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Autumn Planting, Spring flowering : Narcissus (Daffodil)

This article discusses bulbs: the history, uses and occasionally the philosophy that surround the humble bulb.

Narcissus (or Daffodils) are without doubt the most popular bulbs in the British garden, distinctive, cheerful and easy to naturalize, they now come in many forms and colours different to the traditional yellow cup.

But where did it get its name?

Narcissus, in Greek mythology, was the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope. He was distinguished for his beauty. According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book III, Narcissus’s mother was told by the blind seer Tiresias that he would have a long life, provided he never recognized himself. To cut a long Greek tragedy short, he fell in love with his own reflection in the waters of a spring. He either pined away, or killed himself (depending where you read the story); the flower that bears his name sprang up where he died. The story may have derived from the ancient Greek superstition that it was unlucky or even fatal to see one’s own reflection and daffodils that have naturalised near water served as a warning to children to stay away for fear of meeting the same fate as Narcissus.

This myth actually serves gardeners as well, it tells us that daffodils like lots of water; which is why they do so well in Britain. They are easy to naturalise and grow in the UK with sizes ranging from minute 6" Téte á Téte to larger 1.5ft cultivars. It is worth remembering that both the bulbs and flowers are poisonous so avoid planting them if you think children or dogs are likely to try eating them!

King Alfred Daffodils are one of the classic cultivars, with strong stems and broad bright yellow flowers, they are one of the cornerstones of the garden.

Not every daffodil is yellow and single flowered. There are a number of white flowered and doubled cultivars, the most popular is Cheerfulness, a scented double Narcissus that comes in both white and yellow.

This is a great alternative to the traditional Narcissus, it is long flowering and has a fantastic scent with a poached egg flower.

It is one of few scented daffodils which gives it a niche in gardens with little space as it pulls double duty and grows well with other plants nearby.


Daffodil bulbs are traditionally planted mid to late September, this gives them a long cold spell and the slightly moister conditions of early autumn is beneficial to starting them off. Bulbs can be planted later however they tend to slowly deteriorate over time when stored out of the soil, so check any bulbs you pick are firm with no sunken tissue.

Planting depths should be about 2-4 times the depth of the bulb, going deeper in colder climates. If you can, mulch the surface (straw works well) to protect emerging young tips from cold dry winds that could otherwise cause cosmetic damage.


Narcissi are very easy to look after, In the spring take away the mulch you used to plant (if used) and let them grow! A feed of high potash food is beneficial but not vital for flowering but don't use it until buds are forming. Keep the soil slightly moist because in dry conditions the flowers can sometimes abort.

After flowers go over, they should be removed to encourage re-flowering in the next year and leaves should be left up for 6 weeks after flowering. This is the most important time to feed plants, and should be fed with a balanced feed such as growmore or vitax Q4 for best results.

Daffodil bulbs can be planted in the lawn to great success but remember where you planted them because stepping on them in summer can compress the soil around them and cause poor flowering in the future.

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