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Should you try to grow tulips from seed? June 22, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading.
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Our friend Ben has been fascinated by this question since Silence Dogood and I ordered a gorgeous pastel tulip mix from White Flower Farm last fall. We also ordered their famous daffodil mix, The Works, and interplanted the tulips with the new daffs. This spring, we had the most gorgeous show of daffodils and tulips that Hawk’s Haven, our cottage home in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, has ever known. (And our daff display, thanks to the previous owners, has always been pretty spectacular.)

We felt good about spending the gift certificate from Silence’s beloved brother on The Works, because we know that daffodils will multiply every year and keep the show going and growing, almost certainly outliving you. But we felt guilty about getting the tulips, since, in contrast to daffodils, most tulips bloom for a year and then decline. Even the so-called perennial tulips like the Darwin hybrids typically only bloom five years, max. Only the tiny species tulips are true perennials, and their blooms are more crocus-sized and look nothing like what you and I think of as tulips.

Yikes. Our tulips were stunning this year, but we expect to see foliage and no flowers next year, and nothing thereafter. However, many of the plump, healthy bulbs produced not just gorgeous flowers this year, but huge, plump seedpods that are continuing to grow and ripen. Our friend Ben wondered if there was any hope that we could grow more tulips from the thousands of seeds in those plump pods.

I checked in with my good friend Google, and quickly realized why people bought tulip bulbs instead of growing their own. Obviously, the carefully bred hybrids you bought would look nothing like the seed-grown tulips you raised. But getting potentially thousands of free tulips every year would certainly console us for not getting premium hybrids. That wasn’t the reason people don’t grow tulips from seed. It’s the time/care factor.

This is the same reason most people don’t grow another bulbing plant, onions, from seed. You can get a lot more onion varieties if you buy seeds rather than sets or starts. But almost everyone buys sets or starts instead. That’s because, if you grow onions from seed, you get tiny, thin, threadlike seedlings from the seeds. You have to nurture them like the most delicate preemies, eventually setting them out into a carefully watered and weeded garden bed until, at the end of the season, you get not onions but onion sets, those thumbnail-sized round bulbs you generally buy and plant in spring to harvest onions in fall. You have to carefully dry your homegrown sets and store them through the winter, then plant them out in late spring to get onions the following year.

Most people aren’t willing to go to the trouble, especially when planting storebought onion sets is the easiest thing imaginable: Push the set into the soil until only the top protrudes, firm the soil around it, put the next set in about an onion’s width away, and so on. Before you know it, you have onions.

Not so with seed-grown tulips. Yes, you can let those fat pods turn from green to brown, then cut them off and harvest the seeds. But if you’re serious about growing them, you need to stratify them all in moist sphagnum moss and sand in plastic in the fridge or a coldframe, then carefully monitor the seedlings through the SIX YEARS it takes for the bulbs to reach blooming size. Yowie kazowie! No wonder everyone buys their tulip bulbs every year.

We loved our White Flower Farm pastel tulip mix, but damned if we’re buying it every year. Nor is our friend Ben about to sacrifice those perfectly splendid, plump tulip seedpods. Instead, once they’re dried and brown, I’ll scatter the seeds everywhere we want tulips. Winter will stratify them every bit as well as a refrigerator. Maybe they’ll grow and maybe they won’t. I guess we’ll know six years from now. Why do daffodil bulbs live, multiply, and bloom year after year, and tulip bulbs decline and die? Our friend Ben has no idea. But the tulips have given us a chance, through their seedpods, to keep them alive, and our friend Ben is going to take it.


Tulipomania strikes again. May 7, 2014

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It’s daffodil and tulip season here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and Silence Dogood share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. To cheer us up after the horrible winter that still hasn’t fully left us—tonight’s low is predicted to be 34 degrees—our tulip and daffodil display is our best ever.

That’s because OFB’s brother and his family gave us some nice gift certificates to White Flower Farm over the years, and this past fall, they offered phenomenal deals on their daffodil mixture, “The Works,” and a pastel tulip mix that was simply too gorgeous to believe. We decided it was time to cash in our certificates and purchased one of each mix. When they arrived, we mixed the tulip and daffodil bulbs—incidentally, the fattest, healthiest bulbs we’ve ever seen—and planted them on both sides of the path leading from our parking square down to our front door.

