Don’t start counting daffodils


Because all you’ll get is heartbreak.


That’s because you know how many you had last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. And then you realise just how bad a year the current one has been for your best-beloveds.

Three years ago I had over 1500; then it went down to 900-odd, and last year I was back up into four figures with about 1250. This year I’ll be lucky to get to 800, though I’ve still got a few of my smaller narcissi in bud.

The orange tips love them…

I don’t know whether to blame the fact that we transplanted some and also split a few long-established but underproductive clumps, or if their iffy performance could be down to the (relatively) warm winter. The bulbs definitely didn’t get much of a chilling in my garden – I think I only had a severe-enough frost to harden the ground on one occasion. Bizarre.

And it’s farewell to the fritillaries, too – the very last of them, a rather tardy pair of whites, are just starting to go over.

See you next spring, babes.

However, this is gardening, and there are always compensations. I’ve been spending some time crawling around and really, really looking (my excuse is that my hand op has prevented me from weeding – no, no, it has) at some plants that I tend to take for granted.

Like my muscari: they flourish at the base of the ancient pear, where I encourage dandelions to flower because they look lovely together. Tonally, they match – the deep blue of the muscari, and equally saturated yellow of the piss-a-beds. And they’d be a nightmare to weed out, but that’s not why I leave them, honest, and I do remove the heads before they go to seed. Er, sometimes. I remember my father saying that if dandelions were rare, we’d value them highly. I don’t think he liked weeding them out either, but he did enjoy the resulting ‘philosophical’ argument with my mother. Probably because it meant less time for weeding dandelions.

Anyway, this year I took a close look at the muscari themselves, and they are exquisite.

I’d no idea. I seem to remember being rather dismissive of them when I celebrated my chionodoxas.


Like most people, I have forget-me-nots, and they’re another plant I tend to be a little dismissive about – when I’m not rootling them out from everywhere and trying to confine their exuberance to where I want it rather than where they want it (which is all over the place). There is now a small plant near the greenhouse water butt, and the nearest plants are on the other side of the garden. I crawled down to get a proper look at them too, and now I haven’t the heart to rip them out.

Years ago a friend of mine had an arts and crafts pendant – I think it had been her great-grandmother’s – which featured forget-me-nots, and I clearly remember saying that I’d never seen forget-me-nots that were so delicate. Wrong – I’d just not looked.

And then there are the deliberate joys. I’ve really been enjoying my tulips and they have been excellent, hrrumpf, unlike the daffs, but I think they deserve a post to themselves. Another of my deliberate plantings which has been compensating for the Dreary Daffodil Disappointment is my erythronium,

which has been better than ever. I love its understated elegance, but more importantly I really, really appreciate they way it loves my dark, dank, damp corner under the Portugal Laurel, next to the inspection cover of the soakaway (ah, the poetry of gardeners).

And there are still plenty of primroses, oxlips, cowslips and strange oxroselips hanging about, though even they are finally beginning to go over.

And just as that happens, the meadow starts to shoot up.

I did wonder if the rather cool weather which has been knocking things back would affect it (it’s been a very strange spring so far), but no. On the contrary, it is entering its bad hair day phase earlier than usual, and that always drives me crackers – and then I remember that it has to go through the scrappy staying-in-the-house-because-I’m-not-going-out-like-this stage to reach its full summer glory.

And of course without the meadow I’d just have an expanse of mown grass punctuated by dying-back daffodils. Maybe next year will be better…

Oh dear, I can’t believe I’m complaining about ‘only’ having 800 daffs. See? Never start counting.


19 Comments Add yours

  1. paulinemulligan says:

    Good heavens, I’ve never thought about counting narcissus, I’m sure I would get sidetracked and forget which number I was up to! I think bulbs have suffered from lack of rain down here, don’t know if that applies to you, my fritillaries were very late and I thought I had lost them, until up they shot after it raining one night.

    1. kate says:

      I know, it’s terribly sad, but my justification is that if it was good enough for Christopher Lloyd, it was good enough for me (except he was a child, and his mother used to pay him per dead-headed daff – which is how I count them too – though he did admit it was a habit he found very difficult to shake).

      We haven’t had the lack of rain, so it’s not that with me. One thing though – I’ve never, ever had such tall daffs. They’re enormous. Not many flowers, but enormous stems. End of the world as we know it, oooooooooo. This year the extreme height, next year the picking up their bulbs and walking.

  2. Christina says:

    You’re propably correct about the winter cold the daffodils need. Be happy I could count mine very, very easily this year – less than 12! Enjoy what you have, Christina

    1. kate says:

      OK, hangs head in shame… (Karen – Artist’s Garden Karen – had round about 12 too, so you’re in excellent company.)

