Sandy’s Garden ... Tête-à-Tête

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

I have to confess to having committed a sin of omission.

At the back end of last autumn, I went off on holiday without having planted all the bulbs I had intended to plant; and when I returned home, the soil was very wet and the weather uninviting, these two circumstances combining to dissuade me from planting the last of the bulbs ‘until next week.’ But, although next week did assuredly come along, and the week after that and the week after that, the last of the bulbs never did get planted; and these poor daffodils are, even now, struggling to thrive in a box in the greenhouse, their roots stretching out in quest of non-existent moisture and their shoots flaccid and flabby. However, all the daffodils which were planted and are now coming into bud, promising a rich harvest of welcome flowers to cheer up the garden.

Of course, we have been enjoying shop-bought daffodils as cut flowers for many weeks now, the earliest of them imported from the Channel Islands, with slightly later examples coming from the south-west of England and the most recent from nurseries almost anywhere in the United Kingdom. What we don’t have in the house this year are any bowls of miniature daffodils, although an increasing number of people have taken to growing the bulbs as indoor pot plants. By far the most common variety of daffodil for indoor cultivation is ‘Tête-à-Tête’ … French for ‘head to head’ … a dwarf variety which, while happy growing in borders and rockeries outdoors where it won’t be swamped by larger plants, is equally happy growing indoors in pots. Well, perhaps I should enlarge that statement a little to read ‘is equally happy growing indoors in pots given the right conditions.’

Since miniature daffodils are really outdoor plants, they need conditions broadly similar to those they would choose for themselves outdoors if given the chance. They should be planted in bulb fibre in a pot, or pots with drainage holes in the base, being placed at the correct depth … approximately twice the bulb’s circumference below the intended surface of the bulb fibre … and then covered with the growing medium, never pressed down into it. Even though it is fairly simple … and very tempting … to push bulbs into the soil, bulbs are actually quite easily bruised; and any invisible bruising is an open invitation for rot to set in. The newly-planted bulbs should then be kept somewhere cool and darkish … a frost-free garage or an unheated bedroom, for example … until the shoots appear. The pots should be brought into the light now and checked regularly to make sure the growing medium is kept damp … never actually wet … until the buds are fully-formed. Really the gardener ought to have done all of these things by now, but we can pick up the tale in real time for every garden centre has bowls and pots of miniature daffodils in bud ready to be sold to willing customers.

The containers should be placed near a window where they will be well lit but not exposed to much direct sunlight. The flowers will last longer if the plants are kept in a temperature of no more than 15ºC … say 60°F: but, since we want to enjoy the flowers, we usually keep them in a living room which is a bit warmer than this; just don’t put them close to a source of heat. While they are in flower, they should be kept well-watered but never allowed to sit in really wet soil; and one good way to achieve this is to place the pot in a suitable bowl and pour perhaps half-a-cupful of water at room temperature into the fibre … the fibre, not directly where the shoots surface … and after perhaps half-an-hour remove the pot, put it in the kitchen sink and let all the surplus water drain out of it. When a spent flower dries up, snap it off to stop the bulb from transferring nutrients and energy into the seed-head. And when the flowering season has past, the bulbs can be planted in the garden … hopefully!