Narcissus Grand Monarque
2010-03-07. Narcissus ‘Grand Monarque

March 7th, 2010
Narcissus tazetta ‘Grand Monarque’

According to Scott Ogden, Garden Bulbs for the South, the narcissus bulb I purchased at Gardens last fall that was marked ‘Grand Monarque’ is probably just ‘Grand Primo’. However if it is the ‘Grand Monarque’ grown in California, it will probably survive in Austin’s heavy clay soil for only a year or two.

I don’t have any ‘Grand Primo’ flowering right now to compare. Comparing from memory I will say that this ‘Grand Monarque’ is larger. The bulb was huge. Everything about the flowers are larger, too. This could be just because it’s a brand new bulb selected at its prime for sale. However, looking at old photographs of ‘Grand Primo’ they do look indistinguishable. So perhaps I do already grow the same bulb in my garden but they’ve suffered from neglect. The N. tazettas cross easily so there are different strains. I wouldn’t mind if this one pumped some new genetic material into the strain that’s naturalized.

Narcissus Grand Primo
Old photo of Narcissus tazetta ‘Grand Primo’. The light is different so it’s difficult to accurately compare colors but the forms look identical.

These photographs don’t quite capture the white of the ‘Grand Monarque’ accurately. I have some paperwhites blooming today and they are pure, brilliant, stunning white. Both ‘Grand Monarque’ and ‘Grand Primo’ tend toward the ivory and blend more naturally into the landscape.

Narcissus Grand Monarque
2010-03-07. Narcissus ‘Grand Monarque’

Rob Proctor, Naturalizing Bulbs, adds to my confusion. He says, “The variety ‘Grand Monarque is very much like the Chinese sacred lily but blooms a month later. It has long been a southern favorite.” Where’s a description or photograph? Then he describes ‘Grand Primo’ as being a member of the italicus family. This sounds like the same mistake I made initially. The italicus bloom earlier, have very long strappy leaves, smaller cups, and a much muddier white, compared with modern paperwhites. Proctor echoes Ogden, saying that a “similar variety (to ‘Grand Primo’) is found in California, called ‘Minor Monarque’ with white petals and a yellow cup.”

Garden History

First flower: 2010-03-03.

Zanthan Gardens Week 6 Narcissus Grand Primo
2000-02-11. Narcissus tazetta ‘Grand Primo’.

February 12th, 2009
Week 06: 2/5 – 2/11

Dateline: 2009

I associate the first redbud blossom (my private official marker of spring) with Valentine’s Day but this year I saw my first redbud on Monday (2/9), almost a week early. Spring’s in Austin and there’s no holding it back.

As my son retorted, “Does this mean we’re going to have a month of 70-degree days and then a hard freeze during Spring Break?” Probably. Austin’s average last freeze is now February 26th (it used to be in March) so the period between Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day is always a bit chancy for tender new plants. He’s probably remembering when he was a boy and I took him camping at Enchanted Rock for his birthday. The temperature surprised us by dropping to 14 degrees that night. That was the same year as the latest freeze on record, April 3, 1987. As the Austin Climate Summary shows, Austin can be in the 90s or higher ANY month of the year; it can also freeze anytime between October and April.

Flowers were opening all over the garden. This is the most excitement we’ve had at Zanthan Gardens in about eight months.

First flowers: Prunus mexican (2/5); paperwhite Narcissus ‘Grandiflora’ (2/6); rose ‘Ducher’ (2/6); Mahonia bealei (2/6); Narcissus tazetta ‘Grand Primo’ (2/8); Leucojum asestivum (2/9); Cercis canadensis (2/9); Lantana montevidensis (2/9).

We had a bit of relief from the drought this week, too: about half an inch of rain in a slow, soaking drizzle on Monday (2/9) and then a bit less late in a 10-minute downpour (accompanied by high winds and hail) late Tuesday evening (2/10). The rain penetrated the first 4 to 6 inches of soil (depending on where it is in my yard–heavy clay or well-composted). Below that, the dirt is dust dry. It’s frightening to dig into it. I expect the spring weeds to kick into high gear now. Our weather has been so dry that even the chickweed was languishing. Some henbit has been blooming. I never weed it all out because the butterflies like it when nothing else is blooming.

