Across the country, some of the first flowers to herald spring are daffodils. “They arrive early, long before the rest of the garden wakes up,” says Erin Benzakein, who runs Floret Flower Farm in Washington’s Skagit Valley and recently published the beautiful coffee table book Floret Farm’s A Year in Flowers.
On her property, Benzakein trials more than sixty varieties of daffodils, luxuriating in their varied looks and smells. “You can find varieties that are miniature, fragrant, ruffled, double bloomed, and multicolored,” she says. “I’m excited to see a revival of heirloom varieties.” Many of the varieties she plants trace back centuries, and can still be found in gardens throughout the country. “Thalia, a fragrant beauty from the early 1900s with long wispy stems sports nodding, star-shaped white blooms,” she says. “Avalanche is a mid-season bloomer, and each long stem is adorned with up to twenty miniature white flowers with a pale-yellow center. This heirloom dates back to the 1700s.”
Through her bulb trials, Benzakein has found a few varieties that are well suited to planting in the South come fall. “Daffodils require an extended period of cold weather in order to flower properly. Varieties from the Jonquilla and Tazetta divisions require much less winter chilling and thrive throughout the South,” she says. She recommends the varieties Bell Song, Sailboat, Falconet, Avalanche, and Geranium, many of which are available in season through her shop, and in March at Southern bulb retailers Brent and Becky’s in Gloucester, Virginia, Terra Ceia Farms in Pantego, North Carolina, and at many local nurseries.
Benzakein waxes poetic about one variety at the very top of her list: the Petit Four. “Of all the daffodils I have seen or grown, none quite compares to the beauty and elegance of this particular variety,” she says. “Its ivory, pointed outer petals perfectly frame the double crown, which is filled with an exquisite mix of apricot pink, buttercream, and peach frilled petals. If I could only grow one daffodil, this surely would be it.”