What would come up? What would the flowers look like? Would they bloom at the same time? Would the daffs and tulips look good together, or would they clash? All winter long, we speculated. The answer is that yes, they are blooming at the same time, and yes, they look great together. No, we wouldn’t have chosen every single tulip and daffodil in the mixes, but then, we wouldn’t have known to choose others that are, as it turns out, our favorites.

The daffs are unquestionably a great investment. No animal or other pest eats daffodil bulbs, which are poisonous; no disease affects them; and they multiply year after year during their very long perennial lives. (Think peonies and 50-year spans.)

Tulips, on the other hand, are simply an indulgence. Even the longest-lived, so-called “perennial” tulips like the Darwin hybrids bloom for five years at best; bulbs like the ones we bought will be unlikely to bloom a second year, though they may send up foliage, teasing us with hopes of blooms that never come. Species tulips are, in fact, true perennials, but they’re the size of crocuses and, while colorful enough, bear no resemblance to what most of us think of as tulips.

So why did we buy this tulip mix, knowing that we’d probably only see blooms this spring? Well, we had a gift certificate. It cost no more than a lavish flower arrangement, but would last much longer. And, okay, we love tulips, but never splurge on them because the flowers are short-lived and the bulbs seldom produce a second bloom.

In short, I guess we were suffering from modern-day tulipomania. The original tulipomania struck the Netherlands, specifically Holland, in 1636. Tulips, which originated in Turkey, had been imported into Holland and found the climate to their liking. The colorful flowers became a big hit. And then, multicolored flowers with bold color combinations and exotic “flamed” petals (such as white blooms with red “flames” on the petals) began turning up in growers’ fields. Pandemonium ensued, and prices shot up.

The phenomenon became known as tulipomania, and it became famous as the first financial bubble. At its height, a single bulb of one of the rarest varieties, such as ‘The Viceroy’ or ‘Semper Augustus’, could cost more than ten times as much as a skilled craftsman made in a year, or as much as two tons of butter, 1,000 pounds of cheese, 4 fat oxen, 8 fat swine, 12 fat sheep, 2 hogsheads of wine, 4 tuns of beer, a bed, a suit of clothes, a silver drinking cup, 4 lasts of rye, and 2 lasts of wheat combined. For ONE bulb.

Who was paying these prices?!! Wealthy collectors and speculators. Tulipomania was fueled by a number of strange and rare phenomena colliding, creating mass hysteria and zero common sense. First, the 30 Years’ War had been raging throughout the Germanies and sucker-punching the Netherlands, leaving it weak and depleted. Next, the bubonic plague was raging through the Netherlands at the time, creating a carpe diem (“live for today”) attitude, be it a lust for beautiful bulbs or a love of wine, women and song. And finally, most bizarre of all, no bulbs were actually changing hands during these transactions. The Bitcoins of their day, tulip bulbs were bought and sold on the open market by speculators who had zero interest in planting or selling actual tulip bulbs, only in making a fast buck.

Tulipomania peaked in 1636, then crashed in February 1637, when nobody showed up at the weekly bulb auction in Haarlem. (And yes, New York was originally settled by the Dutch, which is why it has “Harlem.”) To add to the irony, even if everyone who’d been bidding on tulip bulbs had been an avid gardener or collector, they wouldn’t have realized that all those exotic color combinations and “flames” on the petals were caused by a virus, which weakened the bulbs and ensured that the tulip varieties couldn’t possibly be seed-propagated and would die out in a matter of two or three years.

Today’s tulips don’t have viruses, even if they do display gorgeous flames of color. But they’re still usually one-season wonders. Which is why we’re considering our stunning display a one-time event. Unless somebody gives us another gift certificate.

Fall bulbs for spring bloom. October 26, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. For many years, I’ve wanted to plant White Flower Farm’s naturalizing daffodil mix called “The Works.” You get 100 bulbs of at least 30 varieties of daffodils. As anyone who grows daffodils knows, they’re long-lived, trouble-free, and deer-proof. Also squirrel-proof. Nobody and nothing is going to bother those poisonous bulbs, and they multiply all on their own every year.

There’s just one little problem, besides the fact that you have to plant them: You have to plant them in fall. As in, now, when it’s hitting 29 degrees at night here in our part of scenic PA. Not exactly planting weather, if you ask me, and totally counterintuitive for spring-blooming bulbs.

