An Appreciation of Daffodils

May 7, 2019

Credit L. Lerner

I never thought about daffodils very much before I `moved to Martha’s Vineyard.

In Sydney, where I grew up, winters weren’t cold enough for bulbs, and daffodils were an exotic rarity, seen mainly in florists’ shops.  There, spring’s herald was a very different yellow flower—the pollen-heavy wattle sprays that bloomed against the brilliant blue late-winter skies, signaling that the mild days that passed for our cold season would soon be over, and that the hot beach days were on their way.  

Later, I lived for a while in Virginia, a place where spring is a sudden, intoxicating riot, and everything seems to bloom within minutes. You didn’t have time to notice the daffodils because the tulips and the azaleas promptly upstaged them.  

On the Vineyard, it’s different. Spring, when it finally deigns to make an entrance, take the stage at a stately pace. Here, daffodils are soloists.  Arriving to great applause, they get a seemingly endless overture.   

There are weeks when it seems that they’re the only flower in bloom. So of course, you come to appreciate them more.  Every year I look for new varieties and plant them beside the stream or in the field.  That first Trumpet, often bursting open when the snow still carpets the ground, is a sight to make the heart sing, the steps a bit more jaunty.  Then come the split cups, with their blousy ruffles; the fine-foliaged Cyclamineus, the fragrant Tazettas, pure white Thalias and droopy headed Hawera.  My favorite is a raggedy, asymmetric-petaled bloom, green-tinged.  Ubiquitous on the oldest island farms, it’s an heirloom variety, rarely seen in any catalogue.

Vineyard spring is a tease. It usually snows again in April; big fat heavy flakes that throw a winter blanket over the garden for one last time, one last icy morning when I have to peel ice off the animals’ water troughs.  The next day it’ll be edging up into the sixties. It’s the strange season when the straw sun hat shares the peg rail with the down jacket. 

Maybe we should have a name for it, this fifth season: Win-ping? Sprin-ter?