THIS IS for beginners in gardening, people who would rather like to do something but who have no idea what, and who do not yet understand the children's milk money may well be diverted to the garden.
People who are only lukewarm about gardens, in other words.
The most important thing for them to do this September is to acquire a few daffodil bulbs. These will be sold in all garden shops, hardware stores and no telling where else, beginning about Labor Day.
The cheapest kinds that I have thus far noticed are sold in mesh bags. They are mixed; that is, there may be 20 kinds of daffodil flowers in a sack of 25 bulbs. They are a good buy, especially for new gardeners who simply are not organized enough to sit down in May and write for daffodil specialists' catalogues and order them for fall delivery.
Now the Dutch are preeminent in the marketing of bulbs, including daffodils. It is fair to say that the most beautiful daffodils have been raised by the British, and most notably by the Irish, but for the gardener who is not prepared to order them from specialists they might as well not exist, for they are never seen at stores.
The Dutch varieties, compared to the greatest English ones, lack refinement of proportion, often lack great stems and great substance, and if this is so you may wonder why I recommend buying them.
Because they are there. They are, moreover, extremely showy in the garden, and I have noticed at daffodil shows that new gardeners often prefer them to the others.
In general, a Dutch variety -- that is, bred by Dutch hybridizers -- has a disproportionately large and flashy cup. The perianth, the flat row of six petals, is usually waved instead of perfectly flat, in Dutch varieties. The Dutch prefer large flashy flowers that make a brave show. The Dutch taste in daffodils runs to Cadillacs, you might say, rather than first-rate walking horses.
It is only proper, once a year, to hit them on the head for their lack of elegance, and to offer annual prayers that they will turn to the Irish ideal of crystalline texture, purity of color, and daffodil virtue in general.
In the meantime, for God may move slowly in answering the best prayers, it is the Dutch, not the Irish or English or Americans, who have brought daffodils to every gardener in Christendom, and some of their daffodils (I well remember 'Red Frill' two springs ago when it outdid itself) can be of superb quality.
And even when they're not, when they leave something to be desired in perfection of individual flower, they are gorgeously bright and sweet to see in a good spread under apple trees. Or, more realistically, by the side of the garage or at the edge of shrubs bordering the alley.
Now it is often said that in the garden the daffodils should be grown in distinct clumps or drifts of one variety at a time.
But to my mind they are equally enchanting when grown all mixed up, all the different sorts cheek by jowl. If you take a bag of mixed daffodils from Holland and plant them 8 inches apart just as they come from the bag, you will find the effect pretty enough to satisfy any reasonable person. I have done it myself, with the cheapest sacks I could find at hardware stores, and am here to insist the result was just fine.
I noticed several flowers of 'Rushlight' among the mixed bulbs, a lovely yellow daffodil with a cup that turns ivory-white, and some extremely pretty (perhaps Irish) yellow daffodils with neat well-proportioned scarlet cups. Along with big whites with huge yellow saucer cups, and yellow trumpets with wavy perianths and on and on.
And I thought, viewing the results of these mixed varieties, what a fine introduction to daffodils they are, for any gardener who has seen only the small early nearly wild daffodils that are sold on the streets in crushed bunches.
Often gardeners find a narrow strip on the alley side of the fence in their tiny town gardens, sacred to garbage cans and hell-bent mimosa seedlings. In such a strip a few patches, or indeed a solid thick row, of daffodils would do much to improve the public airs of April.
When I walk my dog I am always pleased to see the alleys fringed here and there with hollyhocks, daylilies, Job's tears and other overflows from the garden inside the fence.
Gardeners have freely received. As the wit said, ripe apples drop about our heads. It is not too much to hope gardeners will plant a few daffodils and other oddments where the public at large can see them along the alleys, or in front of the house here and there, for the general glorification of the capital and the general pleasure of the elevator-bound.
Planted in a sunny or half-sunny spot, with the bottom of the bulb 7 inches beneath the surface, the daffodil will grow and bloom contentedly for 10 years, in many cases, without the least bother. If, on the other hand, the bulb is dug up in June every third or fourth year, it will be found to have increased in a highly gratifying way. Those bulbs are then kept dry and as cool as possible (short of putting them in the ice box) and planted again in September. In this way, after surprisingly few years, the gardener acquires plenty of daffodils.
One bulb produces one to three flowers the first spring, and I counted the flowers the third year from a single bulb. Regrettably, I have lost those notes, so the point is a bit dulled. But from 'Royal Orange,' a rather flashy Dutch variety, there were something like 40 flowers, an incredible number, and from 'Falstaff,' (an Irish red-yellow flower of approved form) there were 15. Usually you would expect about 10 or 12.
So that just one bulb will form a nice clump of blooms in just 2 or 3 years.
The new gardener must remember that there are still night frosts when the daffodils bloom, beginning in mid-March
Bright flowers then are worth more to the winter-starved than any feast in June.
Occasionally someone writes to say he has planted a few thises or thats because of my yammering on and on about them, and been enchanted beyond measure. As, of course, I knew he would be.
But many flowers -- roses, irises -- require a great deal of attention and labor, and cannot be merely plopped in and left to face the future alone. They need a little help (they require constant agony) from their friends if they are to make it.
But the daffodil. Presumably Eden was planted pretty solid with them, since Adam clearly was not much for work, yet the garden is said to have been glorious. So it must have been daffodils.
In the steps of that distinguished forbear, then, we should plant daffodils first of all. Hell, I have figured out, is the place where there is nothing but ginger lilies, bougainvilleas, oleanders and allamandas. The day may come for the gardener that -- but meanwhile there are daffodils.