Flowering bulbs are great way to share love of gardening

Published 12:06 am Sunday, March 27, 2016

One of the great gardening traditions of the South is the generosity of gardeners who love to share their plants. Termed “passalong plants” this heritage blooms strongly here in the Natchez region. Among the most popular are flower bulbs because many types increase in number over the years and are so easy to dig up and share with friends and relatives.

Betty McGehee is a long-time garden enthusiast whose Indian Hills property is overflowing with many different types of plants. Each spring, her driveway and pasture are ablaze with golden yellow daffodils, popularly called “Butter and Eggs.” This Southern heirloom daffodil is one of the earliest recorded, predating 1777. Very popular in the South, it flourishes with little care, blooms vigorously in early spring and is very easy to transplant. It’s also known as “Golden Phoenix,” with double yellow petals that are sweetly scented. A close relative, also blooming in this region for hundreds of years is “Eggs and Bacon,” aka “Orange Phoenix.” It differs because of contrasting orange and white petals that form rose-like inner whorls and is also pleasantly fragrant.

A member of Rose Craft Garden Club, Betty has encouraged fellow members to dig up the surplus daffodils. NanErle Schuchs is one who gratefully dug many bulbs from Betty’s pastures and added them to other heirloom daffodils and jonquils in her gardens and pastures in the Foster Mound area. More numerous than she can count, many hundreds of Narcissus incomparabilis are among the first to bloom in early spring. Popularly called “Sir Watkin” or “Stella,” according to research conducted by specialty heirloom bulb growers, this is actually “Peerless Daffodil,” and predates the 1600s. This is another variety that has naturalized around abandoned home sites and cemeteries, and has been a very popular passalong plant. It’s recognized as a single form of “Butter and Eggs” with fewer petals but similar fragrance, color and growth habit.

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Daffodils, jonquils and narcissus continue to claim places in our landscapes. Modern varieties tend to have larger flowers, larger petals and more defined trumpet-like shapes.

Some questions arise as to what they should be termed. What is the difference between jonquils, daffodils and narcissus? The term narcissus (Narcissus sp.) refers to a genus of bulbs that includes hundreds of species and literally tens of thousands of cultivated varieties, termed cultivars. The Narcissus genus includes Paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta papyraceous) and jonquils and daffodils. The common name for any of the plants that are in the genus Narcissus is daffodil, usually referring to the large, trumpet-shaped flowers that are so common now. But their botanical name is Narcissus pseudonarcissus, a little known fact that might come in handy if you want to sound like a serious gardener in a social gathering.

And what about jonquils? According to the American Daffodil Society, a jonquil is one of the 13 divisions of daffodils. Bloom color, size and shape, as well as foliage type, flowering schedule and number of blossoms to a stem, determine the classifications of more than 25,000 registered hybrids. All of these perennials fall under the Narcissus genus. Gardeners in some parts of the country, including the South, call any yellow daffodil a jonquil, but this is frequently incorrect. As a rule, hybrids in the jonquilla division boast more than one yellow flower to a stem and a strong, sweet fragrance.

Another Rose Craft Garden Club member Virginia Salmon, also has transplanted some of Betty’s heirloom daffodils onto her property at Hillside. Predating the Civil War, Hillside contains heirloom daffodils that “bloom everywhere” she said. “I’ve given away many hundreds of these bulbs that naturalize and migrate around the property.”

Other heirloom flower bulbs that are shared among local gardeners include spider lilies, crinum lilies and rain lilies. Spider lilies (Lycoris radiata) start their show a few days after a good rain shower in September. From bare ground, stalks burst through and unfurl their Chinese red, curvy petals and stamens. Another popular name for them is “surprise lily” because they seem to come from nowhere when you least expect them. Crinum lilies (Crinum spp.) are large, heat and moisture loving plants, producing an abundant array of showy flowers in summer.

The crinum plant is often referred to as the Southern swamp lily, or cemetery plant. An old favorite is “Milk and Wine” so termed because it describes the milky white petals with burgundy-red stripes. Rain lilies seem to spring miraculously from the ground after the rain. These plants, also known as zephyr lily or fairy lily are native to the United States and thrive in the warm, humid South. Their delicate blossoms can be pink, white or even yellow and there are more modern hybrids of these popular old fashioned and long-favored plants.

If you are fortunate enough to have a friend or relative with these plants in their gardens, you may be able to coax them to share a few with you. If not, commercial sources for these and other heirloom bulbs include www.southernbulbs.com and www.oldhousegardens.com.


Karen Dardick grows these heirloom bulbs and many other plants in her Natchez garden. She is a member of Rose Craft Garden Club and a long-time garden writer.