Sunday 31 December 2017

Plant of the Year 2017: Narcissus 'Thalia'

Narcissus 'Thalia'
In selecting plants of the year my usual thought has been to nominate something that gives a long season of interest, but this year I've selected a plant that on one gorgeous April day caught my attention and provided a lovely set of images. Not that Narcissus 'Thalia' is ephemeral - in most years one will have flowers for several weeks in April, though in this year's fine weather they didn't last as long as they can do.

'Thalia' was raised by the breeder Van Waveren in Holland pror to 1916, so it must be classed as an old daffodil now - and like the early hybrids it retains an elegance and charm that so many lack. Its vigour is seemingly not significantly reduced by the virus load it carries, evident in the streaks and mottlings of yellow or paler green in the foliage and stems, though it would be nice to see what clean stock could do.  In the past few years we have planted many thousands of 'Thalia' in the Yorkshire Arboretum, especially on the low eminence known as Bracken Hill. Here a cap of sandy soil sits above the clay, providing ideal conditions for this descendant of Narcissus triandrus, which is planted in the grass below the trees - young oaks and birch especially.  No other daffodils grow with them, the impact of the display coming from the serenity of thousands of white flowers, though as they fade Camassia leichtlinii 'Caerulea' comes into flower and carries the display into May. The images below were taken there.

Narcissus 'Thalia' on Bracken Hill in the Yorkshire Arboretum.

Seeing this display on such a day reminded me of a line from Tolkien describing the passage of the Elves as 'a swift shimmer under the trees, or a light and shadow flowing through the grass.'

Potted 'Thalia' on the arboretum's cafe terrace.
Every year I plant some large terracotta pots with 40-50 bulbs each of 'Thalia' stuffed in cheek by jowl in two layers of bulbs. The pots live in a cool, frost-free shed until roots are well-formed and the shoots advancing and are then placed on the arboretum's cafe terrace where they never fail to attract attention. The elegance of the individual flowers is perhaps subsumed in the mass, but the effect is splendid.

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