Tag Archive: narcissus

Picture by Catherine Morrisey, Limerick, Ireland

Picture by Catherine Morrisey, Limerick, Ireland

Tidying up in the Moat

Tidying up in the Moat

Trusted, that’s how I felt. Assistant Head Gardener, Steve told me that the Head Gardener wanted me to prune some shrubs in the double borders at Blickling.

Buddleja, Fuchsia, Black Elder and also Pawlonia were the target, following on from the start I made a couple of weeks ago. Pruning Pawlonia always worries me; as you may know they can be left unpruned and will produce purple flowers. But they are mainly grown to create wonderful foliage and so quite hard pruning- involving some saw work- is needed. I came across some quite thick stems that on the face of it look substantial, but as you cut in their hollow insides give way easily and you feel slightly less of a vandal.

I didn’t spend any time in the walled garden, but you might be interested to listen to a 15 minute interview that BBC Radio Norfolk did with the Project Manager, Mike. Here’s a link to it.

This wasn’t my first visit to Blickling this week. I also attended a lively and stimulating induction day for new staff and volunteers. We had a tour of the house and park. Our guides were really enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Some interesting facts about Blickling that we uncovered:

  • The Manor has been owned by two kings- first Harold (he with the arrow in the eye problem) and subsequently by his successor William the Conqueror
  • There have been three houses on the site, the current one (which began building in 1619), built within the moat of the older houses
  • Anne Boleyn (Henry VIII’s second wife and with the ‘neck ache’) was probably born at Blickling in around 1501
  • The designer of the current house was Robert Lyminge, a well know Dutch architect who had previously designed Hatfield House- he was paid the princely sum of 2 shillings and sixpence (‘Half a Crown’) a day
  • King Charles II visited the house in 1671 and knighted the owner, Henry Hobart
  • Blickling Estate today employs around 40 staff and has some 450 volunteers!

After the pruning – where I was engaged in conversation with several visitors- I joined the other volunteers in the moat for some general tidying up. We managed to complete the two remaining sides (of three) within a couple of hours and it did look satisfyingly neat. Paul, the Head Gardener came round to thank us for our efforts and was very complementary about my pruning; it’s nice to feel valued!

Apart from various pieces of masonry that had fallen off of the moat walls, I also discovered a metal object (see picture)- any guesses as to what it might be?

This week's mystery object.. any ideas?

This week’s mystery object.. any ideas?

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener


Picture by Eva Kovacs

Picture by Eva Kovacs

'Tickling' the soil in the 'Black Garden'

‘Tickling’ the soil in the ‘Black Garden’

After two weeks away from Blickling, I was eager to see what progress had been made in the gardens. I wasn’t disappointed. Though some of the volunteer sessions had been rained off, they still seemed to have made a visual impact on the borders. And I gathered from Project Manager Mike, that there had also been major progress in the Walled Garden.

My first job was to prune some Buddleja in the borders established a few years ago which echo designs by the 1930’s Garden Designer Norah Lindsay, who made such an impact at Blickling. Then it was on to join my fellow volunteers in the ‘Black Garden’ where a lovely mix of dark flowering plants and dark foliage (including Black Mongo grass) combine to create a sombre mood.

Here the ladies were ‘tickling’ over the soil around the plants and especially in a border of tulips (‘Queen of Night’) and Iris, both just beginning their spring wake up. I pruned some Black Elders here to encourage a good show of foliage at head height. It was good to catch up on the news of the last couple of weeks and over lunch I was treated to a delicious piece of birthday cake (Almond and Apricot) brought in by one of the team. I must say I like this little ritual of bringing in cakes on your birthday, especially as I will hopefully be the beneficiary rather than the donor until next January!

Further afield in the gardens there are clear signs of the arrival of spring; beautiful patches of Crocus and Narcissus are just into their show times. And the major news in the walled garden is the arrival of the newly refurbished glasshouse. However, the former heating system- the massive hot water pipes are still in evidence- is not going to be restored. In future, I understand from Head Gardener Paul, the necessary heat will be supplied by a couple of fan heaters. He also tells me there’s hope of replacing the other glasshouse at some point too, funding permitting. I can’t wait to get into the newly restored structure and use its full potential.

Work was also underway to widen a major entrance path to the front lawns of the House and this was being used as a trial session using a new supply of metal path edging, a large quantity of which had been delivered for use in laying out the paths in the walled garden. Perhaps this is something I’ll be helping with in coming weeks.

For most of the day our gardening proceeded to a back drop of a buzzing in the air. No, not an early swarm of bees, but a ‘drone’ hanging in the sky like a bird of prey; filming the gardens for a new video that’s to go on the Blickling website.

'Under attack'- can you spot the drone?

‘Under attack’- can you spot the drone?

I also bumped into a paving contractor who was finishing off some repairs to a York Stone path at the entrance to the Gardens. He’d done a beautiful job, the new stone blending in perfectly with the older material. The contractor told me that the stone costs £120 per m2 plus VAT!

