Back in February, when temperatures plummeted to -23C in the Highlands, Brodie Castle in Moray released a photograph that showed the tips of daffodils emerging through the snow.

The variety was ‘Coulmony’, one of the earliest daffodils amongst the hundreds of heritage varieties bred at the castle.

That was then, but for weeks now ‘Coulmony’ has been in bloom, undamaged by its cold awakening and delighting local visitors who come to walk through parkland filled with thousands of daffodils in flower.

More drifts of daffodils can be enjoyed at Backhouse Rossie near Cupar in Fife, another Scottish estate that has played a huge role in the development of the daffodils we grow today.

During the 19th century three generations of the Backhouse family kept up this work and today it has fallen to their descendant, Caroline Thomson, to continue the tradition.

She has not only restored the walled garden at Backhouse Rossie but she has turned detective, hunting through records both here and in London, that have led to the rediscovery of some of the Backhouse varieties that had been lost to cultivation.

Today many of those lost bulbs now flourish at Backhouse once again and two in particular, ‘Emperor’ and ‘Empress’ have played a vital role in creating the UK’s daffodil trade.

“More the 90% of the daffodil flowers and bulbs sold throughout the world are grown here,” says Caroline.

“And the majority of those will have ‘Emperor’ or ‘Empress’ somewhere in their lineage.”

It was through the extensive breeding of enthusiasts such as those at Backhouse that delicate wild daffodils were turned into blooms that were strong enough to be cut, packaged and dispatched by train to Covent Garden.

Daffodils still enjoy the attentions of breeders and collectors today and for the last few years Backhouse Rossie has hosted the Scottish Daffodil Festival where everyone from enthusiasts to visitors who just come to enjoy the cheerful sight of so many beautiful daffodils in flowers, come along to participate.

This year it will take place online and leading experts taking place will include daffodil breeder Nial Watson and Dr David Willis, who as well as being a world-authority on daffodils, also bred the popular plant variety Euphorbia ‘Silver Swan’.”

And if you are worried about how your daffodils have fared during recent cold spells, then Caroline has reassurance for you.

“The tips of the leaves may turn brown, but otherwise your daffodils will be just fine.”

Cultivation Advice

The daffodil is one of our favourite flowers, brightening up gardens, meadows and roadside verges at a time of year when the weather can still be cold.  It grows well in any reasonable soil and while there are pests and diseases which can target it, the biggest issue is usually non-flowering, which is easily sorted by splitting up congested clumps and replanting the bulbs where they will have space to spread out.

Daffodils are quite a varied family and they are grouped in 12 different divisions, with ‘1’ being familiar trumpet varieties such as ‘Dutch Master’ and ‘King Alfred’, while ‘12’ is home to uncommon hybrids such as ‘Taffeta’.

Wild narcissi (division 10), of the kind that Wordsworth immortalised, are small in stature and are useful for naturalising in grass, where they look more at home than modern hybrids. Other groups include ‘Doubles’, (division 4),‘Tazzettas’ (division 8), which have several, small flowers on every stem, and ‘Poeticus’ (division 9), which have white petals and red-edged cups.

The key to growing good daffodils is to remove the flowers once they go over in order to prevent them from setting seed; feeding the leaves with a liquid feed after flowering and never tying them into bunches.

The foliage should be left to die down completely before being removed so choose miniature varieties for growing in borders as their leaves will be less obvious, or grow taller varieties amongst early perennials, the emerging foliage of which will soon cover them.

Daffs Disected

The Corona of a daffodil is called a Cup if it is broader than it is long and a Trumpet if it is narrower than its length. The petals that surround it are more properly known as Perianth segments and these can be a different colour from the rest of the flower.

As well as yellow, daffodils also come in white and pale pink.

The Scottish Daffodil Festival will take place online, on 17 and 18 April. The full programme can be found at


1. Narcissus 'Empress'
This was developed by first-generation breeder, William Backhouse, and was one of the first triploid cultivars hybridised in this country. Its 21 chromosomes give it increased strength and vigour.

2. Narcissus 'Emperor'
Bred in 1865 by William Backhouse, its genes run through many of today's most popular varieties.

Scottish Gardener: Backhouse Rossie daffodils, Narcissus 'Empress' (left) and Narcissus 'Emperor' (right).Backhouse Rossie daffodils, Narcissus 'Empress' (left) and Narcissus 'Emperor' (right).

3. Narcissus 'Mrs RO Backhouse'
Sarah Backhouse was a second breeder and this daffodil, with milk white petals and a salmon pink corona, has been the most widely grown pink daffodil for the last 100 years. It holds on to its colour no matter the weather.

4. Narcissus 'Weardale Perfection'
William Backhouse died in 1869 before this, the first tetraploid cultivar with 28 chromosomes, ever flowered. It went on to become the most important daffodil in the development of early daffodil hybridisation.

Scottish Gardener: Backhouse daffodils, Narcissus 'Mrs RO Backhouse' (left) and Narcissus 'Weardale Perfection' (right)Backhouse daffodils, Narcissus 'Mrs RO Backhouse' (left) and Narcissus 'Weardale Perfection' (right)