sarah's favourite narcissi varieties
Watch to discover Sarah's champion narcissus varieties for early colour, for picking and for grass.
I had a lovely go last night at picking one stem of every single narcissus or daffodil that we grow at Perch Hill, and you can see we’ve got quite an array – over thirty – and I just love them but I thought it would be worthwhile just going through which are the best for picking, for early, for grass, and then some new personal favourites.
So, the first lot that are the early ones are here, and actually this is a champion for early, and I’ve been picking this one this year since my birthday which is the beginning of February, and it’s still flowering away now in April, and that’s the thing, a lot of these varieties that have been bred in the last twenty years are actually bred to go on flowering, so they don’t just come up and flower once, they keep on producing new stems over several weeks, if not months, and that’s this variety which is ‘Avalanche’ and it’s a classic example of that. It’s a really really cracking form.
And then a few others, similar, multi-headed, lovely scent, this is right at the end of its’ season now and so there’s just one flower head at the top of the stem, it actually normally has four or five. This is called ‘Cragford’ and I love it. And then another with beautiful scent is called ‘Erlicheer’, and that you can see it’s like a sort of powderpuff of a narcissus, and it has got wonderful perfume, really amazing, and a good vase life. And then three classics for early, this one is ‘February Gold’, which is probably my least favourite, but it does reliably flower in February. This is the classic that everybody grows, and it is wonderful, called ‘Tête-à-Tête’, and more unusual and exceptional I think, is this crazy starburst called ‘Rip van Winkle’. So those are all really reliable earlies.
for the vase
Then very reliable for the vase, again, got to be ‘Avalanche’, which is just an absolute cracker, and I also love Narcissus ‘Geranium’, that in fact used to be called the florists’ narcissus because it has such a good vase life, and that’s of course what you want for picking, and all these will give you at least a week in the vase if you keep them cool, and also you want lovely scent for if you’re bringing them into the house, and this one particularly, called ‘Trevithian’, is scented as Stephanotis, and that’s bred in Cornwall, an absolute beauty. And then you couldn’t talk about picking narcissi without talking about the pheasant’s eye group. So this is ‘Actaea’ which is the early-flowering pheasant’s eye, and then you go on to ‘Recurvus’, into the later part of April and into May.
for growing in grass
Then ones for grass, a real personal favourite here is ‘W.P. Milner’, and it really highlights for me the importance of delicacy in grass because you want it to look like you’d see them in nature, and this is really delicate, and it has a lovely delicate leaf which is silvery-grey. You don’t want the chunky ones with the big strap-like foliage, because when they die back, they look really awful, so whereas when these die back they’re sort of delicate enough to look fine. I’m always looking for sort of chive-like flower in a way.
And then this is again classic, which is ‘Actaea’ which I’ve already mentioned for cutting, that’s brilliant for grass, as is ‘Recurvus’. ‘Sailboat’, another really delicate, multi-headed one with fine stems, and then these two are very similar, and I often have to get the book out to actually differentiate. This is ‘pseudonarcissus’ which is the classic, wild, native daffodil that Wordsworth wrote about. This is ‘Jack Snipe’, they’re very similar, this is a little bit smaller and finer flowered, but they’re both really fantastic for grass, and naturalise very very well and will gradually fill an area of grass.
And then finally some new-found personal favourites for me are… this one which is so delicate, it’s like the most beautiful wild daffodil that you’d find on a Cretan hillside, with a terrible name of ‘Xit’, but spelt X I T, and this one is ‘Kokopelli’, and both of them have delicious scent, but that is absolutely extraordinary perfume, you can see there aren’t very many yellow daffodils here, but if they’re here it’s because they really have incredible perfume and that one really really does.
And into the more controversial ones, these newly bred varieties that have pink grapefruit coloured perianth, that’s the perianth in the centre of the flower. And this one is called ‘Charming Lady’, and I really love it, and interestingly I actually asked one of my daughters which she liked best and she said that one, so I think they’re quite sort of on trend. And then finally, lots of people will hate these, but I’m rather falling for them, these sort of absolutely mad powderpuff varieties, these fully fully doubles. This one’s called ‘My Story’ with again sort of pink grapefruit colouring, but these make rather spectacular cut flowers, you have to stop thinking of them as a narcissus and start just thinking of them as a cut flower.
So what an array, and how could you have March – well February – but March and April without narcissi, they’re just the mainstay of the garden here.