Let a Thousand Daffodils Bloom

The signature flower of spring on Martha's Vineyard is as variable as the season itself.

People often complain that spring doesn’t really happen on the Vineyard, that we go from a long, cold winter directly into summer. But anyone who grows daffodils knows otherwise.

Double, split corona, tazetta, small cupped...the varieties of daffodils are nearly endless.
Nina Bramhall

As much as the first snowfall announces that winter is undeniably here, daffodils herald the arrival of spring. When they appear in mid-March, they are almost the only specks of color in a wintry landscape. But unlike the snowdrops and crocuses that make an early splash and then disappear, a good selection of daffodils can carry on for six to eight weeks – long enough for the rest of the Island flora to wake up and join the party. When they finish their long reign, winter is firmly gone and they are surrounded by a newly green world 
everywhere you look.

One of the first daffodils to emerge on Island is the iconic King Alfred – a stately yellow specimen that is so ubiquitous people often don’t realize there are hundreds of other varieties as well. In fact, there are twelve subdivisions of daffodil varieties. They range from the well-known trumpet daffodils – of which King Alfred is a superstar – whose long center cup (corona) is equal or longer than the surrounding petals (perianth), to the daintier small-cupped daffodils. Other varieties include flamboyant double daffodils and heavenly scented jonquilla daffodils with multiple flowers per stem.

Double Fashions bloom in the middle of the daffodil cycle.
Nina Bramhall

Most daffodils are white, yellow, or some variation on these two colors, but recent hybrids have added pinks, reds, and occasional streaks of green to the mix. The corona has the most variation. It can range from very simple small-cupped cultivars, to large-cupped and trumpet daffodils, to elaborately layered doubles and split coronas, to the multi-flowered tazetta, triandrus, and jonquilla daffodils.

Although most daffodils are between fifteen to twenty-four inches in height, there are miniature varieties as well as some willowy giants that top out at around thirty inches. While the majority of daffodils have one flower per stem, jonquillas have between two to as many as six flowers per stem. Some species of tazettas can have up to twenty-four small flowers on one stem. And while most daffodils have a faint but lovely scent, some are prized and marketed for their heady aroma, such as the late blooming Sir Winston Churchill, a jonquilla that both looks and smells like its cousin 
the paperwhite.

Late-blooming Sir Winston Churchills are one of the most fragrant varieties.
Nina Bramhall

In addition to all this variation in appearance is the range in bloom times, which allows the gardener to stretch the daffodil moment into a season unto itself – from mid-March well into mid-May – thereby ensuring a beautiful, long spring.

What all daffodils have in common is that they couldn’t be less fussy. They are easy to grow in most locations, even in areas that will be fully shaded during the height of summer. Best of all, none of our resident wildlife is interested in eating them. Plant them in the fall or early winter about six inches below the surface – preferably in bunches of seven or more of a given variety so that you can pick a few for the table – taking care to have a mix of early, middle, and late bloomers.

What all daffodils have in common is they couldn’t be less fussy. They are easy to grow in most locations, and none of our resident wildlife is interested in eating them.
Nina Bramhall

After that, you can pretty much forget about them until the following spring when they transform your yard into a thing of beauty. The best part is that they keep coming back year after year in increasingly larger bunches. In other words, if you plant a few daffodils in the fall, spring will soon become your new favorite season on the Vineyard.

Planning your planting

  • Cluster bulbs in groups of seven or more as singles can get lost in the landscape and are labor intensive to plant.
  • Try to limit bunches to one variety per group as mixed bags may not bloom at the same time or be the same height.
  • Deadheading spent blooms allows the 
energy produced by the leaves to go into recharging the bulb rather than creating a seed pod, so while not necessary, it is a 
good practice.
  • Do not cut back the greens after the flowers have bloomed until they die back naturally in about four to five weeks. This will allow the bulbs to recharge.
  • Braiding, wrapping, and tying can damage daffodil foliage and interfere with the life cycle of the bulb.
  • In high visibility areas, if you plant daffodils among daylilies the emerging lily foliage will cover the dying daffodil greens.
  • Always plant more than you think you 
need as it’s hard to resist picking daffodils 
for the house!