travel & outdoors: Scented and frilly yellow dancers

I'm not surprised to find that in the 10 years this column has appeared, I've never written about daffodils. What loon would want to write about daffodils when they could be writing about tulips? But, in the interests of fair play, they ought to have an outing. And, of course, they are a great deal easier to please than tulips. It's one of the most irritating things about them in our garden. They swell and increase mightily, while my precious tulips dwindle. Most of them (except the "tazzetta" types such as `Cheerfulness') seem to enjoy the damp, heavy ground.

It didn't surprise me either that, although I keep saying that I'm not mad about them, there are more than 20 different kinds flowering at the moment in the garden.

The ones with a swoony smell are best. That puts `Quail' near the top of the list, along with other jonquils such as `Trevithian' and the much tinier `Baby Moon' which grows to 6in or 7in tall. The original wild jonquils are natives of Spain and Portugal and grow in damp meadows along the river valleys of the Douro, the Tejo and the Guadalquivir. `Quail' has a particularly sweet smell, and is a clear, bright yellow, the cup exactly the same colour as the frill around it. There can be two or three flowers together on a stem, about 12-14in tall. I have them growing in clumps between cones of box in a narrow border.

`Trevithian' and `Quail' are both flowering now. The smaller `Single Jonquil', more like the wild species, comes later this month, fabulously scented, with a clear yellow flower well set against grassy, rich green foliage.

`Thalia' one of the Triandus narcissus flowering now, is elegant with its creamy flowers and long-fingered petals, but it has no smell. It lights up a dark patch under a spreading arm of ceanothus, but I wouldn't plant it next to a path. There, you need something like the creamy-flowered `Cheerfulness', which grows to about 14in high and is beautifully scented. So is `Geranium', another of this family, with a pure white frill round a small, glowing orange centre.

For naturalising in grass, you need daffodils that look as though they might be growing there of their own accord. That means avoiding the monster yellow trumpet daffodils such as `Golden Harvest' and `Unsurpassable', which look as though they would break a bone in your foot if they happened to flop on to it. Avoid fancy, orchid-flowering types such as `Cassata', too, in this situation. Choose instead old-fashioned poeticus narcissi such as `Actaea', which flowers from mid-April onwards, and `Pheasant Eye' which picks up the baton in May, to give a long, continuous season of flowering.

Where clumps of daffodils have stopped flowering, you need to lift and divide them, replanting smaller groups of the bulbs in ground refreshed with a couple of handfuls of bonemeal. Water the clumps well when they have been resettled. The best time to do this is between July and September when top growth has died down (and you've forgotten where the clumps were).

Remember that the best flowers are usually produced in the second year after planting, though the greatest number of flowers will probably follow in the third year after planting.

SEE daffodils at Brodie Castle, Forres, Moray, Inverness-shire, Mon- Sat 11am-5.30pm, Sun 1.30pm-5.30pm, admission pounds 3.60; Bainton House, Stamford, Cambs, tomorrow 2pm-5.30pm, admission pounds 1.50; Killerton Garden, near Exeter, Devon, daily 10.30am-dusk, admission pounds 3.20; Algars Mill, Iron Acton, near Bristol, tomorrow 2pm-6pm, admission pounds 1.50; Bramdean House, Bramdean, Hants, tomorrow 2pm-5pm, admission pounds 2.

BUY daffodils in autumn from Ballydorn Bulb Farm, Ballydorn Hill, Killinchy, Newtownards, Co Down BT23 6QB (01238 541250); Brian Duncan Daffodils, Knowehead, 15 Ballynahatty Rd, Omagh, Co Tyrone BT78 1PN (01662 242931); Copford Bulbs, Dorsetts, Birch Rd, Copford, Colchester, Essex CO6 1DR (01206 330008).

READ `Narcissus, a Guide to Wild Daffodils' by John Blanchard (Alpine Garden Society pounds 22). Knowing how the various species grow in the wild gives you the best possible guide to making daffodils happy in the garden.

JOIN The Daffodil Society, Sec: Mrs Jackie Petherbridge, The Meadows, Puxton, Nr Weston-super-Mare, N Somerset BS24 6TF (01934 833641), subscription pounds 5 a year.