Gardens & Conservatory

Plants & Collections

Daffodils: "Yellow Fever"

Thousands of charming daffodils herald spring at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. While many are massed in drifts along walkways to the Conservatory and the Nancy Roberts Pope Narcissus Collection, others are mingled among Easter lilies and hydrangeas in the Cottage Garden.

Did You Know?

Daffodils have been traced back to the eastern European and Mediterranean regions, with the first hybrids possibly originating in the sixteenth century.
• For best results, don’t cut daffodils from the garden. Pick them with a quick snap and then condition their hollow stems by placing them in warm water.
• It’s best not to cut spent daffodil foliage after the blooming season. Allow it to die back naturally so that vital nutrients can be sent to the bulb for the next year’s blooms.
• The alkaloid found in daffodil bulbs renders them poisonous, protecting them from being eaten by deer, rabbits, voles and other animals.
• Richmond gardeners sometimes can extend daffodil season from December through May by planting different varieties that provide succession blooming.

The following are excerpts from an article about the National Daffodil Show held in Richmond, VA in April of 2008.

By Tom Brinda and Lynn Kirk, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Published April 2008 in the Richmond Times-Dispatch

"People that attend the show will be blown away,” said Brent Heath, co-owner of Brent & Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, Va. “They’ll not only see several thousand daffodils groomed and sitting at perfect attention. They’ll be surprised at the fragrances when they enter the room. It will be quite an education.”

Heath, a third-generation daffodil bulb grower, also shared the historical significance of the American Daffodil Society selecting the commonwealth as the site.
“The National Daffodil Show is coming back to Virginia, where it all began in this country,” he said. “Colonists brought Lent Lily daffodil bulbs from Great Britain, planted them around the state and in time the bulbs naturalized, reseeded and spread. These Early Virginia daffodils, as they also were called, found Virginia’s moderate climate to their liking.

“In the early 1900s, my grandfather, Charles Heath, noticed the daffodil cottage industry in Gloucester and Mathews counties and decided to expand it, later shipping cut flowers by steamers to Baltimore and New York. By the Depression, those counties grew more daffodils than anywhere else in the world at that time. So the National Show is actually returning to the area where America’s daffodils got their start.”

Preparing cut flowers for long-distance travel
The National Daffodil Show presents prestigious awards, as well as significant obstacles for exhibitors traveling long distances. Imagine the challenge of transporting delicate, fresh daffodils for hundreds or perhaps thousands of miles. Though they may have been picked days in advance and shuffled among different temperatures and humidity levels, the flowers must arrive in pristine condition for the highly competitive show. Through the years, daffodil growers have fine-tuned their transporting methods so that prized specimens survive even a long haul.

Richmonder Patty Bragdon, who is a daffodil instructor, says one trick for the long-distance transport of daffodils involves baby diapers. After picking the daffodils, the grower conditions them in tepid water for six to eight hours in a dark place. The flowers then are arranged facing forward on water-soaked baby diapers, or sometimes wet floral tissue, secured with tape or rubber bands to prevent movement and bruising, sprayed again with warm water and gently packed in cushioned boxes. For those traveling by plane, which Bragdon estimates are a third of this year’s exhibitors, the boxes seldom are checked with the luggage. Rather, the “daffodillians” – as daffodil fanciers sometimes are called – board the planes with their floral boxes in tow. The exhibitors are challenged to keep the blooms uncrushed, moist and cool (preferably 40 to 60 degrees), as well as protected during mandatory airline security checks.

“Even after they arrive at the show, some exhibitors stay up all night caring for and arranging their blooms,” Bragdon said. “They won’t leave them.” Bragdon knows the routine and its benefits first-hand, as she and her husband, George, successfully carted her ‘Miss Grace’ daffodil specimens from Richmond to a show in Portland, Ore., several years ago. Their endeavors were rewarded with several honors, including a blue ribbon and the coveted British Award.

Are they really worth all the effort?

“Yes, because daffodils are joyful, uplifting and absolutely critter proof,” Heath said. “They announce spring and offer new surprises every day.”