I have been digging out nandina to make a bed for three raspberry plants I bought at The Great Outdoors. I didn’t think that raspberries would grow in Austin but they assure me that this variety, ‘Dorman’, will produce in a couple of years. We harvested an actual serving for two of the English peas and have been eating lots of salad trying to get the most out of the arugula before it bolts.

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photos: icicles
2007-01-17. Austin, TX. The official temperature remains below freezing but at my house the icicles have been melting since sunrise…not that we can see any sun.

January 17th, 2007
Week 03: 1/15 – 1/21

Dateline: 2007
The garden is a bit under the weather, literally. All the shrubs and shrubby trees are prostrate with ice. The 20 foot cherry laurel is lying across the path and I wonder whether she’ll get up again. It will take a few days to know the damage under the ice. Cabbages? Snow peas (which began blooming last week)? Banana plants (covered with cedar elm leaves)? Sweet peas (just transplanted)? Lettuce? The temperatures never got very cold at Zanthan Gardens, hovering around 30 throughout Tuesday.

The mahonia began flowering during the ice storm. I first noticed it on Thursday (1/18). It really does look similar to its cousin, nandina.

Sunday January 21, 2007
The week ended with a warm sunny day and it seemed that the entire population of Austin was outside.

First flower: Mahonia bealei (1/18).
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Narcissus tazetta x italicus (left) and Narcissus tazetta ‘Grand Primo’

February 25th, 2004
A Tale of Two Narcissus

One of the bulbs I found in my garden when I moved in over ten years ago was a Narcissus tazetta cross. These narcissus (in contrast to the paperwhite narcissus) have wide strappy dark green leaves, yellow cups, bloom later, a much more pleasant scent, and thrive year after year on heavy clay soil without much attention.

So based on Scott Ogden’s description in Garden Bulbs for the South and the fact that I live in an older Austin neighborhood, I was pretty sure my N. tazetta was ‘Grand Primo’. But I had some doubts. Scott Ogden said that ‘Grand Primo’ blooms in late February and mine usually begin blooming on New Year’s Day (depending on the amount of rain in November and December). The few photos I found confused me more. My tazetta has distinctly separate, thin, pointed, petals which tend to twist back slightly, forming wind-blown stars. Other photos of ‘Grand Primo’ show overlapping petals that curve inward.

This season, with its unusually dry December and an unusually wet February, provided an answer to the mystery. I have two different tazetta crosses. The flower on the left bloomed as usual beginning in January. But then three more clumps came up much later than the rest, with slightly shorter leaves and scapes. When they began blooming a couple of weeks ago, I could see the difference.

I think that the flower on the left is Narcissus tazetta v. italicus. The one on the right could be ‘Grand Primo’ or even ‘Avalanche’.

If it ever stops raining (did I actually say that?), I’ll take some more photos.

Update: February 5, 2008

Update: December 25, 2015

Today a fourth Narcissus tazetta opened. This has been a good year because of the heavy rain on October 30 and throughout November. I find it very difficult to tell one little narcissus apart from another in photographs (especially close ups). I need a side-by-side comparison. So here is a note to my future self.

From left to right: unknown paperwhite narcissus, Narcissus ‘Grandiflora’, Narcissus tazetta x italicus, Narcissus tazetta var orientalis ‘Chinese Sacred Lily’.

Update: February 13, 2020

This year both the italicus and ‘Grand Primo’ bloomed better than ever. I was ahead of schedule weeding and feeding them. And we got good rains at the end of December and early January.

As usual, the italicus bloomed first. But the ‘Grand Primo’ was right behind so that there was a bit of overlap. In one bed in the front of the house where they got mixed in together, the dark green foliage of the ‘Grand Primo’ was distinctively different than the lighter gray foliage of the italicus. But the italicus is still larger and strappier than the typical paperwhites.

Oddly, this year, it was ‘Grandiflora’ that bloomed first (in December)…weeks before the unnamed paperwhites or the italicus.

Grand Primo narcissus.

January 18th, 2002
Narcissus tazetta ‘Grand Primo’

I posted a new plant profile on the Grand Primo daffodils that are blooming right now.