Narcissus pseudonarcissus at RHS Garden Rosemoor

Every plant has its moment of glory, when it’s the star of
the garden.  I’m going to be delving deep
and finding out everything I can about these gorgeous plants.

In March we herald the start of Spring with a burst of
sunshine from the glorious Daffodil. It belongs to the Amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae), which includes alliums, agapanthus and snowdrops. There are over 27,000 registered hybrids and a recent DNA study has shown that there are 36 species.


Darling of the nation, the sunny yellow daffodil is revered by most and longed for as winter turns to Spring. Found across Europe and North Africa, in a wide variety of locations from rocky hillsides to damp woodland, they are as prolific in Spain and Portugal as they are in Britain.

Daffodil-lovers, or narcissophiles, are divided as to whether the daff is actually a native or whether it was in fact naturalised here long ago by the Romans. I’m inclined to think the latter could be correct; let’s face it they introduced so many of our greatest and long-lived treasures.

Native or not, Narcissus pseudonarcissus (the Lent lily)  and Narcissus obvallaris (the Tenby daffodil) are both considered British natives to all intents and purposes and still flourish on our hillsides, roadsides and in our gardens.


My favourite version of the legend of Narcissus tells us of a love-sick nymph called Echo who pined away for love of a young Greek called Narcissus until nothing but her echo could be heard. The Gods took revenge for her loss by cursing Narcissus to fall in love with his own reflection and he died gazing at himself in the water. Daffodils grew where he lay.

The Daffodil is also the National emblem of Wales, replacing the pungent leek by Victorian ladies who took against its smell as a buttonhole to wear on St Davids Day.

Narcissus bulbocodium at RHS Garden Rosemoor


The story of the Daffodil is almost as full of strife and intrigue as the tulip, with tales of huge amounts of money changing hands for the best varieties. Breeders and hybridisers created numerous new species and eventually, in the 19th Century, it was decided that a system of classification was needed. This may look complicated but basically splits the daffs up into shapes and sizes and number of cups (coronas), creating 13 divisions as follows:

Division 1: Trumpet

The cup length on these is as long as or longer than the
petals. There is only one bloom per stem. 

Division 2: Large-Cupped

The cup length on these measures more than one third of, but
less than or equal to the length of the petals. One flower per stem. 

Division 3: Small-Cupped

The cup length on these measures not more than one third of
the length of the petals. There is only one flower per stem. 

Division 4: Double

These have one or more flowers to a stem, flowers have a
clustered cup and petals.

Division 5: Triandrus

These have two or more bell pendant  like blooms per stem. 

Division 6: Cyclaminaeus

The flower heads on these hang at an acute angle to the
stem, with a very short neck.

Division 7: Jonquilla / Apodanthus

These daffodils have small very fragrant flowers with flat
petals, and  narrow and reed like
foliage. There are usually one to three blooms on a stem.

Division 8: Tazettta

These fragrant daffodils have clusters of florets (usually
more than three) on a stem and. The foliage and stem are very broad.  

Division 9: Poeticus

These have pure white petals. The cup frequently has a green
(or other colour) centre surrounded by yellow with a red rim. The flowers are fragrant,
usually one to a stem.

Division 10: Bulbocodium

Enlarged trumpets give these it’s common name of the
‘hoop-petticoat daffodil’. Low growing and best suited to a pot or alpine bed.  

Division 11: Split-Corona / Papillon

These have a split corona usually for more than half its
length. Also known as Orchid-flowering daffodils.  

Division 12: Dwarf

Miniatures have the same descriptive divisions as standards
only with smaller blooms, usually less than one and a half inches in diameter.  

Division 13: Botanical

These are Narcissi distinguished solely by botanical name.  

Hellebores and Narcissus at RHS Garden Rosemoor


Daffodils are pretty easy to buy, grow and nurture. They follow certain planting rules but get those right and your plants will reward you with many many years of happy plants, bulking themselves up in the process. What more could you want from a bulb!

They are happy in most soils, other than completely sodden and can take full sun to partial shade. Put them in with the pointy end upwards, best in September but can be done from August to November at a push. They need to be planted at the correct depth, which means that where they sit in the soil you could imagine two other bulbs being planted above them - this constitutes the commonly used but often misunderstood ‘3 times their depth’!

Once the flowers start to fade, look droopy and a bit tatty, snap off the developing seed head so that the plant concentrates on drawing all of its energy back into the bulb. This doesn’t apply however to ones that you want to naturalise, they should be left to set seed.

Leave the foliage alone, yes it will look ropey and annoy you a bit but leave well alone as all that energy is being channeled back into the bulb. This will take about 6 weeks, at which point the leaves will be looking pretty yellow and then you can chop it off or simply mow if they’re in grass. NEVER tie them up in pretty knots ( I confess I used to do this long ago as they looked so much nicer!) for the same reason that you are stemming all that flow of super-juice! Cutting the leaves off too early is also one of the main reasons daffodils go ‘blind’ or stop flowering, so go with the messiness for a just a while longer! Planting the bulbs too shallow is the other main reason for blindness.

If you want to bulk up your daffs in different areas of the garden, after they’ve flowered simply lift the bulbs, separate them into individuals and replant.

Daffodils are also happy in pots, making them perfect for the urban or balcony garden, where you can make layers of planting using later bulbs or sowing annuals on the top.

Pests and diseases

Daffodils do occasionally suffer from diseases such as rot and fungal problems and are also loved by slugs but I’ve never come across any that have failed completely if planted and cared for correctly. If you are worried about your daffodils check out the RHS plant advice. 


Closing thought

I love the fact that a simple bulb can grow, flower, increase and thrive for many many years, making the daffodil a star plant for me.

Happy planting x

Photo credit: Natalie Ashbee

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