  3. Dobby says:

    Seeing as I had no daffs to count (probably because I didn’t plant any) I am in no position to comment on the wrongs and rights of the process. Buy hey, if it makes you happy, that is all that matters! So glad you have re-discovered other things in the garden. I say re-discovered because you must have loved them once to have planted them!

    1. kate says:

      I didn’t plant the muscari – I inherited them – and I don’t think anyone plants forget-me-not; they just come from nowhere. Or maybe next door? But I love them anyway!

      1. Dobby says:

        Karen had no forget me nots and had some of mine. No doubt she will regret it next year!

        1. kate says:

          You could always leave the country… how could she have had no forget-me-nots? Seed from mine should have blown down on the east wind…

  4. You have me wondering now about how many daffodils I have but if I add daffodil counting to the snowdrop counting I might just as well wear my I am a geek t shirt all year round. I think I probably have quite a “maybe into four figures but not five” lot. Funnily enough I have been musing about using muscari rather than scilla up beyond the swing. They are very beautiful and underappreciated. I would like to say I like dandelions, but although I have tried very hard I still can’t bring myself to like dandelions. That acid yellow sets my teeth on edge. It’s a pity because I have four thousand, five hundred and eight.

    1. kate says:

      Oh, I’m sure you have thousands and thousands… based on my knowledge what my quantities look like in a good year – and allowing for the fact that mine are pretty densely planted now – I reckon you must be heading into 7-8000. But counting them too could indeed be the first step in a dance which would lead to those nice men in white coats coming round….

      I’m surprised by the muscari; they really are sweet. They don’t have the sheer impact of my drifts of chionodoxa, but they’re very cute!

      Can beat you on dandelions by a factor of at least five. Am off now with a clicker.

  5. croftgarden says:

    Lovely spring garden – I think muscari get my vote, but then could I do without the scillas? Oh no not another gardening dilemma!
    I’ve been musing on the characteristics of gardeners, I think I need to add obsessive behaviour. I’ve not started counting yet, is list making the precursor?

    1. kate says:

      I don’t know what you mean. Obsessive? Gardeners? Nooooooo. No obsessive behaviour here. Noooooo.

      I think counting is only serious if you do it for more than – say – two categories, and list making doesn’t count if you a) lose the list, b) ignore the list, c) find yourself trying to use the garden list in the supermarket… I’m safe on all those counts. For the moment.

      1. croftgarden says:

        Mmm I ‘ve obviously opened mouth and as usual put both feet in. Daffodils I love, I smell them and I’ve even been known to talk them but it never occured to me to count them. I do count bees and hoverflies though – but that doesn’t count as its biological recording. Oh dear hoist by my own petard maybe?
        Now lists I do understand and I plead guilty on two out of three counts, but that is age related.

        1. kate says:

          Hee hee – don’t worry about it, we’re all the same to some degree! We love growing things, we love it when they do well, and some of us have a more than ordinary level of nerdiness about recording the fact (or not, my daffs, or not)… It cannot be a coincidence that a lot of the people I know who count things have an involvement of some kind with figures – accounting, bookkeeping, finance, whatever. Now that’s sad.

          (Biological recording, eh? Are you involved with the Plantlife wildflower survey too? I am, and it’s really interesting… and perfect for people who count…)

        2. croftgarden says:

          I’ll confess to being a counter, I thinks its the way my brain is wired, oh yes and I happen to be a scientist (not a profession any more just a state of being).
          I must also confess to being responsible for the Outer Hebrides Biological Recording Project ( so not only do I count I try to get other people to count.The Plantlife survey is a brilliant survey – perfect for counters and gardners.

        3. kate says:

          Ahhhhh ha – flushed you out…. oh, yes, once it gets a hold of you, it never lets go. One moment you’re a student, in my case happily plotting up settlement scatters on archaeological sites and marking every teeny find; the next, you’re a mad gardener counting her daffs.

          I’m spreading the counting lurve too, but with Plantlife and in a small way – got friends involved. Your project is brilliant…

        4. croftgarden says:

          Just goes to show what happens when you start educating women – you end up with mad counting and listing gardeners.
          Definitely my last word on this one!

  6. I decided not to count my dafs this year. With spring so early, I missed the early ones, and all the snowsrops as well. I wonder is the cycle will continuwe, back and forth like that. I know some trees do it as well, every other year is a heavily flowering year.

    1. kate says:

      Well, I certainly think that some of my fruit trees go in good and indifferent years, and I don’t think my plums are going to be very good this year. Looking at my figures for the past three years, there does seem to be some alternating going on. I wonder where I put the old lists? Could be anywhere…

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