Tete a Tete

'Tete a Tete'
Miniature Daffodils
aka Dwarf Narcissi

"To make all nature glad, thou art so gay;
To fill the lonely with a joy untold;
Nodding at every gust of wind to-day,
Tomorrow jewelled with raindrops. Always bold."

-Amy Lowell,
To an Early Daffodil


'Tete a Tete' has been for some while the most commonly offered cultivar of N. cyclamineus & the most commonly offered miniature daffodil of any species. It has been offered twice each year, as bulbs to plant out in autumn, & again as potted plants ready for the garden in late winter or early spring.

They will be more vigorous if planted as bulbs, because the garden-readied late-winter offerings will have been forced to bloom a bit early so as to be more appealingly sold already aflower, though such early forcing can sometimes weaken bulbs.

Tete a TeteN. cyclamineus cultivars are famously easy to force indoors for the sake of winter flowers long before their natural time. Because bulbs that were forced indoors at mid-winter often wear themselves out, if they are afterward placed in the garden they may take two or three years, if ever, to recover their strength, whereas planted when still bulbs in autumn, they return each spring with increasing vigor.

Left to their "natural time" to bloom, that will be early enough. Flowers from mid-March through mid-April are typical, though in 2005 ours were blooming before the end of February. The two photos on this page were snapped in early March (2005) & April (2004) respectively.

'Tete a Tete' qualifies as an heirloom variety, having been developed by Alec Gray in 1949. Gray achieved his popular hybrid by pollinating a 1923 cultivar, 'Cyclataz,' with another 'Cyclataz.' By preserving those seedlings that were strongest, he ended up with an improved version which was named 'Tete a Tete.' It has almost entirely displaced 'Cyclataz,' though 'Cyclataz' can still occasionally to be had from heirloom bulb specialists.

The name 'Tete a Tete' means Head-to-Head, & is the name of a divan that seats two, or indicates a conversation between two people. The name first off reflects how both parents were the same cultivar, but the name additionally comments upon how often the stems produce two flowers each, if not three or four. The pair of blossoms shown close-up in the first photo are on a single stem, & you'll be able to spot other head-to-head pairs in the second photo too.

For its beauty & strong adaptability, it was given the Award of Garden Merit. It has simplicity & charm to its small bicolor flower. A bright orange cup is surrounded by moderately deflexed lemon-yellow petals. The cup increases in orangeness as the flower ages.

While the green buds are developing, they stick straight-straight upward like sumi brushes, but when it comes closer & closer to time to flower, the buds quite suddenly turn downward on the stem, & when it blooms it has the classic head-bowed-in-prayer pose common to so many daffodils. The stems remain sturdy & upright, no tippiness which flaws some cultivars; & the leaves remain well beneath the bloom, not obscuring the flowers as do some varieties. It's really a perfect miniature daffodil.

C. cyclamineus cultivars don't have to be lifted for years, but eventually it will be a good idea to dig them up, so as to separate the multiplying bulbs for further propogation. When it seems about time to do so, it should be no sooner in the year than when the leaves turn brown, but can also wait until closer to autumn if the place where they're located is well enough marked to find them.

'Tete a Tete' will also self-seed if not deadheaded, but it takes four years for the seeds to fully develop into bulbs that will bloom.

Our first 'Tete a Tete' bulbs became overshadowed by shrubs, so that the post-bloom grass was unable to re-charge the bulbs sufficiently. I did eventually lift the bulbs to move to a sunnier location on the roadside, but the bulbs were by then already pretty depleted. They have continued to bloom but are smaller than the usual small size & have not increased.

So in Autumn 2003 we added about thirty-five additional 'Tete a Tete' bulbs to the garden, the majority in one largish drift at the dripline of a Rhododendron 'The Honorable Jean Marie de Montague,' & right next to a drift of Tulipa viridiflora 'China Town,' the white-edged leaves of the latter visible behind the second photo of the 'Tete a Tete' drift.

This main drift had already increased its numbers in two years. They have been unusually vigorous with long-lasting blooms.


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