Brent Heath Knows his Daffodils

5
Brent and Becky Heath

I thought I knew how to grow daffodils – because who doesn’t? They’re critter-proof, perennial, drought-tolerant, and so on. Or so I thought until Brent Heath, co-owner of the beloved bulb company Brent and Becky’s, disabused me of my assumptions in his recent talk at Brookside Gardens outside DC.

Having been in the bulb biz forever and traveled the bulb-growing world, Brent knows his stuff. Here are my take-aways from Brent’s very informative talk.

(By the way, I first met Brent when we kids vacationing with our families in Nags Head, NC. He and my sister became friends, or something like that.)

  • Daffodils are NOT good pollinator plants. I knew that animals don’t eat them, but it hadn’t occurred to me that that included pollinating insects.
  • They’re also not native to the Americas, growing in the wild only in Spain, Portugal, France and Italy. Interestingly, they were brought here sewn into the hems of transatlantic passengers’ skirts. Bulbs were able to survive months that way, enabling immigrants to grow a little something from home when they got here.
  • Daffodils need sun to keep blooming. So that’s why some of mine haven’t produced flowers long-term. As Brent mentioned, people proclaim, “Oh, but my daffodils DO get sun when they’re blooming, before nearby trees have leafed out!” But that’s not enough; they need sun for the 8 weeks after they bloom – you know, that period when you want to remove the ever-uglier foliage but know it’ll reduce the blooms the next year.
  • Daffodils also need to be fed, and Brent recommends good old compost. I don’t believe I’ve ever done that but will now because Brent (who ISN’T selling me a fertilizer product) told us to.

  • Daffodils are best harvested, not cut. Brent says to snap them off as close to the ground as possible.

  • The 4th most popular daffodil is the Dutch Master, the 3rd is Ice Follies (which multiply very well), and I didn’t catch numbers 1 and 2. Damn my note-taking!
  • Hydbridizing takes patience, like 5-7 years of it to get a single bloom on a new daffodil. Brent’s talk included images of varieties that are clearly show-quality and others not, and please don’t ask me to remember which are which or why.

Above, early tulips and hyacinths were also blooming that day at Brookside.

In the immortal words of Brent Heath: “Plant bulbs and harvest smiles.”

Parting shot: remains of a Quinceañera party in the gardens earlier in the day.

All photos taken by the author at Brookside Gardens on March 31, 2019.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I’m impressed with the performance of ‘Katie Heath’, hybridized & introduced by Brent, blooming now in z6b/7 western Va. It’s a triandrus type with two flowers to a stem, and a peachy-pink cup. In sunny springs, it fades to all-white and looks like ‘Thalia’ from a distance — which is fine with me, since it echoes the many clumps of ‘T’ already here. This has been a cool and cloudy spring, though, so the color has lasted really well.

    Another of his recent intros, ‘Snow Baby’, is very early-blooming, ivory-white, and small. This is a fantastic daffodil to accompany emerging peony shoots (much more attractive combo with the red stems than the yellows that dominate the early season), with the huge advantage over most other daffs that the “ripening” foliage is barely noticeable because it’s so short. The blooms last for a good three weeks (last week was the end here).

  2. Could Carlton be the other popular one? According to Neil Sperry it (along with Ice Follies) is one of the better performing Daffs in the south (ie Texas)

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