I have a love-hate relationship with daffodils. Our wild daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus is a native species (although even that is somewhat doubtful and disputed) whose world range stretches south from Britain to Spain and Portugal and east to Germany. It is a woodland plant that occurs in carpets that add splashes of spring yellow to the woodland floor as the trees begin to green up in March. The native plant has pale yellow petals framing a deeper yellow trumpet of tepals. It’s a subtle flower whose emergence marks a stage of the unfolding of spring in those rather scattered locations in which it is native or at least long-established.
A lot of my love for daffodils goes out to these native plants – but I rarely see them. I can feel quite a lot of love for the brighter, brasher garden varieties too. When my daughter was born I filled the house with bright yellow bunches of ‘daffs’ to welcome her into her home and for her mother’s homecoming. Daffodils, jonquils, narcissi in the garden are fine too – I have love for them too. But where this love switches into extreme irritation bordering on hate is when these garden flowers pop up deep in the countryside as roadside splashes of colour.
Rather than thinking ‘Oh, what lovely flowers!’ I think ‘Look, someone’s planted some daffodils here’ and resent them. I know that the less these planted daffodils resemble the wild native species, the more I will resent them. If they have white petals, or any red or orange on the trumpet then my resentment will be all the greater. And this is because I see them as planted intruders into the ‘natural’ countryside rather than aspects of nature.
I know this is a feeling bordering on the irrational, or perhaps stepping well into that realm, as we are talking about a roadside verge in lowland England not a wilderness far from habitation. There is nothing in my view, or for miles in any direction, that is wholly natural: everything has the touch of mankind on it. For heaven’s sake we are talking of a roadside verge: I’m in a car, driving along a road, with hedges, fences or walls separating me from fields growing planted crops or grazing domestic animals, and there are signs of human settlement, electricity pylons and road signs all within view, and I am irritated by a bunch of pretty flowers? Yes, I am.
The thing about those roadside garden daffodils is that I know that someone has planted them. The reason they are here, in their irritating straight line or small pointless clump, is that someone has put them there. That’s why they aren’t on the other side of the road, or further on or further back; they are where they are because someone put them there and I find their beauty much diminished as a result. And that’s why I like them all the less, the less they resemble our native wild daffodil, because that rubs it in even more.
And the fact that they often represent the only splash of plant colour out in the countryside in early spring deepens my irritation. It just makes it all the more obvious that these flowers represent a human intrusion rather than an encounter with natural beauty.
If I thought that these flowers have arrived under their own steam, as it were, and struggled to establish themselves in this spot, I know I would feel differently about them, but they feel to me akin to a gaudy pot plant plonked into the countryside. That’s why I have a love-hate relationship with daffodils. In the right place they are lovely; in what I consider to be the wrong place I dislike them. The right place for garden daffodils is in our gardens, in our houses brightening up our rooms, and even on roadside verges in built up areas. They should be restricted to grow inside the 30mph zones of built up areas and if I ruled the world the daffodil police would be out there digging them up from our country roadsides.