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener


Planting Patterns #5

Spring in the step

Old School Gardener

Plant Patterns #2

Narcissus parterres

Old School Gardener

Daffodil flower close up

Narcissus is a genus of bulbous perennials in the Amaryllis family. They are in the  main hardy and most flower in the spring. There are various common names used to describe all or some of the genus – daffodil, narcissus, and jonquil. Narcissus are native to meadows and woods in Europe, North Africa and West Asia, centred in the Western Mediterranean.

There is disagreement about the number of distinct species (these range from 26 to more than 60 depending on who you ask) – as some are very similar and others have hybridised. All Narcissus cultivars are split into 13 divisions (using a combination of flower form and genetic background). New cultivars are registered by name and color with the Royal Horticultural Society, which is the international registration authority for the genus.

More than 27,000 names were registered as of 2008!

Narcissus flowers

Narcissus flowers

The name “daffodil” is derived from an earlier word  “affodell”, a variant of Asphodel (another group of Mediterranean plants). The reason for the addition of the  initial “d” is not known, although it could be a ‘slip of the dutch tongue’ – the merging of the main word with the Dutch article “de”, as in “De affodil”. Playful synonyms  “Daffadown Dilly”, “daffadown dilly”, and “daffydowndilly” appeared as early as the 16th century. Everyday use of the term Daffodil tends to refer to the wild daffodil (N. pseudonarcissus).

The name Narcissus comes from the same latin word, which in turn is based on an ancient greek word – but its meaning is unknown. It could be a word loaned from another language. The most common explanation is based on the Greek myth of Narcissus, a Thespian hunter renowned for his beauty. He became so obsessed with his own reflection in a pool of water that as he knelt and gazed into it, he fell into the water and drowned. Some variations of the myth say that he died of starvation and thirst. In both versions the Narcissus plant sprang from his remains. However, this is by no means a certain derivation and it could be the that the hunter’s name was derived from the flower rather than the other way round!

Another explanation for the name comes from Pliny who stated that the plant was named because of its narcotic properties (the greek word means ‘to grow numb’). There’s no evidence to support this idea and it seems to have fallen out of favour. However,  all Narcissus species do contain the poison lycorine (mostly in the bulb but also in the leaves). The bulbs can often be confused with onions, thereby leading to incidents of accidental poisoning.

On 1 May 2009 a number of schoolchildren fell ill at Gorseland Primary School in Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, England, after a daffodil bulb was added to soup during a cookery class.

Another problem is what florists call, “daffodil itch” – a skin problem often found on the hands after contact with the plant’s sap. Some cultivars seem more likely to cause this kind of dermatitis; eg  ‘Actaea’, ‘Camparelle’, ‘Gloriosa’, ‘Grande Monarque’, ‘Ornatus’, ‘Princeps’ and ‘Scilly White’.

Narcissus geranium

Narcissus geranium

The Narcissus is used quite widely as a symbol:

  • of unrequited love (after the Narcissus myth)
  • of vanity (the West)
  • of wealth and good fortune (the East).
  • of the new year (Kurdish and Chinese cultures).
  • of beautiful eyes (Persian culture)
  • of the nation (Wales – where the daffodil is known as ‘Peter’s Leek’)
  • of Easter (the German for daffodil is Osterglocke or ‘Easter Bell’)
Cornwall daffodils- traditionally the place (along with the Scilly Isles and Channel Islands) where early supplies of cut flowers are sent out to the rest of Britain.

Cornwall Daffodils- traditionally the place (along with the Scilly Isles and Channel Islands) where early supplies of cut flowers are sent out to the rest of Britain.

Some of the species names are:

N. bulbocodium = probably greek for ‘bulb’ (bolbos) and ‘a little fleece’ (kodion) – referring to the covering of the bulb – the ‘Hoop Petticoat Daffodil’

N. cyclamineus = like a Cyclamen flower

N. incomparabilis = incomparable

N. jonquilla = probably from ‘juncus’ (a rush) – the leaves being rush-like. The ‘Jonquil’

N. juncifolia = like Jonquil, rush – leaved!

N. major = larger

N. maximus = largest

N. minor = smaller

N. odorus = sweet-scented

N. poeticus = poet’s – the ‘Poets’ Narcissus’

N. pseudonarcissus = the false Narcissus. The ‘English Daffodil’

N. tazetta = an old name for the ‘Polyanthus Narcissus’

N. triandrus = having three stamens

Daffodil growing tips

Daffodil growing tips

Both species and hybrids are used extensively in gardens and grounds, looking good planted in borders or in naturalized drifts at the base of deciduous trees. Propagation is mainly from bulbs which are very easy to grow. They require little maintenance, but with some minimum care they can be more vigorous and floriferous, and they’ll multiply much more quickly, improving the show they provide each year. (see ‘Ten tips for looking after Daffodils’ above). Narcissus grows almost anywhere, although it does prefer well-drained soils with a sunny or light shade environment. The Narcissus species types are more specific in their requirements.

Naturalised Daffodils

Naturalised Daffodils

Source and further information:


Growing Narcissus

Kew Gardens- Narcissus pseudonarcissus

Daffodil classification

Old School Gardener

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