I guess I’m not the only one who feels that way. I was sitting in an examining room with our friend Ben this morning, waiting for his doctor to appear, when a pair of staff members came in and apologized for having to use the computer to call up someone’s schedule. I said it was no problem, we’d just been talking about daffodil bulbs. At which point one of the staffers said that she’d always wanted to plant daffodils and tulips but never seemed to get around to it, since it seemed like they should be planted in spring.

I told her that the one surefire daffodil you could plant in spring was the little, cheerful yellow ‘Tete-a-Tete’ that’s sold in pots all over the place every spring. You can enjoy the show indoors, plant out the pot’s contents when bloom is over, and the hardy little bulbs will return year after year to brighten your yard with their delightful blooms.

I, however, had finally reached a tipping point. White Flower Farm was offering “The Works” at an unbelievable discount: $56 for 100 bulbs, the cheapest I’d ever seen it. But that wasn’t all. They also had a special deal on their “Pastel Stretch Tulip Mix”—100 bulbs of at least 50 different cream, primrose yellow, ivory, pink, peach, soft orange, white, rose, and lavender tulips for $59. It was time to have a serious discussion with OFB.

Most people think that to plant bulbs, you need a bulb planter, a conelike device that you shove into the soil and twist, removing enough soil to allow you to drop in a single bulb, at which point you upend the planter and dump the soil back into the hole on top of the bulb. Want to do this 200 times, while bent double on a freezing fall morning? I didn’t think so.

Fortunately, there’s a much easier alternative: trenching. Take your favorite garden spade and dig a 12-inch-wide, 6-inch-deep trench where you want to plant your bulbs. Then place the bulbs in the trench, narrow end up, 3 to 15 inches apart, depending on what sort of show you want in subsequent years, and cover them with the spaded soil, tamping it down to firm it snugly around the bulbs. No fuss, no muss, as long as somebody’s willing to dig the g-d trenches, which is where OFB came in.

“Ben, would you be willing to dig a few trenches in the front yard so I could plant some daffodils and tulips? I love the daffodil display in front of our island bed and alongside the house, and would love to extend that and plant bulbs around our parking square to brighten our spring show.”

“Trenches?!! Say what?!!”

I patiently explained that surely carting him to the eye surgeon and to work 300,000 times might warrant his digging a few trenches in return. Even OFB couldn’t argue with that.

What I didn’t tell him is the problem with tulips. Unlike daffodils, tulip bulbs aren’t poisonous, and squirrels love them. But they’re also not true perennials. Even the so-called perennial tulips bloom at best for 5 years, while daffodils are true perennials, blooming decade after decade with no care whatever. The “Pastel Stretch Tulip Mix” I had my eye on would probably bloom for two years, if that.

So why plant tulips at all? In my case, the answer was simple, and so luxuriously indulgent: My brother had given me a White Flower Farm gift certificate for Christmas several years ago, and it covered the cost of both “The Works” naturalizing daffodil mix, the “Pastel Stretch Tulip Mix,” and shipping and handling, and left me with a $32 credit. In other words, I could revel in a year or two of beautiful tulips for free, not to mention a lifetime of daffodils.

While White Flower Farm is having incredible deals on bulbs, I suggest that you check them out online (www.whiteflowerfarm.com). It’s not too late to bring spring beauty to your landscape! And I also think a WFF gift certificate to an ardent gardener in your family is a wonderful idea. Like me, they may wait a while to use it, but when they do, the pleasure and appreciation will be boundless.

‘Til next time,


The catalogs are coming! October 1, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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What a tempting and terrible time to be a gardener and food lover. Silence Dogood here. It’s that time of year, the time for fall planting, the time leading up to Christmas, the time when garden and food catalogs start filling our mailboxes and e-mail.

White Flower Farm. Logee’s. Horticulture Color Blends. Gethsemani Farms. Cowgirl Creamery. Peony’s Envy. Rare Find Nursery. Yow!!! When I see those gorgeous bulbs, peonies, and shrubs, when I see and read about the flavor of all those fabulous cheeses, well… I just want everything. And I know it’s urgent to plant things as early in fall as possible to give them time to put down a good root system before winter, not to mention that many cheeses are seasonal and sell out quickly. The heat is on! Can you relate?

I’ve always thought it was a cruel trick of fate that spring-flowering bulbs typically need to be planted in autumn. After all, you’re not exactly focused on daffodils and the like when the air is bright and crisp and you’re trying to find pumpkins and mums for fall decorating and enjoying the gorgeous fall leaf display. But worse still, all your own bulbs are long dormant, and you’re all too likely to chop into them while trying to add new bulbs. It’s not fair!!!

