Frustrated gardeners have long forced bulbs into flowering early, tricking bulbs into thinking it was spring after a period of cold dormancy, or winter. Now that we have refrigerated trucks and interstate shipping and all the other conveniences of modern society, we also have forced bulbs available in supermarkets and chain stores all over the country. In particular, we often find tête-à-tête narcissus, in bud or blooming already, their cheery yellow flowers tempting us, quickening our heartbeats and lightening our steps.
It's February, or maybe March. It feels like spring will NEVER get here. For those of us holed up in the frozen North, we're really starting to get itchy. Our garden plans are waiting, carefully drawn in colored pencils. Our winter sowed containers are waiting, and our vegetable gardens are still vegetable seed packages, waiting. It feels as if the wholeworld is waiting, and we can't wait fast enough! Although the days are getting a little longer, they're still not long enough.
I can't manage the crowds at my local flower show, which is a big pick-me-up for lots (and lots and lots and lots) of people, and anyway, for me the first big event of spring is earlier and more mundane: the first forced bulbs in my grocery store. Sorely do they tempt me. Last year the house was blooming with my new-found addiction for amaryllis (or hippeastrum) in every room, and outside dozed 75+ winter sowed containers. Last year when those chirpy little golden creatures sang to me from the Florist Department, which I usually speed to avoid, I sang back "thanks anyway, guys, my house is alive with flowers."
This year, however, things are a lot less focused. I'm Supermom, not Putter-around-the-house-with-bulbs-mom. I'm buried in paperwork, not seeds . . . and when I heard the familiar call from the florist aisle, "we're ba-a-ack!" I'm afraid to say it, but I succumbed. I bought one pot of tête-à-têtes for my father, who lives at an assisted living center where they seem to have only artificial plants, and one for myself. It was supposed to be for the whole family, but none of us noticed whether it was getting watered or not, and eventually ... it wasn't! But that's okay, because tête-à-tête daffodils will naturalize in nearly any part of the country. So if this happens to you, oh ye of forgetful watering can, take heed!
Let the foliage on your tête-à-têtes ripen until the stems turn brown; they need to store all the energy they can, in the form of carbohydrates, if they are going to flower again another year. Then carefully dig out the bulbs and plant them in any sunny, well-drained spot where you want a touch of low-growing early spring color. Reports vary on whether forced tête-à-tête bulbs will flower the very next spring or skip a year. (Flowering out-of-sync with a bulb's natural rhythms taxes it heavily, and it may take a year to recover.) You can learn more at the Bulb Forum, and of course you can plant tête-à-têtes in the autumn like the rest of the world. But whatever you do, if you buy the potted type, don't throw them out!
Tête-à-tête means "head to head" in French, like a head to head talk, and often these miniature daffodils look as if they're having a close conference, with two or more blooms per stalk. They flower in early spring, and should spread happily in any zone with a discernible winter, say zone 8 and colder. They would do well with a little bulb fertilizer, if you happen to remember. Their perky bright yellow goes particularly well with grape hyacinth (muscari armeniacum) or blue creeping phlox (phlox subulata). Mine are planted with forget-me-nots (myosotis sylvatica), which sometimes forget that they're supposed to reseed prolifically.
I think these days at the big box stores, they actually get to sendback miniature roses that didn't open and daffodils that dried out. But if you have an opportunity to pick up a lot of these once-flowered beauties on the cheap, do it! I'm planning to stalk the halls of my father's assisted living center and see if any other dutiful daughters said it with daffodils this winter.
About Carrie Lamont
Carrie clicks on EVERY link. She has two beautiful daughters, and has been married for twelve delightful years. Her husband works for an airline, facilitating Carrie's frequent need to travel. She has a masters degree in Music, and hums to herself as she gazes out wistfully at her full-sun containers from her air-conditioned interior. Carrie just moved from Massachusetts to Texas and is still recovering.