One of our first harbingers of spring out here in the West: the green, fresh leaves of daffodils, popping up from the cold soil. A late blizzard doesn’t faze them at all — they just lean over protectively, then push up again through the melting snow.

Technically, they’re known as Narcissus – a hardy perennial grown from a fleshy bulb that’s cold-hardy, and grows in a wide variety of environments. (Provided they get some chilly weather, that is — daffodils need colder temperatures during their resting season.) They also go by other names, including “narcissus” and “jonquils.”

Daffodils

Daffodils range from early to late, and come in a bonanza of sizes and colors, ranging from tiny yellow “fairy” daffs to huge “King Alfred” types. Most are yellow, white or some combination of those colors. (Orange, too.)  Less common are colors ranging from apricot to nearly red, as well as lavender.

Daffodils

Growing Daffodils

Daffodils are easy to grow. Look for plump, healthy-looking bulbs, and plant them at least 2-4 weeks before your last freeze. (They can be forced, after a suitable cooling period, indoors, as well. Plant the bulbs outside after they’ve bloomed, and the plants will grow again next year.) 

They’re most reasonably-priced in large bags of 20, 30 or 50 — for a natural look, throw a handful of bulbs in the air, then plant them where they land in your flowerbed. Since their leaves and blooms are finished by the time other plants start their major growth, daffodils are perfect for filling in around established perennials, as well as groups of annuals. Some people like to plant them in lawns and around trees and bushes, for the same reason.

Unlike tulips, which sustained Dutch populations during WWII, daffodils aren’t edible. That makes them an excellent choice if your backyard has visiting deer.  (Note: friends with woodsy backyards have said that their deer do eat the daffs, on occasion. Maybe it depends on the type, or what else is available.) Our free-range chickens don’t seem to value them, either.

What’s especially nice: daffodils can also grow your income! The poet husband-and-wife combo, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, sold many bunches of daffodils in springtime, cut from the hundreds that bordered their Devon, England property. A crisp bunch of daffodils, rubber-banded for ease, makes a cheerful bouquet, and sells for $3-5 each. (They also make nice presents.)

Daffodils

Plan now to look for bulbs, when they become available. As they grow, the daffodil bulbs will continue to form new bulblets…which form new plants next season. They’re perfect for naturalizing, and mix well with other spring bulbs, like hyacinth (shown below), grape hyacinth and tulips.

While you’re admiring this season’s daffodils, keep their cheerful blossoms in mind for your garden next year.

Daffodils

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Who wants anything to do with this weedy-looking plant with the scruffy leaves and bright red stalks?

Rhubarb

Well, I do. Rhubarb, officially known as Rheum rhabarbarum. It’s one of the first plants to show growth in the spring, making it popular as a tonic — and one of the first sources of the season for fruit crumbles, crisps and pie. (Although it’s technically a vegetable.) That’s why rhubarb’s other name is “pieplant.” It was first brought into the United States in the 1820s, and popular with the pioneers, especially in the Midwest and on the East Coast.

It’s easily grown – provided you dig a bushel-basket-sized hole, add plenty of manure or compost, and plant the roots (don’t mess with seeds) just below the surface. Once established, it handles drought and neglect with equal indifference — in fact, many former homesteads still have rhubarb clumps and lilac plants growing to mark the spot.

Cut off the stalks (which range from pale green to bright red), but leave a little extra, so the plant can renew itself. (Discard the leaves, which are cathartic, and can cause stomach troubles.)
Wash and chop them roughly, and you’ve got the makings for:

RHUBARB SAUCE

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger root
2 fresh rhubarb stalks, leaves discarded, ends trimmed,
    and stalks cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick
slices, or 2 cups frozen sliced rhubarb, thawed and drained

Mix together. Makes about 2 cups; serve alongside chicken, pork chops or other proteins.

Rhubarb is also tasty, combined with strawberries — the colors and flavors both complement each other

RHUBARB-STRAWBERRY PIE

Ingredients:

1 1/4 c Sugar
1/8 ts Salt
1/3 c Flour
2 c Fresh strawberries
2 c Fresh rhubarb, cut in 1" pieces
2 T Butter or margarine
1 T Sugar
1 Pastry for 2-crust pie

Combine 1 1/4 cup sugar, salt, and flour. Arrange half the strawberries and rhubarb in a pastry-lined pie pan. Sprinkle with half the sugar mixture. Repeat with remaining fruit and sugar mixture. Dot with butter. Install top crust and flute edges to make high-standing rim. Brush top of pie with cold water and sprinkle on 1 tablespoon sugar. Cut steam vents in top crust. Bake in hot oven (425 F) 40 to 50 minutes or until rhubarb is tender and crust is browned.

(More recipes are here, including jams, cobblers and a recipe for ‘Star Trek Rhubarb:’ Klingon bread.)

Rhubarb’s crisp, clean, slightly acid flavor….it’s a wake-up call for your taste buds.

Rhubarb

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