Still, I can’t help looking at daffodils and pastel tulip mixes and the like in White Flower Farm’s fall bulb catalog and drooling helplessly, like our black German shepherd, Shiloh, when I’m eating a cheese stick and she desperately wants a piece. (Don’t worry, she always gets the last bite.) I’m dying to order container edibles from Logee’s, like the ‘Day’ avocado and the variegated vanilla orchid (source of vanilla beans). Peonies are my favorite flowers. And checking out the gorgeous, colorful displays of foliage and berries on the shrubs in my area this time of year turns me a brilliant spring green. Why aren’t we growing those?!!

Then, with today’s mail, came the most dreadful blow (at least, as far as our bank account is concerned) of all: White Flower Farm’s Christmas catalog. It’s the first of October, for mercy’s sake, yet here it was, with everything I love in a single catalog.

There were the amaryllis, tempting me with stunning new varieties. I’ll admit, I normally can’t bear the beautiful paperwhites because I find the fragrance overwhelming (where others smell heaven, I smell underlying decay, as with Madonna lilies). But WFF was featuring some yellow-flowered types, and I was very tempted to try them and see if they’re less overpowering. And of course, there was an incredibly alluring assortment of fresh wreaths, table-toppers, door swags, and the like.

But what really killed me was that they’d added artisanal New England cheese assortments (and local maple syrup and artisanal honeys) to their catalog, even the best-looking homemade caramel I’d ever seen. Not to mention luscious citrus, a great assortment including blood oranges, ruby grapefruit, honeybell tangerines, Meyer lemons, and Cara Cara oranges.

Ow! They say the Devil’s in the details, but I think he must be lurking in those photographs and descriptions. My birthday’s coming up. Maybe I’ll just ask our friend Ben for one of each…

‘Til next time,


Kaffir lime: another extravagance. April 7, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood don’t get many gift certificates, probably because it takes us so long to decide what to buy with them. But our friend Ben’s brother has been very good about continuing to bear with us and give us gift certificates to White Flower Farm every year.

This, of course, presents us with too many choices: Should we buy more bulbs in the fall? Amaryllis at Christmas? Perennials in spring? Or maybe take advantage of White Flower Farm’s selection of edible plants?

Fall and winter had passed, and spring is hurtling towards summer as temperatures rise into the high 80s in early April (and people say there’s no such thing as global warming?!), and still we hadn’t made up our minds. Until about a minute ago when we received an e-mail from White Flower Farm listing its top 10 edible plants.

Scanning the selections, we saw plenty of tempting choices, with a Key lime heading the list. Until, that is, Silence saw a plant WFF called a “lime leaf.” Neither of us had ever heard of a lime leaf, but it sounded intriguing, so we checked it out. Turns out, it’s Kaffir lime, Citrus hystrix, and its leaves are an essential ingredient in Thai, Indonesian, Vietnamese, and Malaysian cuisine. (They’re used like bay leaves, long-cooked in a dish, then removed before serving.)

“Ben! They have Kaffir lime! I’ve always wanted a Kaffir lime!”

Thoughts of luscious Key lime pies and margaritas receded as our friend Ben bowed to the inevitable. The call was made, and the plant will be heading our way later this month. I’ll just have to console myself with thoughts of all the yummy Thai and etc. food Silence will soon be making us. (But, ahem, if we’re lucky enough to get another gift certificate this year, it’s earmarked for the Key lime.)

What is a Kaffir lime? As you can see from the botanical name, it is indeed in the citrus family, though unlike all other citrus, its fresh leaves rather than its fruits are its main claims to fame, lending a distinctive citrusy flavor and fragrance to dishes. It does of course produce fruits, and the WFF website informs us that the fruits’ knobby rinds are zested and used to flavor curries and soups, giving them the same flavor as the leaves. (The pulp and juice is not used, though they didn’t say why.)

In USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 10 and 11, you can plant Kaffir limes in the ground and they’ll reach about 6 feet. Farther north, you’ll need to grow them in containers. You’re still looking at a 4- to 5-foot tree, though, so you’ll need to think about ultimately providing a big container. And they like plenty of sun, outdoors in the summer and in a greenhouse or sunroom in winter.

