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Saturday 23 August 2014

'And then my heart with pleasure fills. . .'

Published 24/02/2013 | 04:00

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THE first daffodils are in flower, and they always gladden the eye, generating an excitement that never wanes. Soon their magnificent chorus will be everywhere, because this, one of the best-known flowers, is grown in so many gardens and public spaces.

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Native in Britain and Europe, it is not native here, but climatic conditions are so similar, not surprisingly, it does well. There are lots of different species, besides the basic daffodil, all narcissus species. There are several small alpine species, native of high mountain meadows in Europe. Many of these have been crossed with larger species, providing varied colours and flower shapes and sizes.

Daffodils are easy to cross-breed and grow readily from seeds, so it is fairly easy to try your hand at breeding. Historically, there have been several world-famous daffodil growers in Ireland and still today there are active breeders.

In general, daffodils are either fairly plain in shape and colour, or fancy with frills and double-flowers of various sorts. It is best to use the plainer, more simple flowers in a natural setting and keep the fancy kinds for flower beds.

The fancier hybrids do not flower as well when faced with competition from grass, or trees overhead – they need good soil and plenty of sunlight. The hybrids are larger and more colourful but not as natural in appearance as the original wild species.

Avoid mixing the varied colours – daffodils always look better when grown in groups of their own kind. Do not plant in straight lines or circles, especially around a tree, something that is often done, but always looks unnatural – especially for such a natural, unspoiled flower.

If daffodils have been planted in the wrong place, the bulbs can be moved just as flowering ends. To move daffodils, complete with green leaves, dig up the clump with a fork or spade and move them, or break up the clumps to spread the bulbs over an area of ground.

While daffodils grow well under the light shade of tall trees, they tend to flower less in shade and the bulbs will weaken and die as the shade gets too heavy: this is another reason for moving them.

In general, daffodils are very long-lived. They have some pests and diseases but generally seem to survive. Over-crowding and shading, and occasional pest and disease attack, can reduce or even halt flowering. Moving the clumps or feeding with a general fertiliser might be enough to give them a boost and bring back flowering.

Irish Independent

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