February 2021: Narcissus cyclamineus

In February the garden is awash with the white of snowdrops – which is what makes my choice for February, Narcissus cyclamineus, so welcome. It is a tiny species daffodil (only a few inches tall) which, like many of its alpine brethren, grows and flowers surprisingly early. Its bright yellow flowers provide a warm glow and promise of sunnier days to come when they open in February and early March.

Narcissus cyclamineus

Despite being so petite, I find it surprisingly robust and reliable. I bought a small potful of bulbs from Aberconwy Nursery at the AGS show in February 2011 when its dinky flowers with their swept back corolla proved difficult to resist. Keith Lever told me that it seeded itself around their coldframes and I thought “Well, it’ll never do that for me”. How wrong I was. I planted it in a bed at the base of an oak tree which is great for snowdrops, but which I find very difficult and dry in the summer. The Narcissus loved it, and, just as Keith had predicted, it gently seeded around so now I have a small colony. It starts flowering in early-February and continues to look good for more than a month. The picture shows it as it was a few years after planting – the patch is now about twice as big but more difficult to photograph.

I have already described the swept back corolla, which someone (I can’t remember who) said made it look as though it was in a force 9 gale, which I think is very apt and captures it jaunty eagerness. Additionally, the trumpet is relatively long, so the overall flower size is fairly substantial for such a short plant. Both corolla and trumpet are a uniform, rich yellow.

It’s a species which had been used extensively in hybridising and is a parent of many very good garden daffodils. Some I have found reliable are Little Witch, Peeping Tom, Trena, Tete-a-tete and Jetfire, although there are many, many more. Most are much larger than the species, but still much smaller and neater than the typical trumpet daff. Several have inherited the swept back corolla, and all are fairly early flowering, although not, in my experience, as early as the species. February Gold is probably the earliest, but I find its moniker is not that appropriate!

So, when we are next able to have our local AGS show and Aberconwy have their usual tempting display of alpines for sale, don’t think “that’ll never grow for me” – it might be the start of a beautiful relationship!

Sue Dockerill