We live in Zone 6, but we happen to have a greenhouse and routinely bring our plants out to the deck for the summer, so we thought we could manage. (After all, we’re already growing figs, a lemon, a regular lime, a banana, and an olive tree in containers; what’s one more big fruit-bearing plant?)

In case you’re intrigued and/or have access to Kaffir lime leaves, we found a wonderfully helpful review on the WFF site from someone who identified herself simply as A Bluestocking and now lives, as we do, in scenic PA. Since she was willing to post her comments publicly, we think she’d be willing for us to share some of them here. And thanks, A Bluestocking, what marvelous ideas!

“Once you have had Thai food made with these leaves… you never want to go back! My favorite, and oh so easy soup, is to take a can of cream of tomato soup, a small can of coconut milk [I’m assuming this is unsweetened coconut milk—Silence] and heat with bruised Keffir [sic] lime leaves… Much brighter flavor than the more commonly used lemon grass. Thai Kitchen makes curry pastes (I’m partial to the green) which simmered with coconut milk and steeped with [Kaffir lime] leaves makes an outrageous sauce over mixed steamed veggies, grilled chicken or shrimp on a bed of basmati rice!”

A Bluestocking adds this final caution: “It’s not a particularly attractive plant with its irregular growth pattern and large spikes… but a must for gourmands.” And, Silence thinks, for us as well.

Would we really have rushed out to plunk down money on something as tangential as a Kaffir lime tree? Of course not. But, in our view, that’s the whole point of gift certificates: They let you splurge on something you wouldn’t otherwise allow yourself. (A Christmas gift is also how we acquired our olive and banana trees.) And that’s the best gift of all.

White Veggie Farm?! March 27, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Call it the Year of the Vegetable. Our friend Ben was amazed to receive the latest edition of the always-luscious White Flower Farm catalogue earlier this week and see that not flowers but veggies were on the cover, with the caption “Grow your own fresh vegetables this summer.”

White Flower Farm, that ultra-upscale Connecticut nursery, has always been up with the trends. Always an icon of perennial and bulb gardeners, a few years ago it added trendy annuals and container combos to its listings. If White Flower Farm is highlighting veggies, veggies have finally crossed over from truck garden staples and reached iconic status. Thank God!

Admittedly, there are just seven pages of fruits, herbs, and veggies (most notably heirloom tomatoes) in the 144-page catalogue. But still. This is the equivalent of Yo-Yo Ma suddenly performing “Sweet Home Alabama” or “Margaritaville” in the middle of a Mozart symphony. Veggies have arrived.

In a faltering economy, subsistence gardening has historically been a popular option. Roses become more valued for their vitamin-C-rich hips than their lovely blossoms; people start eyeing daylilies and nasturtiums for their edible buds rather than their flowers. “Victory gardens” spring up in yards that would have disdained the “white trash” connotations of the truck garden. Michelle Obama’s kitchen garden on the White House grounds is a testament to the trend.

We applaud the White House kitchen garden and are thrilled by the trend back to food gardening. But there’s an ironic underside to this happy trend: Agrimonsters like Monsanto are trying to make it impossible to even grow backyard vegetables to feed your own family. If you’re not aware of the scary legislation they’ve muscled into Congress, our friend Ben suggests  that you check out recent posts on the subject by Alan Roberts (www.robertsroostecofarm.com), and on Jackie Clay’s blog at Backwoods Home Magazine and Granny Miller (click on them on our blogroll at right to see what they have to say).

These monsters are the worst examples of modern take-all businesses, concerned only with their own take-everything bottom lines. We at Poor Richard’s Almanac tend to keep quiet about politics, since we feel that our own views aren’t necessarily the end-all and be-all, and we hate being dictated to, even when we agree with someone’s stand. But when corporate monsters try to tell us that we can’t raise our own animals or grow our own vegetables without their express permission, we beg to differ. We have exactly one thing to say to them: Go **** yourselves, and burn in Hell afterwards, you monstrous, selfish, sinful swine!!!! You’re destroying our world, and you’re doing it for personal profit. We hate you, hate you, hate you!!!

There. Have we made our position clear? We’re so glad. Meanwhile, thank you, Obamas, thank you, White Flower Farm, thank you everyone who promotes backyard fruit, herb, and vegetable gardening. Garden power to the people!!!

Of bulbs and birthdays. October 9, 2008

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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.