PLANT OF THE WEEK #67: Rubbish jonquils

I’ve given up trying to decide what I think about jonquils – particularly the indestructible and ubiquitous Narcissus ‘Soleil d’Or’. The arguments for and against them provide no clear position.

I love that they’re scented.  It gives me such warm, fuzzy feelings that a plant that flowers at this most hostile time of year should do so so sunnily, with such warmth of colour and generosity of scent.  But then I bring some inside.  Someone in the family immediately complains about the pong.  I do my best to defend and redefine the pong, then having detected the ponginess myself, chuck them out before they’re really over.  The scent (can you even consider calling it a perfume?) is best detected darting elusively around the garden.  There it should stay.  Until next year, when I’ll go through the whole process again.

I love that they’re just so insistently persistent.  There’s a place in our garden from which I’ve attempted digging them out several times, changed the soil levels, seen several planting ideas executed then eliminated, but the jonquils return fat, muscular and strong every year.  When they do, it’s glaringly obvious that there’s nowhere near enough flowers to justify all that juicy, succulent, squeaky foliage.  And they never, ever look any good in their context.  I wonder if they even have a context.  But part of me remains grateful for them.  

I remember arriving at Dixter thirty years ago, and Christopher Lloyd pointing out to me a combination he’d attempted (and in his mind, rather failed at) backing up an epimedium with miniature daffodil of a similar colour.  The daffodil was falling over (a common problem with daffodils in the well-fed conditions of a garden bed, he made clear), further consolidating his conviction that daffodils are, after all, flowers of the field, and there they should stay.

Extending that thought to jonquils, I dug up a heap of mine last year and planted them into rough grass.  It was kind of my last-ditch effort to find a place in which they’d look any good.  I didn’t hold out much hope.  But they’re flowering now, visible from where I write, seen amongst the bleached grass from last year (which I never got around to cutting before the noses of the bulbs pushed through) and against the rich forest green of a Viburnum tinus hedge.  They’re glowing as if spot-lit.  Maybe I’ll be able to enjoy them there.

Honestly, I don’t understand the nature of my insipid affection for them.  But it persists.  And therefore so do they.

Do you have them? Do you like them? If so, what do you find is their most effective context?


  1. Inherited them in my scraggly Jervis Bay holiday house garden and after many garden failures am now focusing the next attempted redesign of the back garden, after many failures, to features jonquils (white) and snowdrops (also inherited) but much loved ! Adding clipped westringias and eriostemons and various grasses to make a strange non steppe version of Michael’s steppe! Was dismayed by Michael’s recent article saying you should only use low plantings in large spaces, but am ploughing on!
    I would add a photo if I could!

    1. Quite a good context for Paper whites, for sure. Can’t wait to one day see your non-steppe, or miss-steppe. Possibly no more accessible in Jervis Bay as in Central Otago, right now

  2. Oh Michael, you crack me up! We had such a similar scenario earlier this month- our dear old dog died, and a kindly neighbour bought us a bunch of fresh , pretty jonquils to say how sad she was, for Ginger Meggs was well known .
    After a night it two looking beautiful , lively and uplifting in the living room, we could bear the pong no more.
    Where did they end up? Out in the granny flat where Ginger slept, where they took away the smell of a ‘leaky’ old dog so well!

    1. I love that. Perhaps that’s their true context – wherever bad smells need masking (with something only slightly less bad)

  3. One has to hand it to them for persistence so in my book they have a place somewhere in a garden. Like wisteria. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. At the very least just let ’em be. M

    1. Absolutely. 12/10 for persistence

  4. I am glad you found a home for these indestructible golden suns. I had a clump growing triumphantly right next to an equally strident patch of Bergenias. Not my favourite colour combo. Therefore, I dug up the bulbs and popped them into old plastic pots ( as I continue to do each year when they pop up again in spite my best efforts) and now, I have them with pots of muscari and other narcissus by the front door (in the spirit of your alma mater GD). And yes at this time of year they are cheering, which is a bonus. I would rather the washed out cream jonquils in the garden and paper whites. Soleil d’Or is far too fecund to go in the ground here ever again. Once they’re finished the pots will go back behind the shed to be forgotten until next winter. Thanks for your article.

    1. They’re incapable of anything but triumphant growth. You’ve gotta love them for that, don’t you? But there also must be the exact right spot, somewhere, for such muscularity and fecundity (and the volumes of persistent foliage). Maybe the pot thing – that can be set aside for the other 11 months – is the ultimate solution.

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