I think I just caught "yellow fever."
You might want to join the hundreds of other gardeners who, like Bill Lee, have had "yellow fever" for 25 years or so.
They all got it from daffodils, whose little trumpets alert gardeners that spring has arrived and a new gardening season is beginning.
"Nothing against tulips," said Lee, editor of the Daffodil Journal, "but I can never understand why so many people think of tulips before daffodils when planning their spring gardens.
"Tulips get weaker every year, producing smaller flowers, so you have no choice but to replace the bulbs.
"Daffodils get bigger and bigger every year and they are wonderful naturalizers.
"Tulips taste delicious to deer," Lee pointed out, "but daffodils are poison to them, as they are toxic to all animals, and people and squirrels rarely dig up daffodil bulbs like they do all other bulbs."
Lee, who lives near Cincinnati, said he has about 1,500 varieties of daffodils in his acre-and-a-half garden.
But he is still collecting, because there are more than 15,000 different cultivars out there.
The daffodil has been around for a long, long time.
It's part of the narcissus family, which reaches far back into ancient history. Perfectly preserved specimens have been found in funeral garlands in excavated Egyptian tombs.
One specimen that has been around in more recent history is the "King Alfred."
"Many people call every yellow daffodil 'King Alfred,' " Lee chuckled, "but for the most part, it doesn't exist anymore. It pretty much died out from a virus early this century and there are now many, many much better daffodils on the market."
One of the newest, Lee reported, "is one of my very favorites. It is not only beautiful but when freshly in bloom, it has a slight rose fragrance, so, of course, it is called 'Fragrant Rose.' "
Lee said the hybridizers "are attempting to bring back fragrance in daffodils. Over the years of hybridizing, fragrance was lost."
Both Lee and the Netherlands Flower Bulb ??give the nod to "Dutch Master," a yellow trumpet introduced in 1948 as a "fabulous favorite."
Lee also likes Carlton and Arctic Gold, "both with a rich yellow color."
Fran Roozen, technical director of the International Flower Bulb Center in the Netherlands, recommends Yellow Sun, Golden Harvest and Standard Value, which "throw more flowers and have fine golden yellow colors."
If you want an all-white, Lee suggests Beersheba, Empress of Ireland and Mount Hood.
This veteran daffodil grower recommends buying bulbs from reputable garden shops or catalogs rather than from discount stores.
"Often the ones from chain stores are mislabeled and usually smaller and a poorer quality bulb," he said.
"When you buy from the catalogs and the garden shops, they are selling tried-and-true cultivars, and you will often get better prices."
We are into that time of year when spring flowering bulbs must be planted.
With daffodils, Lee urged, "the deeper the soil is dug, the better, because daffodils like a good long root run. If there is a place for the root to run, the flowers will get bigger and bigger each year."
Lee recommended digging to "18 or 20 inches, backfilling and planting the bulb about 10 inches deep. If you feel it is necessary to fertilize, use a low-nitrogen fertilizer and mix it in with the soil about four inches deeper than the bulb so the fertilizer does not touch and burn the bulb."
Remember to plant daffodils in a garden bed that will not be overplanted with annuals or mixed in with perennials that require a lot of water throughout the summer.
"Too much water can rot the bulbs," Lee said. "Daylilies are good companions for daffodils. As the lily foliage comes up, the daffodil foliage goes down."
It's important to allow the daffodil foliage to remain until it turns yellow, because sunlight on the foliage is essential for good blooming the next spring, and this can take up to six weeks.
Lee overplants some of his daffodil beds with an orange Profusion zinnia bordered by burgundy verbena plants that trail and spread through the zinnias. Neither requires much water, he said. "As a matter of fact, we had rain once in eight weeks this past summer, and I didn't add any other water to those beds and they just kept going fine."
If you want to learn more about daffodils, it's simple and inexpensive to join the American Daffodil Society.
Dues are $20 a year, and membership includes four issues of Lee's Daffodil Journal. Send a check to Naomi Liggett, Executive Director, American Daffodil Society, 4126 Winfield Road, Columbus, Ohio 43220. E-mail: NLiggett@compuserve.com or BLEE811@aol.com.
Other bulbs to be planted now for your spring garden could include hyacinths, crocus, allium, bluebells, grape hyacinth, fritillaria, spring snowflake, windflower and, of course, tulips.
For a spring garden that will bloom practically into early summer, Netherlands reminds gardeners to check bulb tags and labels for bloom times.
The Dutch growers have laid out a spring garden scheme:
Early bloomers: glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa luciliae), 4-to-6-inch-high blue flowers, each with a tiny white center; miniature iris (Iris reticulata), which grows about 6 inches high, and Tete a Tete miniature daffodil (Narcissus cyclamineus).
Early to midseason bloomers: Siberian squill (Scilla siberica), which grows 4 to 6 inches tall and has an abundance of blue, star-shaped flowers, or the Spring Beauty cultivar, a 20-inch variety with large, dark blue flowers. Also crocus and anemone.
Late season: grape hyacinth (Muscari armenmiacum), with cultivars in various shades of blue and white, and Dutch iris (Iris hollandica), which comes in blue, white and yellow.
It's not often that I get excited about a weeder, but I am truly excited about the "Winged Weeder" that I tried out in my garden last weekend. It comes in five sizes. I used two of the smaller weeders and they easily sliced and uprooted weeds in the flower beds and pesky crabgrass and dandelions from the lawn.
There is a 54-inch-handle Winged Weeder with 8 3/4 -inch blade for vegetable beds, open areas or around shrubbery (and you can even use it for scraping ice from your sidewalk); a 54-inch handle with 4 1/2 -inch blade for flower beds, and a 42-inch handle with a V-shaped blade that pops dandelions or thistle out of the ground without leaving a large, ugly hole in the lawn.
The manufacturer guarantees that the lifetime spring blades never need sharpening.
The weeders cost from $14.95 to $19.95, depending on size.
Write Creative Enterprises Inc., P.O. Box 3452, Idaho Falls, Idaho 83403; phone (800) 388-4539; fax (208) 522-5096.