I was 4 or 5 years old in Grafton, Vermont, when I discovered a daffodil that a previous owner had planted by our stone patio and outdoor fireplace by our farmhouse. Almost 70 years ago, I was very taken by the only brightly-colored growing thing that we had in April! Much later I wrote this poem;
I was 5 years old
when I first gloried
in my discovery
that daffodil buds,
force their way up
between and through
rocks, clay, sod
of wet-packed leaves,
to bare their bulging
This early love of daffodils guided me toward creating a small gardening business in the years that followed. More and more, I crave being in the sunshine and breathing fresh air. I grew up farming with my family on three Vermont farms in southern Vermont. As I got older and I saw more of the darker side of life, I’ve been drawn toward my parents’ original dream of “the simple life.” It is what they wrote about between 1939 and 1941, in their impassioned letters from Cairo, Egypt, to Beirut, Lebanon, then known as “the Jewel of the Mediterranean.”
In my wool and spinning business, I have always prided myself in using every tiny bit of wool, yarn, thread and fabric (that others would have thrown away) and turning these bits into felted cat balls and other useful products.
Well, I do the same with my gardening business. Most people put out a lot of money buying new bulbs each year and get one year of growth out of them. Each kind of bulb has a different ability to come back, year after year. Daffodils are much less fussy and much more resilient in our climate than tulips, for example. Tulips need certain specific conditions to come back year after year. Daffodils, jonquils and narcissus need good soil, enough space and plenty of sunshine. They grow and grow and multiply each year and give you more and more and more bulbs and flowers. Last year I cut between 2,000 and 3,000 stems. It may be more this year.
I sell the cut flowers beside Route 100 in South Duxbury, using an honor system. During the pandemic, people showed even more appreciation than before to be trusted and to not have to go into a store to buy flowers. Some folks told me that they can’t find places to buy them.
Most people plant some of these bulbs and leave them to grow in one spot. If you leave them in one spot too long, they will no longer bloom because they choke themselves out. They become so crowded that they do not get the nutrients that they need to grow large enough to bloom. I do something different from what many people do. I dig and divide and dig again and divide, and then put them in rows, spaced a few inches apart so that they will have the room they need to multiply, which is what they want to do. I also weed them, as well as I can, and put compost over them each fall. If they stop blooming, or bloom less, it is a sure sign that they are too crowded or they are growing where it is too wet. Being too dry can also be a problem.
Experts will tell you to plant bulbs in the fall. That is correct if you are buying new bulbs. Fall is the best time to plant those. If you wait until fall to dig and divide clumps of daffodils, the foliage will be impossible to find. I dig daffodil, jonquil and narcissus bulbs whenever I want or need to; almost always it is when I can see the green leaves above the ground. Of course, it is best to choose a cloudy, cool or misty day. Another good time is just before nightfall and always follow the dig and transplant with a good watering. I also take care to dig deep enough to get the whole bulb/bulbs and try not to nick them. If you do injure the bulbs they will still grow just fine. You can wait until after they are finished blooming, but you don’t have to.
Many times, I’ve dug daffodils after the buds have developed, but the flowers haven’t opened yet. I put three to five bulbs in a pot with good potting soil and water them well. If I can afford the time, I give them a few days to get used to living in the pot. If I don’t have the time, that’s okay. In this form, they make great, inexpensive gifts! They finish blooming in their pots in people’s homes. What I like best is that daffodils, jonquils and narcissus make people happy, and when they buy some to give, they get happy twice!