FROM LABOR DAY to Thanksgiving is the time to plant spring-flowering bulbs, and I prefer September for daffodils and crocuses, October for hyacinths and November for tulips.
It is sometimes said daffodils should not be planted until October - September is supposed to be too warm. But September planting of daffodils gives that much more time for the roots to grow before bitter weather.
In March and April nothing is more cheerful than patches of daffodils in front of houses, where passersby can enjoy them. Even five or six daffodil bulbs go far to make that contribution.
The two most important rules for the gardener are these:
1. Plant bulbs. Nothing else in all gardening produces such fine results for so little work.
2. Let the leaves die down naturally after flowering. Do not cut them down in the interests of neatness.
This may be the place to say there is no such thing as a green thumb, which is hardly necessary in gardening and which might not be attractive.
The important thing is to plant things that will flourish and arrange them so they give what you think is a good effect. It is fairly clear, probably, that daffodils by the tens of thousands look fine in meadows, old orchards and expressway slopes in Rock Creek Park.But that does not mean that in a 25-foot garden daffodils should be broadcast in great sweeps or that (since there is not space for many) they are therefore not worth growing.
Assuming the town gardener is not going to make any great study of daffodils or exert himself to acquire any sorts that he cannot find at a garden center, I suggest these as a reasonable group for small town gardens.
'Tete a Tete' - a first-rate little rich yellow daffodil usually with two blooms on a six-inch high stem. The petal segments sweep back just a little, not as much as mules' ears in a moment of anger, but just a trifle. A clump of six bulbs, spaced four inches apart, in a spot that catches the spring sun (at the edge of a box bush facing south, say) will provide two or three weeks of surprising delight in early March.
Daffodils in the garden should not be cut, not that it hurts the plant in the slightest, but simply because cut blooms may last three days, while the identical blooms outdoors may last three weeks.
It is sometimes said, "My clump of Ceylon was in bloom for a month," and in some springs that is no exaggeration at all.
In the first place, 'Ceylon,' like 'Sun Chariot,' is a particularly long-lasting flower. But all daffodils last much longer on the plant than in vases, and this is equally true of tulips.
I am horrified to see magnificent plantings of tulips in front of embassies in which all the flowers are cut just as they come into full perfection. People sometimes simply do not realize tulips, which look delicate and luxurious, may last more than two weeks (in individual bloom) in the garden.
If there is room enough, it is fine to have a few rows of daffodils, hyacinths and tulips grown just for cutting, but it seems poor planning to get only two days' pleasure from a flower by cutting it, instead of two weeks of color in the open garden.
After 'Tete a Tete,' a clump of perhaps five bulbs of 'Spellbinder.' This is yellow trumpet (like what people call 'King Alfred') only a sulfury yellow with a good hint of green in it, and after a few days the inside of the trumpet fades to almost white. It is almost always one of the first large daffodils to bloom, and I have several times known clumps of this variety to be colorful for four full weeks.
'Binkie' is similar in coloring but has a large cup rather than a trumpet, and it blooms later. Like 'Spellbinder' it is a very good grower indeed and multiplies more rapidly than most.
'Orange Wonder' looks rather like a paper-white narcissus, the sort grown in bowls of pebbles and water. It has maybe seven flowers on a short stocky stem, somewhat lacking in grace.
It sends up more than one stem per bulb. The yellow-centered white flowers are extremely fragrant, and it blooms modertely late in the daffodil season, lasting well in the garden. I do not like to say it lacks refinement, because 99 gardeners out of 99 1/2 will like it enormously, even those who notice its somewhat stumpy stem and congested inflorescence.
'Actaea' is an old standard white saucer-shaped daffodil with a red and yellow small cup, blooming on the late side and nicely scented.
Of the white trumpets likely to be sold at garden centers. 'Cantatrice' is the best, and 'Mount Hood' is all right if you don't look at it too closely or compare it with silky high-quality flowers like 'Cantatrice.'
On the whole, the ones I mention are perhaps the best, in my view. The best yellow saucer-flower with red cup is 'Ceylon,' which for some reason is rarely offered. The vaguely similar 'Scarlett O'Hara' has weak stems, fades badly in sun and heat, and has a few other defects in comparison with 'Ceylon' but is nice in a mass, and 'Red Rascal' has a graceless cup which fades and in some year does not turn red but remains orange, and does not last any too well, but at its best is cheerful and bright with a good sturdy stem. If I could only have a few I think the ones I mention down to 'Actaea' are the ones I'd choose.
Finally, at the end of the daffodil season in early May, I would acquire 'Silver Chimes,' a strongly fragrant white cluster-flowered daffodil of exceptional waxings and polish. It does not like bitterly cold winters. Often, I have noticed, the bulbs sold as 'Silver Chimes' are not that variety, but it is among the most beautiful of all daffodils and blooms when most of the rest are gone.