By April spring is well under way. Swallows swoop after flying insects, newspapers report where the first cuckoo has been heard and in gardens daffodils reign supreme. Even the roadside verges and the motorway embankments boast the largest, tallest and yellowest daffodils that ever snapped in a high wind (often, however, surrounded by lager cans. A pity. There are so many more attractive, smaller and more exciting varieties, inexpensive too which would look far better in small gardens and more natural on roadside verges. ‘Jack Snipe’ is a sturdy fellow, distinctive with a deep primrose trumpet and pearly white reflexed petals. ‘Topolino’ sounds vaguely like a member of a circus but is respectably attired, having creamy petals and a pale yellow trumpet with neatly greyish foliage. Both increase well and are good ‘doers’.
Not everyone cares for doubles of any kind, but the old double ‘Rip van Winkle’ is a cheerful rapscallion of a flower, the floral equivalent of Rip himself in his young days. Sometimes compared to a distraught dandelion the many, but rather uneven, petals of a faintly greenish yellow point in every direction. Another very old variety, ‘Pencrebar’, said by Alec Gray to have come from an ancient Cornish garden, has one or two fully double flowers like yellow roses on each stem and is around 6” high.
The N.watieri hybrid ‘Xit’ was bred by Alec Gray himself and is a larger, stronger version of the original; but the overlapping petals reflex very slightly and sometimes one or two are more so than the others. On the credit side, it does better in the garden ( being reputed to do well even in short grass) than the pristine white N.watieri. There is also ‘Yellow Xit’ in which the short, flattened cup is a pale yellow. The N. triandrus hybrid ‘Hawera’ from New Zealand received an A.M. – as an alpine house plant – in 1938 and still appears on the show bench, though nowadays grown outside too. Much like its N. triandrus parent in appearance but of light yellow with a paler cup, it has up to five flowers per scape. Both ‘Hawera’ and ‘Xit’ prefer an acid or neutral soil. One problem with ‘Hawera’ is that, nowadays, a large number of stocks carry a virus infection which can cause considerable mottling and distortion of the foliage.
Some newer narcissus are ‘Toto’ with rather narrow, starry petals and a funnel shaped cup with a crenellated edge; there are up to three ivory flowers on each stem. ‘Elka’ is irresistible, a beautifully shaped milk-white beauty while ‘Hillstar’, from G.E.Mitsch, is a reverse jonquil; the mature flowers have golden yellow petals with a white base and a wide, flanged white trumpet. ‘Pipit’ is not so new but a multi-flowered jonquil, jasmine yellow, diffusing to a lighter shade centrally when aging. ‘Bellsong’ at 12” is perhaps a little on the tall side, but its elegant good looks include buds opening to reveal stone-coloured petals quickly turning to white – and the neat cup is wild-rose pink.
The last weeks of April may or may not be the time of the new moon but possibly were in 1958 when J.Gerritson introduced ‘Baby Moon’ from Holland: a small short-cupped jonquil with rounded yellow petals. Strongly scented, a warm place away from too much rain suits it best …….. in April one can be sure of rain, so plant ‘Baby Moon’ where the drainage is good and there are other plants to take up excess water.