I always enjoy getting inundated with seed and garden catalogs around the first of the year, but my second favorite catalog season is late summer, when the bulb catalogs start hitting my mailbox.
In addition to several mail order bulb companies, online companies also fill my e-mail box with advertisements for their latest offerings of everything from ornamental onions to daffodils, especially if I've ordered from them in the past.
This year, one little narcissus caught my attention from the John Scheepers catalog called "Baby Moon." Advertised as a scented Jonquilla, this little flower is canary yellow and only grows seven inches tall. That makes it perfect for planting in rock gardens or as part of a front border. Most narcissi will grow 16 inches or taller, allowing them to stand out in any spring garden, but a low grower is a treat.
Of course, there are other dwarf varieties too. Van Engelen Inc. sells miniature trumpet daffodils called "Little Gem," "Small Talk" and "Topolino." While I like daffodils as well as the next person, my heart belongs to the Jonquilla. And there's a reason for that.
Both jonquils and daffodils belong to the genus Narcissus. While most people simply look at the flower with its ray of petals surrounding a tubular cup and call it a daffodil, there are distinct differences.
Although daffodils and jonquils are both narcissi, that term is most commonly used to identify those clumps of white flowers that grow from bulbs we love to put in shallow dishes on wet stones. These plants are lovely indoors, but some people claim (including my husband) they have an offensive smell. As far as outdoor daffodils and jonquils, it is easy to tell them apart. Daffodils grow one flower per stem, each trumpet surrounded by six petals. Jonquils, on the other hand, are more slender and delicate, with several flowers emerging from each stem. They have a sweeter fragrance and are often shorter at only 14 to 20 inches.
There are several varieties of daffodils, but the most favored is "King Alfred." Registered in Holland in 1899, this tall, large flowering plant was said to cost almost as much as several homes combined. But the "King Alfred" we know isn't likely to be the same flower that grew way back when. Several improved versions have been cultivated in the past 100 years and although these varieties were given new names, those of us in the U.S. can't bear to give up the King Alfred moniker. So Holland is kind enough to send us large bulbs that emerge as large flowers in spring, still named "King Alfred," although in Holland, they now call them "Dutch Master," and claim they are stronger, better and a more improved version of the original "King Alfred." We don't care.
Nowadays, you can get quite a variety of jonquils to enhance your garden experience. White with pale pink trumpets, pale yellow to butter yellow to bright sunny yellow, and of course, all white flowers too. Some varieties have large cups while others are quite small and barely resemble cups or trumpets at all. Some varieties, such as "Katie Heath," developed by Brent and Becky's Bulbs of Virginia (and named for Brent's mother), has ivory hued petals that surround a large cup-shaped center in varying shades of apricot and pink.
The genus Narcissus was named for a character in Greek mythology. Narcissus was the son of the river god and was known for his beauty. He was promised a long life, but only if he never looked at his own features. Another mythological character, Echo, fell in love with Narcissus, but he rejected her. She got even by luring him to the river where he caught a glimpse of his own reflection. He quickly fell in love with his own reflection and refused to leave the river, constantly staring down at himself. Some myths say that he eventually faded away and in the place where he disappeared, the narcissus flower grew. Aren't flowers fun?
Of course, if a person is narcissistic, it denotes someone who has an excessive degree of self-involvement to the point of not being able to see past his or her own needs.
If you need those plants in your garden - and who doesn't? - you will need to plant the bulbs in the fall before the ground freezes. The rule of thumb in planting narcissus is to plant them three times their height.
All Narcissus bulbs need a cool period to stimulate bulb production. The bulb is not dormant at this time. Even though temperatures are freezing above ground, there is still a lot going on down below. They are spending their time growing roots and ripening the flower buds. The cooling period usually lasts about 12 weeks. Once the plants flower, the leaves should be left to die back naturally. Many people can't tolerate the yellowed leaves, but a good way to mask them is to plant daylilies with narcissus as the leaves are similar and will hide the offending foliage. Like daylilies, narcissi enjoy full sun, but will tolerate a small amount of shade.
So get going and order those bulbs. You'll regret it next spring if you don't.
Evanoff is a Master Gardener with The Ohio State Extension of Trumbull County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.