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
Merlin 3W-YYR
Gunsynd 2Y-OOR
1966 Wm Jackson/Aust.
1968 O’More

Monday, May 12, 2014

2014 Volunteer Dedication Award

Every year the Missouri Botanical Garden honors it's volunteers with a nice reception and awards event.  This year the Dedication Award was given to Lynn Slackman, past President of the Greater St Louis Daffodil Society and current Marketing/PR Chairperson for the American Daffodil Society.

The Dedication Award is bestowed to a volunteer who comes in on a regular basis each week and is conscientious about the tasks performed, accepting assignments that are not major undertakings but are essential to the program.

Lynn Slackman with awards vase
The following write-up was read by Lynn's horticulture supervisors, Sophia Warsh and Sara Murphy, at the awards ceremony;
Lynn volunteers in the North Gardens and is also a Garden Docent.  She has been a Garden volunteer for 18 years.  In the Bulb Gardens, Lynn has worked specifically on the annual labeling of the Lilium collection.  Because of her in-depth knowledge of lilies, she is one of the only volunteers who can assist in this capacity.  She has also helped with transplanting lilies and has introduced new techniques for staking lilies and other bulbs.  Lynn is thoughtful and inquisitive and has been especially supportive of some of the new collections development projects that demand a lot of prep work before the results are apparent.  She is the official Chair for the 2016 World Daffodil Convention that will take place in St. Louis.  Lynn's wide-ranging activities make her a great Garden ambassador.

Lynn was surprised and honored to receive this prestigious award, and looks forward to continuing her volunteer efforts at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Collaboration Produces Colorful Palette

Do you sometimes catch yourself wondering, “Would a massed daffodil planting work there?”

I was caught up in this thought several times when departing the parking lot at the Gasconade County RII School, where my Master Gardener classes are held.  Directly across from the Owensville High School, on MO Hwy 19 stretches a very nice, slightly sloping right-of-way, which ironically happens to be comprised of very good soil not typically found in Gasconade County.  What a perfect location for a mass of daffodils.

Upon contacting the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) to discuss planting this area, I was informed that such a planting met the criteria for a MoDOT Growing Together beautification program.  So, I met with our local MoDOT road supervisor to discuss the current mowing practices and schedule, the feasibility of such a planting and where a sign could be placed to recognize the planting,  should it occur (currently, MoDOT has a mandatory seasonal mowing of 15ft from the road’s edge by May 31, with the remainder of the right-of-way getting mowed after  July 1, to provide the necessary habitat for ground-nesting birds).  The delayed mowing area was an ideal location for the planting site, as it would provide the daffodil foliage ample time to mature for next year’s bloom.  An application was submitted and eventually approved, the site was planted, and a sign was erected honoring the Greater St. Louis Daffodil Society, the Gasconade County Masters Gardeners Association, and the Owensville High School horticulture classes, each of whom played an integral role in the endeavor.

Fulfilling a community outreach clause in our organization’s by-laws, the Greater St. Louis Daffodil Society provided the bulbs used for the display, procuring them from local Midwest daffodil growers Oakwood Daffodils, in Michigan, and PHS Daffodils, in Missouri.  The Gasconade County Master Gardeners Association also has a goal to support the local community through volunteering. The hours earned by planting were eagerly put toward maintaining the Master Gardeners’ required yearly hours.  And Ms. Sherry Byrnam’s horticulture classes at the Owensville High School provided much enthusiastic support with students planting and working very efficiently to complete the project (as it turned out, a day out of the classroom to plant daffodils was really a lot of fun!).

Everyone involved enjoyed the project, and the community now reaps the benefits with a colorful palette of springtime daffodils for many years to come.

Bloom results from planting

For more information on how you can support the roadside planting, please contact the Greater Saint Louis Daffodil Society (www.stldaffodilclub.org) or the Gasconade County Master Gardener’s Association.

This article also appeared in the 2013 Summer Edition of The Daffodil Rave newsletter.

By Cindy Haeffner, President, Greater Saint Louis Daffodil Society
Member of Gasconade County Master Gardeners