What has happened to Wordsworth’s daffodils?

By Richard Wright

Friday, February 15, 2013

 

What has happened to Wordsworth’s daffodils?

An absence of daffodils in Richard Wright’s front garden.

GARDENING CRIKEY! William Wordsworth would not have much to write home about these days if he looked in my garden for his material.

That poem, penned in the very early 19th century, was inspired, as we all know, by a host of golden daffodils.

In the midst of his wandering, he came across them and scribbled the second verse:

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

Well, if he had done his wandering in my part of the world this year that classic poem — probably the best known of any — would not have been written.

It got me wondering: Where have all the daffs gone?

A lot of those jolly community plantings that added blazes of colour and interest, and even my front patch where I had built-up a display of dozens of different varieties, are largely devoid of daffs.

Now, in my naivety, I thought if I Googled 'where have all the daffodils gone?’ I might discover the answer. Sadly not.

My own theory, and it is completely home grown, is it is no coincidence the season of almost nil narcissus is down to the appalling wet winter following the sodden summer.

Even free-draining soil, which daffs prefer, has become saturated as the water table rises, and I believe those hardy bulbs, which tolerate drought, rodents and disease so ably, have succumbed to rot.

The best promised display is at Springbank, on the free-draining banks near Newchurch, where the dazzling daffodil display is budding well.

General advice has always been that daffodil bulbs will not survive in soils that are wet, especially during the winter.

They appreciate deep planting, up to eight inches down, in light soil but in heavier loams with a clay base — such as mine — it is a good idea to half that and put a layer of mulch over the top to make up the difference, which is, again, just what I did.

But, clearly, whatever I had done would not have compensated for the extraordinary conditions which have done for my gorgeous Tete-a-Tete and the rest.

My theory is borne out by the fact three or four years ago I had several leftover bulbs from one of those cheap supermarket packs and, because it was easy, I thought I would pop them in a patch which has no soil. It was just an unpromising pile of leaf mould.

It was one of those 'if they grow, they grow’ type of plantings. But, in the damp, free-draining conditions, they grew and continue to do so, which tells me something in a year that some farmers have even had to give up keeping their prize herds because the land is too wet for them to graze

l I was asked why narcissi sometimes come up 'blind’ and, among the survivors this year, why there does seem to be more plants without flowers.

After flowering, the plants build up vigour for the following year and can take up to three months to reach dormancy as they do so. Hence, it is crucial not to chop off the foliage because that is vital and, likewise, available food is a factor too.

It could easily be that vital nutrients were leached out by the conditions and the bulb simply could not build up the energy needed to blossom.

I would be very interested to know gardeners’ daffodil tales from other parts of the Island. As ever, I can be reached at richryde@tiscali.co.uk or at the County Press, Brannon House, 123 Pyle Street, Newport PO30 1ST.

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