Tuesday, May 13, 2014

She turned to the sunlight

She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.”  ---A.A. Milne

By William Cole

Goodbye snow and icy sheen, welcome sunshine and the garden queen.

'Confidential' Daffodil
Yes, daffodils along with roses held a place of royalty in the England of my childhood.  I well remember the public rapture over daffodils that filled town halls and tents at fetes and shows each spring.  Visitors ranging from coalminers to clerics, their faces whitened by sunless winter, would stand transfixed, staring in hushed silence before these carpets of yellow. They would lean to within inches of the blooms to examine perfectly formed trumpets and petals, looking for they knew not what. The air was heavy with an exquisite scent, and whispered fascination.

Few but the exhibiters were familiar with the hybridization and nurturing of these gorgeous blooms.  All we knew is that we wanted to accept William Wordsworth’s invitation to: “Come visit me sometime. My flowers would like to meet you.”

Later, as an apprentice reporter on a weekly newspaper in Hertfordshire – one of what they call the home counties near London -- it was my job to attend these daffodil shows, pick up a list of winners and write a report for the paper. And while routine might best describe my results-heavy accounts, there was nothing unmoving about the blooms that inspired them.

'American Idol' Daffodil
I had fallen hard for daffodils during that time in the 1960s. Gardening was and is an English obsession.  Daffodils and other flowers could be found on every scrap of ground whether it be in small rented gardening allotments of the not-so-affluent or the sweeping estates of the aristocracy.  People with no land grew flowers in window boxes, even soap boxes.

Former Beatle George Harrison may have startled his American fans when he said, “I’m not really a career person. I’m a gardener basically.”  And he proved it by turning the grounds at his country mansion into a masterful showplace.

There are thousands of gardening amateurs like him, me included in a less ambitious way.  Though not a particularly knowledgeable gardener, I’ve always had what might be considered run-of-the-mill daffodils on my property.  But I became familiar with more elaborate species by spending hours strolling through the parks and gardens that dot the English countryside. I visited the famous Kew Gardens and much later the incredible Missouri Botanical Garden.

'Cedar Hills' Daffodil
Regrettably, my close association with what I now know to be Narcissus went on pause for many years. That is until Feb 12, 2013 when I found myself at a Master Gardeners meeting in Owensville, Mo., on Feb 12, 2013. There I watched an illustrated presentation by Cynthia Haeffer, the illustrious president of the St. Louis Daffodil Society, about a trip she had made to New Zealand to view an aficionado’s amazing garden.

I was so impressed that not long afterwards I joined the society and began my first venture into what for me was the complex world of hybridized daffodils.  The society’s Bulb Exchange in the fall propelled me into paying attention to the various divisions and varieties of bulbs and recording and planting the ones I had selected.

How did I arrive at my novice picks? Well, I’ll admit to shamelessly leaning on the phenomenal knowledge and experience of Jason Delaney and David Niswonger.  I paid careful attention to Jason’s descriptions of the available bulbs and I parked myself next to Dave during the exchange to observe and to seek advice on the kind of bulbs he would recommend.

'Bald Eagle' Daffodil
I did have some general ideas about the colors and divisions that appealed to me – the white and pink of Phantom, the all-white Bald Eagle and the pale yellow and white Smooth Trumpet; the miniature multi-headed blooms of Kokopelli and Suzy; the dramatic orange-and-yellow contrasts of Tom Terrific and Menehay; and the pure yellow appeal of Confidential and Crackington.

How did I do when spring arrived?  Moderately well for a first-timer, I’d say.  I got to see blooms from just about all the bulbs I had planted. Though I didn’t have the expertise to judge the blooms’ formations, I knew which ones appealed to me simply by color and beauty.

Several of them produced only one bloom, most notably my Phantoms even though I had plenty of them planted in various areas of my yard.  Only three bulbs produced no blooms. They were: Waynes World and Mike Pollack, which would have had yellow petals and orange cups; and the above-mentioned Crackington, which produced buds that never came to fruition, probably frozen by our severe winter.

'Judea' Daffodil
Most unfortunately, only two of the five classic bulbs that I got at the event came to bloom. Mara, Gunsynd and Ida Mae produced foliage but no flowers.  But Judea, with its long pale yellow cup and dramatic white petals, and Merlin, with its small yellow and red trumpet and large white petals, were well worth the wait. 

I bought metal markers from Jason to identify my plants, and Cynthia graciously printed out some waterproof labels to attach to them. I even had a couple of passers-by stop to look at my daffodils and compliment me on my efforts.

'Kareka' Daffodil
However, nothing is more frustrating than compromising one’s own efforts by making the simplest of mistakes through inattention and inexperience. In order to spruce up my yard, I decided showcase my daffodils by manicuring the grass with my riding mower.  My pride turned to dismay when I noticed small flecks of grass on some of my blooms. And I couldn’t remove them without risking damage to some of my favorites, Smooth Trumpet in particular.

Moreover, I wanted to catalogue my blooms by shooting high-resolution photos of each of them. I often wondered why some members of the society had invested in larger cameras with traditional lenses and viewfinders. Now I know.  It’s virtually impossible to properly focus a small digital camera, especially with a bright sun shining on the large panel viewfinder. Such photography, I discovered, is largely guesswork.

Additionally, I failed to check the resolution of the images once they were in my camera. Shots that appeared to be acceptable in the viewfinder appeared horribly out of focus or overexposed once they were enlarged.

However, that kind of painful experience serves to prevent such oversights in the future.

'Menehay' Daffodil
In short, mine was a great spring for a novice. Each of my blooms was a revelation, a thrill, providing a much-needed escape from winter’s darkness, and providing me with the energy to work toward greater results next year. 

It’s not hard to understand why daffodils can make poets of all of us.

“O Lovestar of the unbeloved March,” wrote Sir Aubrey de Vere many years ago, marveling at daffodils pushing through the snow. 

Lovestar indeed!  If only we could gaze upon you all year long.

'Lost in Flora' Daffodil'Traveling On' Daffodil















Daffodils that William selected at the 2014 Bulb Exchange are listed below;
Ida Mae 2W-OOY
1968
Merlin 3W-YYR
1956
Gunsynd 2Y-OOR
1966 Wm Jackson/Aust.
MIKE POLLACK
8Y-R
WILD TURKEY
1Y-R
CRACKINGTON
4Y-Y
MARA 9W-YYO
1961
JUDEA 2W-P
1968 O’More
LOST IN FLORA
2W-WPP
TWILIGHT ZONE
2YYW-WWY
THREE OAKS
1W-Y
OREGON PIONEER
2Y-P
TOM TERRIFIC (INT.)
11aY-O
SUZY
7Y-O
SANDY COVE
2Y-GWP
BALD EAGLE
2W-W
DYNASTY
2Y-R
WAYNE’S WORLD
6Y-O
IVORY GOLD
1W-O
KAREKA
2W-Y
QUEEN’S GUARD
1W-Y
CAROLINA GOLD
2Y-O
CEDAR HILLS
3W-GYY
SMOOTH TRUMPET
1W-Y
KOKOPELLI
7Y-Y
TRAVELING ON
2YYW-WYO
AMERICAN IDOL
2W-R
MENAHAY
11aY-O
CONFIDENTIAL
2Y-Y
PHANTOM
11aW-P
UNCLE REMUS
1Y-O

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