“We planned to buy a cactus but we decided to stop first at an alpine nursery and that’s where I bought my first Narcissus rupicola,” says Anne Wright. “That was that.” This sounds like an ordinary story about a passion for growing as many of a certain sort of plant as you can in a suburban back garden. But Anne, who owns Dryad Nursery in North Yorkshire, is more than a collector; for the past 36 years, she’s been one of the UK’s leading miniature narcissi breeders.
If you want one of her narcissi – and I can’t imagine a soul in the world who wouldn’t be smitten by their perfect proportion, innate grace and delicate appearance – then you’re going to have to be quick off the mark, quite literally. First you’ll have to join her list, which is essentially a worldwide fan club, then you’ll get an email detailing the exact hour when the list is going to go live.
It takes three to four years for a narcissi seedling to flower, then Anne will chip the successful ones and wait another two to three years for those to flower. It is, as Anne admits, very hard work. “I do seven days a week, often ten hours a day,” she says, but miniature daffodils have her heart and her work is testament to that.
At her nursery in North Yorkshire, Anne Wright breeds and propagates tiny daffodils, such as Narcissus ‘Pet Lamb’, which at just 5cm high has creamy-white flowers that are less than 2cm in diameter. Bred by Anne’s partner in miniature daffodil cultivation, Brian Duncan, it was awarded the Ralph B White Memorial Medal for innovation, and the Best Miniature and Best Seedling at the RHS early show in 2007. There are probably only a dozen or so bulbs in existence.
How to grow miniature narcissi
When to grow miniature narcissi
The miniature daffodil or narcissi season starts in October and lasts through to April.
Most miniature narcissi have a hardiness rating of RHS H4 to RHS H5, and are hardy outside in the UK if planted in the ground. However, if growing in pots, be careful not to allow the roots to freeze badly.
Growing narcissi in pots
Anne grows her daffodils in both pots and raised beds. “If you want to plant in the garden, containers and raised beds are best, as slugs and miniatures don’t mix,” she says. The pots she uses are clay, plunged in damp sand in well-ventilated glasshouse, and allowed to become completely dry from May to September when she repots.
For pots Anne uses a 50:50 mix of perlite and potting compost, such as John Innes No.2 or No.3. She half fills the pots with the compost mix then adds a thin layer of coarse sand on to which she places the bulb, before covering it with more sand and then filling the pot with compost. There’s no extra fertiliser in the mix. She uses a half-strength tomato feed after flowering to build up the bulbs – but doesn’t deadhead, as she collects the seeds. Seedlings are repotted after two years, but all the rest of her bulbs are repotted every year.
For her raised beds Anne uses spent bulb compost, topped with a 20cm-layer of pure sand, top dressed with railway ballast. She also creates mixed planters in large containers that she fills with spring flowers and bedding plants and then sinks a 9cm pot of miniature daffodils into the middle, so she can change cultivars throughout the season, dropping in a new one as the old one goes over. “This way I can have non-stop flowering from early January to the last week of April.”
Key miniature narcissi
A cultivar bred by Brain Duncan with a flanged, pure-white trumpet. 15cm.
Small, ivory-white flowers that have a slightly swept-back perianth and expanded corona. Bred by Anne. 15cm.
Narcissus x litigiosus ‘Giselle’
A much-coveted, self-sown hybrid that was found by Anne. It has an all-white corona and perianth, and is said to be easier
to grow than other Narcissus x litigiosus hybrids. 10cm.
Narcissus ‘Little Dryad’
Named for Anne’s nursery, it has a cool, ivory-white flower with swept-back perianth, straight corona and flared mouth. 12cm.
Narcissus ‘Cheeky Chappie’
A show winner with lemon-yellow corona and short, reflexed, white perianth. Bred by Brian Duncan. 10cm.
A readily available, old cultivar with delicate, pale-yellow and white flowers with a straight corona and perianth that doesn’t fully reflex. 20cm.
Useful information Dryad is a mail-order nursery only and doesn’t open to the public. Anne’s bulb list usually comes out in June, and you can add your name to her email list via her website: dryad-home.co.uk