Bulbs are the antithesis of an instant landscape, yet many gardeners will wait months for brown, desiccated nubbins to flaunt their foliage, raise their buds to the sun and finally burst into bloom.
Fall is the time to plant bulbs, though you'd never know it by visiting Southern California nurseries. Stores should have baskets of bulbs, but gardeners instead often find themselves turning to catalogs and websites, particularly if the search is for miniature narcissus.
These peewee daffodils, most of which hail from southwestern Europe and northwestern Africa, often fare well in Southern California gardens. The first that I planted years ago were yolk-yellow Narcissus bulbocodium, the hoop petticoat daffodil. That clump grew contentedly in the morning sun with occasional watering, and it returned each year with ever-more foliage and flowers.
Although most miniature (or dwarf) narcissus top out at 6 to 8 inches, growing conditions can affect size. I once put a selection of Narcissus triandrus called Angel's Tears in a blue-glazed bonsai pot whose footprint was no larger than a deck of cards. Within eight weeks, reedy 4-inch foliage and equally wee white daffodils as crisp as little nun's hats had completed the scene. The flowers repeated in the same pot the next spring.
Narcissus bulbs are toxic, so rodents, raccoons and deer do not eat them. In spite of this perk, narcissus (and other bulbs) are not widely grown here. That's unfortunate, as new gardeners may not chance upon these lovely plants.
Narcissus cantabricus, a white hoop-petticoat-like species from southern Spain and Morocco, requires hot, dry summers and should do well with California natives. In a more moist spot, gardeners may want to add a fragrant drift of yellow Baby Moon or maybe W.P. Milner, an 1869 heirloom with teeny ivory trumpets.
You can find some miniature narcissus on the McClure & Zimmerman website, www.mzbulbfall.com, buried within the daffodil "divisions." Easytogrowbulbs.com, which is based in San Diego County, sells several miniatures, including a type of Narcissus bulbocodium called Golden Bells that has hoop petticoat flowers. (The site ships through January.)
For a broad, easy-to-navigate website, go to Brent and Becky's Bulbs, www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com.
That website is already sold out this year, but mark the 2010 calendar to place your order early.
You'll find that some things are worth the wait.