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Of bulbs and birthdays. October 9, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening.
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Isn’t it great when you share a passion with other members of your family? Our friend Ben’s grandmother on one side and great-aunts on the other were passionate gardeners. My grandmother grew an old-style cottage garden, with all the beloved old flowers (including plenty for cutting), an extensive vegetable plot, and fruit trees. My great-aunts created a formal Edwardian flower garden for their Tudor-style home that would have done credit to Gertrude Jekyll. (Alas, when they were alive, I didn’t know of Miss Jekyll, so I didn’t have the opportunity to ask if she was in fact their inspiration.)

The gardening bug skipped my parents’ generation. They meticulously restored our Colonial home and maintained its three-acre grounds in keeping with the era, but it was clear that they did so as duty, not pleasure. Not one plant found its way there that wasn’t necessary to the landscape. Any herbs and such snuck in by, ahem, their plant-loving eldest child were ruthlessly eradicated.

Interestingly, all three of the children were bitten hard by the gardening bug. Our friend Ben is the family generalist: I love historical gardens, herb gardens, vegetable beds, flower borders, wildflower meadows, shade borders, houseplants, greenhouse gardening, water gardening, fruit and nut growing, ornamental trees and shrubs, groundcovers, cacti and succulents, orchids, you name it. My sister is a huge fan of cottage-style ornamental gardening, and has transformed her Southern suburban yard accordingly. And my brother is passionately interested in old-time ornamentals, from peonies and roses to iris and daffodils, which burst from every corner of his property in a glorious fragrant display.

Our friend Ben’s birthday is this coming Saturday, and I was thrilled when a big box arrived from White Flower Farm to commemorate the occasion. My brother, who plants hundreds upon hundreds of bulbs each fall, had sent me a more manageable but choice assortment to brighten the spring display at Hawk’s Haven, the little cottage I share with Silence Dogood and numerous pets in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania.

Silence and I were thrilled to see that my brother had included two orders of what White Flower Farm referred to as “A Blossom Ballet,” a pairing of ‘Apricot Beauty’ tulips and ‘Cool Flame’ daffodils. ‘Apricot Beauty’ is in fact our favorite tulip. In typically hyperbolic fashion, White Flower Farm describes its blooms as “a satiny salmon-rose with apricot highlights and golden overtones,” and notes that it has “a soft fragrance.” (Right. But better than no fragrance!) ‘Cool Flame’ is a creation of Grant Mitsch, the famous Oregon novelty daffodil breeder who began his work in the 1930s and is still regarded as the preeminent American daffodil breeder. White Flower Farm’s online catalogue proclaims that the midseason-flowering ‘Cool Flame’ “flaunts large cups of soft coral that deepen to dark salmon and are surrounded by snow-white petals of perfect form.” Though White Flower Farm seems determined to give us descriptions of 1,000 words, our friend Ben suggests that you head over to their website (www.whiteflowerfarm.com) and check out their “A Blossom Ballet” photos for yourself. You will instantly see why Silence and I were so delighted.

But my brother wasn’t satisfied with this glorious gift. He wanted to make sure we had some truly vintage daffodils. So he also sent bulbs of Narcissus ‘Maximus’, a sixteenth-century selection of the species daffodil Narcissus hispanica. The golden three-inch trumpet flowers resemble early ‘King Alfreds’, with one distinct difference: their petals are twisted.

At least as old is Narcissus ‘Conspicuus’. When our friend Ben first received the bulb order, I rushed to the White Flower Farm website to check this daffodil out. It was the most gorgeous thing imaginable—short red cups with large primrose-yellow petals. Wow! No wonder it was called ‘Conspicuus’. The website announced that these bulbs were sold out, so I was especially pleased that my brother had chosen them before they vanished. Unfortunately, returning to the website today to get the “official” description to share with you, our friend Ben found that the bulb had vanished not just from availability but from the A-to-Z list of daffodils on offer. Search though I might, I could not find Narcissus ‘Conspicuus’ anywhere.   

This clearly called for a consultation with my good friend Google, which appeared to be doing its damndest to trip me up. A search brought up Narcissus bulbicodium var. conspicuus, the famous little yellow hoop petticoat or yellow bells daffodil. You may be familiar with the very distinctive appearance of these diminutive narcissi—they’re the ones with a (comparatively) large yellow trumpet and vestigial, almost nonexistent yellow petals. Definitely not my bulbs! Further hunting brought up Narcissus minor var. conspicuus, which looks a lot more like the photo (formerly) in the White Flower Farm online catalogue. The photo of N. minor var. conspicuus showed coral trumpets and pale yellow petals, and since it was strongly backlit, it’s possible that the trumpets would have been a much deeper color in a more natural light. We’ll find out this spring!

Silence and I have decided to plant the ‘Conspicuus’ and ‘Maximus’ daffs in the ornamental bed beside our deck, where we can enjoy them as we sit outside with our morning coffee. And we’re planning to plant the glorious ‘Cool Flame’ daffodils and ‘Apricot Beauty’ tulips in the bed surrounding our most gigantic maple tree, where they’ll create a show of salmon, apricot and white to brighten the scene as the tree’s foliage begins to expand.

What a perfect and joyful gift to brighten the life of a gardener, and what joyful memories the blooming bulbs will bring in the years to come. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving! Our friend Ben thinks it’s going to be a very good year.



1. nancybond - October 9, 2008

What a wonderful, thoughtful gift — one that will certainly keep on giving. I can’t think of anything nicer. And Happy Birthday!

Thanks, Nancy!!!

2. Benjamin - October 9, 2008

What a cool family! You’re very lucky! Of course, now you have to get your butt outside and plant all those bulbs–I have 100 or so I’ve been sitting on for 3 weeks now, which is much too long I’m sure. Plus, they poke into me, and I don’t have extra cushioning down there cuz I’m a thin guy and garden off my ice cream and candy a lot so you know I just ramble and it becomes tmi.

Ha!!! Yes, I had to beg my brother not to get too carried away and get me a whopping bulb collection since I’d have to plant it! This was just the right amount.

3. deb - October 10, 2008

That conspicuus daff sounds beautiful. I like the variety Geranium, I was able to get from our bulb sale last year. Don’t get mine until 10/25. I can barely wait.

Yes, ‘Geranium’ is a lovely one!

4. deb - October 10, 2008



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