My funny daffodil


Do you find its looks laughable? Christopher Lloyd suggests
that “double daffodils may seem like an unwelcome aberration,” but this is the
time of year that I welcome oddities like this to the garden. (And to be fair,
it is not open yet; it will even out when its outer petals recurve back and the
interior becomes a compact rosette of apricot and white.)

I’ll take risks on bulbs that I never would on perennials
where I am expecting years of dependable performance (how dull that sounds). Bulbs
may last one season or a few; it doesn’t really matter because they are easy to
replace and their replacements—especially in the case of hybrid tulips and some
hybrid daffodils—will look their best in their first year of growth. I’m happy
to see species tulips and daffs (I also have the cantabricus and the albus plenus odoratus) come back for years, but if they don’t I’m just as happy to
replace them with something new. It’s fun, much more fun than worrying about a
filipendula that is not thriving as it should, a groundcover that is getting
eaten by slugs right when I need it to be perfect, or—worse—a shrub that is
taking too long to fill out.

Spring bulbs come up, do what they’re supposed to do, and disappear
when it’s time for the serious perennials to take over. That’s why the thought
of turning fun into tedium by pulling the bulbs out, drying them, and messing
around with vermiculate and porous paper bags fails to allure.

It is true that my funny daffodils will have not so funny
foliage left over that may bother me for weeks to come. Maybe I’ll dig them up
and give them to one of the community gardens I help look after.  As for the hybrid tulips, they are
annuals and will be fine for the compost bin.

But all that’s in the future. For now, this is a favorite
time—almost every day I see something that’s unusually beautiful—or just plain
unusual—emerge from the experimental bulb field in front of my house.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I’ve watched the same small patch of ‘West Point’ tulips come up and do their spring ballet for years. This year, I feel somewhat bereft that they’re mostly a patch of blind growth. The thought of tossing them onto the compost makes me feel disloyal… they’ve worked hard for me for so long, surely something can be done to cure them! I’ll probably dig them up and divide them, tossing or giving away the small bulbs I can’t use. Who knows? It’s worked before.

  2. We used to have a hard that had been completely taken over by daffodils in the Spring. It was such a beautiful sight. We’re working on recreating that drama in our new garden. They naturalize easily here, so it shouldn’t take too long.

  3. That will work for you Elizabeth in a small urban lot. Here on Bulbhilla, an acre and a half of bulbs, perennials, shrubs and trees in the wilderness, the bulbs must return to achieve the intended effect. As a result there are 10,000 daffodils, an equal or greater number of puschkinia, scilla, chionodoxa and hyacinthoides and two dozen tulips.

    At Client #1’s down in town I am quesstimating 2000 tulip bulbs were et up over the winter. The daffodils I planted were untouched.

    The double daffodils are pretty, just more prone to permanently flopping over in inclement weathers.

  4. I’ve let tulips go for a few years, even though they tend to get smaller; I find them charming that way. I dig up when I figure they’re just going to send up leaves the next year. Lily-flowered tulips have held on the longest for me.

  5. The double yellow daffodils that I inherited with my Maryland house years ago were attractive only from a distance. The flowers had virtually no daffodil shape–just an ugly mass of yellow crammed onto the end of the stem. We called them scrambled eggs. I don’t have to worry about them invading my yard any more down here in Florida.

  6. I think of daffodils as a country flower. I like them best en masse under old apple trees.

    But double daffodils…now THEY are urban and fun.

  7. I could never dig-and-toss any of my bulbs – makes me feel disrespectful of the plant & its work. But I often have a hard time taking out anything that’s doing well (except for the builder-planted photinia and flax that were in my front yard – removed them guilt-free) or was planted with good intentions. Probably explains a lot about the look of my “landscaping”.

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