The Tenby daffodils are flaring on the banks that fall steeply into the ditch. Backlit by morning sun they are the purest of yellows, brilliant and bright and so very full of life. The tilted buds are already visible breaking their sheaths as the snowdrops dim and the primroses take over and begin their moment. The narcissus join them then, not to overshadow as you might think, but in a partnership of yellows, the colour of spring and new life.
Now considered a subspecies of our native daffodil, N. pseudonarcissus subsp. obvallaris is found locally near Tenby in Dyfed, South Wales, where they have a small range of natural distribution. Their cousin, N. pseudonarcissus, is variable, with a soft yellow trumpet and palest yellow petals, so a group registers quite differently and they have a softness that sits easily. Not so the Tenby daffodil which is brazen and to the point, being bright chrome yellow throughout. Though this might not be easy in a larger daffodil, the Tenby is no more than a foot tall and everything is perfectly proportioned and neat. Thus they weather the March storms and stand like a person with innate confidence that is happy in their own skin.
The crease in the land that we call the Ditch is far more than that. It is the divide between the ground that we garden and the rounded rise of the Tump that we look out upon and forms our backdrop to the east. The spring-fed rivulet that runs quickly down it is constant and gurgling, even in summer. The silvery slip of water was revealed when we cleared the brambles 10 years ago and fenced it on both sides so that this distinct habitat could become an environment of its own. We have been building upon the nature of this place ever since. Splitting the primroses that sit happy in the heavy, wet ground and stepping plants through it that are either closely related to the wild plants that thrive there or feel right and can cope with the competition.
The Ditch is a place that we garden lightly and the plan is to one day have it naturalised with bulbs that like the conditions here. Snowdrops and aconites to start the year and snakeshead fritillaries and camassia to follow. The Narcissus obvallaris are grouped loosely around a staggering of Cornus mas, which start to bloom when you can feel the winter easing.
So far the Tenbys have not started to seed, but I hope that our man-made imprint can be softened with seedlings that find where they want to be. This has begun already with the straight Narcissus pseudonarcissus, which I’ve been planting lower down the slopes and, in an echo of the ones we found higher up the valley, growing on little tumps that run alongside the stream where the hazel grows. They sit there with the young Dog’s Mercury as a marker of this ancient woodland and looking down on all they survey. The way they grow in the wild is a good measure for where they want to be when you find them their home. Cool, but not in the wet hollows and with a little shadow later to ease up the competition of the more thuggish grasses.
Having been stung a couple of times with narcissus orders that were incorrectly supplied, I started three years ago by potting up a hundred bulbs, two to a pot, as I needed to know that we were putting the real thing into this wild place. It was the year that Huw’s mother passed away and, as his family are from Swansea, it felt fitting to be planting them out just a fortnight after she died. The Tenbys start to bloom around St. David’s Day and, when the first yellow shows, we add another round of plants potted up the previous autumn. Midori and Shintaro from Tokachi Millennium Forest took part one year when they were here to stay on a ‘gardening holiday’ from snowbound Hokkaido, and it has now become something of a tradition to plant a number round about now to find the places in the ditch where we feel the light needs capturing.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 13 March 2021