Dancing with the daffodils

“I wander’d lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crown,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”

— William Wordsworth, in "Collected Poems," 1815

So goes the first verse of one of the most famous flower poems of all time. However, Wordsworth was actually walking along Lake Ullswater with his sister, Dorothy, on a windy April day in 1802 when all at once she spotted dozens of clumps of blooming daffodils, each flower calling out spring with a sunshine-colored corona shaped like a miniature megaphone.

The bright mass of flowers made quite an impression on Dorothy, who later wrote in her journal how the daffodils “tossed and reeled and danced … with the wind.”

Let’s give credit where credit is due. It was Dorothy’s excitement over the daffodils that inspired her brother to write his “I wander’d lonely as a cloud” poem, and it was Dorothy’s imagery of the dancing daffodils that helped make the poem one of the most widely read in the English language.

Now that I’ve set that record straight, I want to go on record as a daffodil devotee. Yes, they are springtime-ubiquitous in the Rogue Valley, and they are so easy to grow that one can hardly call it gardening. Some daffodil detractors say they are just too yellow, a criticism that is also sometimes aimed at the forsythia shrub.

Yet, Jerry and I were walking the dogs around the neighborhood the other day when I saw my first clump of blooming daffodils of the season. Like Dorothy, I was excited to see the flowers because they tell me spring is on its way.

The daffodils in my yard are not blooming yet, but I’ve enticed them by freshening up the soil bed with compost and adding bonemeal around the root zone of each plant. My established daffodils haven’t needed any additional watering during our dryer winter so far; however, blooms will last longer if the soil stays moist but well drained throughout March and April.

Once the blooms fade, it’s important to pick off the papery remains; otherwise, the plant thinks it should focus energy on creating seeds rather than the flowers. My daffodils bloom for up to a month, depending on weather conditions.

I don’t recommend growing daffodils to anyone who doesn’t also appreciate the flower’s strappy, spear-shaped green leaves because the foliage stays in the garden much longer than the flowers do.

In fact, daffodillers should wait until the foliage turns brown before removing it (about six weeks after the bloom period). If the leaves are cut back too soon or bound up with rubber bands, the plant will not be able to photosynthesize and store food in the bulb.

Daffodils will bloom for several years, but bulbs can be divided every four or five years before the dying foliage is removed. Replant the bulbs immediately, and they will bloom the following spring. I wait until the dead foliage easily detaches from the bulb before raking it out of the flowerbed.

Some gardeners use creative planting so the dying daffodil foliage is partially hidden by other plants. Other gardeners plant their daffodils in containers. Potted flowers have the advantage of mobility if they need to be placed in a different location. Daffodils bloom best in full sun, although they do fine in shade while dormant as long as the soil does not stay wet.

Daffodils are special to me because they are bright beacons of spring. I look forward to their bold color in my garden and agree with William (and Dorothy) Wordsworth who wrote, “And then my heart with pleasure fills/And dances with the daffodils.”

— Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at Rnowak39@gmail.com. For more about gardening, visit her blog at: http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/.

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