Daffodils and Paper Whites

daffodil (Narcissus 'February Gold')

dwarf daffodil (Narcissus ‘February Gold’)

Narcissus 'Paper White'

Narcissus ‘Paper White’

At this time of year, the classic golden yellow flowers of daffodils, looking like elegant, if topless, top hats, are crowned upon distinctive blue-green stems, offset more often than not by the crimson colored foliage of roses, just emerged from dormancy. Each element in this picture is fresh and without defect. And it has all been done so simply, merely by planting a few bulbs and rose bushes.
A common question of gardeners concerns companion plants for roses. Daffodil, paper white narcissus and jonquil (a spicily scented miniature daffodil look-alike) are botanical relatives that bloom in late winter and fade out of the way by the time roses begin to really show themselves. They admirably fill the bill as rose companions because they do not compete with roses in any way.
There is an obsession around town which demands that every empty inch of garden space be covered with a plant. Having spent a fair share of time pulling ground covers from betwixt and between perennials and shrubs of all kinds, I will continually cast a vote for mulch – in the form of compost, straw, or fallen leaves – over indiscriminate planting to fill in empty space.
Yet landscape roses, especially floribundas such as “Iceberg,” grown primarily for their quantity of blooms and pest resistance, as opposed to distinctive flowers, could possibly abide shallow-rooted ground cover without compromising either their health or their overall aesthetic impact.
For example, Geranium incanum could be used as a soft, cushiony companion to Iceberg and other landscape roses. Its leaves are feathery and finely cut and look fine just by themselves. As a bonus, magenta flowers appear on the mat-like Geranium incanum during most of the year. The downside of Geranium incanum, I suppose, is its proclivity to self-sow. This means you will see it sprouting beyond the borders you thought it would inhabit. Its shallow roots, however, make its elimination speedy if that should be your choice. A soft, if a bit more billowy, plant of similar inclinations is sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima), its scented white flowers in bloom virtually year around.
Getting back to the daffodils, there is something about their blue-green stems that brings you to a halt in your horticultural tracks. You recall other blue-green foliage you have seen and, in each case, it had a special effect not easily forgotten. Just think for a moment about columbine (Aquilegia), one of the easiest plants to grow from seed with exotic bi-colored flowers. It is a perennial which persists for several years in the garden and may also self-sow. In the Valley, it favors lightly shaded exposures. The columbine’s delicate blue-green leaves make it a highly garden worthy specimen even when out of flower.

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