daffodil. It can grow large, and often i displays much finer health than 'Cantatrice,' and I find myself thinking of it along with 'Mrs. E.H. Krelage,' 'Rozaane,' 'Mount Hood' - all of them just a bit gritty where they should be silky.
'Celyon' is a yellow with red cup that we all regarded as sensational 25 years ago, and a clump often provides color for a full month. There are newer and better ones like 'Falstaff' in this color pattern, but they are not all that much better.
Most gardeners, who do not make the effort to deal with daffodil specialists, wind up with 'Red Rascal' or 'Scarlett O'Hara' for their red-and-yellows, since there are Dutch varieties sold at garden centers. They are not very good daffodils, compared with 'Ceylon,' since they both burn in the sun, fade, lack fine stems and have not substance of petal to take bad weather.
The Dutch growers attach no particular importance to superlative beauty, I believe, and are quite content if a flower makes a great show at 50 feet and never mind the rest. On the other hand, the Dutch taste is a useful corrective to over-refinement. The trend in Irish and English breeding of daffodils has always led to utte utterness, if you follow me - a kind of preciousness in which a mystical beauty of the flower was everything, and its garden uses forgotten. A good dose of barbarism from outside is a corrective to this, and I think it unjust to say (as an English critic did) that Dutch daffodils tend to resemble pats of cow dung in a pasture.
Fair flowers are the object. Some of my best friends would be Dutch if I knew any, and I count it wrong to forget how the Dutch have developed the tulip and how they have mastered more than anybody else, the problems of bulb storage, propagation and other techniques so that prices are brought down.
At the same time, it is worth reminding the gardener that daffodils can have a beauty more complex and profound than the simple healthy, hearty, windblown good looks of daffodils in an old orchard. They can also have elegance and polish, and that high refinement that is always, of course, a bit threatening to us plain gardeners. I have noticed, strangely, that the grubbiest gardeners are usually the ones who first go wild for the most delicate daffodils, and who first notice the gulf between a superb daffodil and a good old boy of a flower.