I love a long spring and we have had that this year. So often, it goes by in the blink of an eye but this year, daffodils, abundant here, have been in bloom at least a month. Among the many blessings I have here at Mary’s farm are the varieties of daffodils she planted – who knows how long ago. I have planted some since I’ve been here but mostly, these harbingers of spring are from Mary. I had company last week and went out to pick a bunch for the table. There are several clumps to the east of the red barn, a scattering along the lower stone wall, some in front of the sunporch and in a collar around the hydrangea tree, some on the slope above the house. The early ones have gone by but new blooms have taken their place. While I was mowing the lawn yesterday, I found two rogues, beside the place where the big barn used to be. I can’t imagine they ever really bloomed in the tight shadow of the barn. But now that there's sun where the barn used to be, there they were, pure white, double-headed, with finely pointed petals, rising up out of rubble.
A friend of mine, Mary Liz, who lives nearby in a retirement community, was a great gardener, probably like Mary. She knows the names and the characteristics of many of the daffodils, or narcissus, as she prefers to call them. I was visiting with her a couple of weeks ago and she mentioned how much she missed her Pheasant’s Eyes. Before moving to her cozy apartment, she and her husband lived on a steep hill near Mt. Monadnock where she cultivated extensive perennial gardens. She sometimes won awards from the local garden club. She knew her stuff and has felt a little deprived now living without a garden of her own. I was pretty sure I knew what the Pheasant’s Eye looked like – a smallish white daffodil with a bright yellow center edged in red, which is the “eye” – and I had a feeling that I had some among my profusion of spring blooms. I told her I would look to see if I could find some for her.
On my return home, I searched all the clumps of daffodils around the house and barns. There were big, bright yellow blooms, the iconic yellow trumpets, some off-white with egg-yolk yellow centers, some big trumpets of white petals with faint yellow centers – the combinations seemed endless variations on the them of yellow, but, sadly, I could not find a Pheasant’s Eye for Mary Liz. Instead, I gathered a bouquet of some of each and dropped them off at her residence as a surprise. She in turn identified some of them for me: Mount Hood, Double Down, First Blush.
A few days later, I went to the town of Madbury to give a presentation at the historical society. Oftentimes these presentations are accompanied by a lavish table of sweets and treats and the evening in Madbury was no exception. Beautiful cakes, some dusted with confectioner’s sugar, were set on charming plates on a table adorned with an old-fashioned tablecloth and a large vase filled with daffodils. I was surprised and delighted to see that some blooms in the arrangement were Pheasant’s Eyes. I commented on these rare gems, which are sometimes called “Poet’s Eye,” a name I like even more, and as I was leaving the hall, one of my hosts lifted the entire bundle up out of the vase and gave them to me to carry home.
When I got home, I put them in a Mason jar on the kitchen table, the Eyes facing into the room. They were going by fast in my wood-heated kitchen. Next day, I separated the Eyes, put them into an old blue Milk of Magnesia bottle, and took them outside to photograph for Mary Liz. Better than nothing. In the meantime, her former neighbors had taken the time to cut twenty-five stems from the slope in front of her old house (with permission of the new owners) and took them to her in her apartment. And that day she had ordered bulbs for Pheasant’s Eyes to plant in a place outside her window for next year. In want, comes abundance.
During all this Pheasant’s Eye mania, I looked up the genus and found that the reason it is sometimes, or perhaps originally, called “Poet’s Eye” was because it is thought to be one of the oldest garden flowers. Legend has it that it was the narcissus of the Greek poets. Probably not true but lots of the red-eyed beauty can be found in France and Germany and up into the Pyrenees. They must last a long time up there, as the daffodils have here in this extended spring. Cold rain is forecast for the coming week so it’s likely we’ll hold onto the daffodils a bit longer.
My daffodil lexicon has been expanded. Pheasant’s Eye. The tiny but vivid bright red ring around the edge of the center cup is the kind of delicate detail in nature that makes one believe that, aside from being a poet, God was also an artist. I’m going to order some Pheasant’s Eye bulbs and plant them in the fall. Then I’ll hope for a long, cool spring next year.