Historic Choices, Succession, and Digging up Gold

As usual, my post title was dreamed up over a week ago, but to my great delight some internet searching last night has given it a ‘double edged’ or even ‘Halberdian’ meaning. To encourage you to follow through to the end and maybe learn a bit about British mediaeval history how about a photo quiz to begin. (The list of flowers is right at the end of the post).SDIM6651 (2)
Can any eagle eyed readers identify the 6 different spring flowers here, picked for our latest garden visitors to enjoy (but just as importantly for me to photograph)?
And now it’s about time I featured some practical advice. So here goes.SDIM6750 (2)
If you are a colour obsessed gardener as I have clearly become over the years, then daffodils present a potential problem.SDIM6753 (2)
I find yellow a difficult colour in the garden at other times of the year, but in early spring it seems to give that dramatic shot of vibrancy which lifts a dull, low light level, or even sunny, scene.SDIM6755 (2)SDIM6484 (2) So early in our time here, we planted lots of daffodils. The ‘Brunswick’ below, were planted maybe 7 years ago, as lifted ‘in the green’ bulbs from an even earlier planting.SDIM6562 (2)
(But even before these plantings, I should record that the only ornamental flowers growing here when we arrived 20 years ago were some very strange double daffodils clinging to the banks of our steep access track – more about these later).SDIM6694 (2)
Friends even gave us a sackful of mixed daffodils.
And in they went with gay abandon wherever we were developing an area of the garden.
Years later, I’ve realised that rather like snowdrops, all daffodils, of which there are tens of thousands of varieties, just aren’t all the same (spot the odd one out below).SDIM6505 (2)
There are size, form, scent, colour, height and perhaps most importantly, individual garden vigour, flowering time and flowering length differences. Whilst some of this information can be gleaned from bulb packaging, or catalogues, I always find it hard to relate this to what other plants or daffodils are actually doing in our garden, at the same time, as these bulbs are due to explode onto the scene.
Then there are several cultivars we have tried, which have hardly lasted more than a couple of years in the ground, before completely expiring – most probably because of our high rainfall, or heavy soil. (Narcissus ‘Hawera’ and N. ‘Sun Disc’ being 2 examples, in spite of both having the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit or AGM).
So as a long term project I’m trying to catalogue the varieties which we grow now, and order them according to flowering time.
Alongside this, we’re trying to build up a collection and display area for them, and add to our range of heritage daffodils. I have a suitably vague notion of what constitutes a heritage variety, but many of the varieties which do best with us turn out to have been first bred, getting on for a hundred years ago. And many of these, like N. ‘Stella’ below, also seem to have a simple elegance distinguishing them from many of the municipally planted big yellow jobs, like the thuggish N. ‘King Alfred’.
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As with many plants, I also think that anything that was bred decades ago, had to succeed in an era without chemical inputs, and I dread to think what gets sloshed onto many of the fields growing bulbs intensively in places like the Netherlands (both in the way of artificial fertilizers, and pesticides). Our garden environment just isn’t like that, so we want varieties which will perform with just a bit of TLC and occasional wood ash.
But one of the consequences of our earlier bulb plantings is that I keep trying to remove daffodils from areas of the garden where I now consider the colour, height or form is not quite right to fit in with the overall aesthetic, created with other plants nearby. As an example, all of the un-named split corona variety below, have been teased out of our long borders over the years. With grape hyacinths in front, these shortish bulbs look much better en masse, rather than mixed in amongst other taller forms.SDIM6747 (2) Every previous year, I’ve attempted this with a garden fork, but by now the few stragglers lurking inappropriately, turn out to be very deep down, snucked beneath underground stones, and probably will have been broken off by me after several previous unsuccessful attempts to remove them. Yet still return!
So, this year I thought I’d work our digging bar around them, flat end first (since this is how we plant all our bulbs anyway).SDIM6535 (2)
(And spot the difference in the bulb I’m after here – that’s how fussy I’ve become!)
Eh Voila. I reckon it’s worked 99% of the time, winkling out the bulbs with great success, and with minimal damage to either bulb or surrounding plants.
But the other practical advice I’d like to give for any daffodil fans would be to explore the sites of 2 of our specialist daffodil bulb suppliers.
Firstly, Ron Scamp of ‘Quality Daffodils’ who has a huge range of bulbs grown in fields in Cornwall, and has won numerous RHS gold medals for his bulb displays. Click here for the link. Ron’s latest catalogue is out now, and he even offers the great idea of gift vouchers to be spent on line, as well as rainbow mixes of smaller or ‘misfiled’, unknown bulbs, which he has grown on by a colleague and which might potentially contain a new discovery, but will certainly be full of surprises. What a great present it would be, to receive some of these. You might even find a few N. ‘Eaton Song’, one of Ron’s short multi stemmed cultivars (below). A real early beauty, though a bit slug impaired in this photo. SDIM6439 (2)
Secondly, we recommend Croft 16 daffodils, which is a labour of love operation run by Kate and Duncan Donald in the far North of Scotland. They have spent a few decades amassing a national collection of stunning heritage daffodils, from which they also sell limited numbers of surplus bulbs. They make the point that by getting other gardeners to grow them, they will most likely ensure the varieties’ survival, since many aren’t available from any other source. It’s worth clicking here just to see where they grow these beauties – you will then have a fair idea that if they survive on the shores of Wester Ross, they’ll cope in most locations with high rainfall. How about N. ‘Bath’s Flame’, below, a tall elegant daffodil?SDIM6664 (2)
Kate has also undertaken to try to identify for us, a daffodil which we grow of unknown name, but considerable charm, and it now forms the third and final cultivar we’ve bulked up in the long border in front of the house, following on nicely after N. ‘Rjinveld’s Early Sensation’ (AGM), and N. ‘Brunswick’ (AGM).
SDIM6638 (2)Starting as a clear delicate yellow, it’s a very long lasting (and sterile) flower which fades to pale white as many of our favourite cultivars do. Which is one way of avoiding too much yellow later in the season.
As I’ve mentioned in previous year’s posts, I now grow most of our new daffodils in a big bag for their first year, and then move them to their final position, ideally about 8 weeks after flowering, for optimal results.SDIM6483 (2) (Click here for the first link and here for the second year later link).
Whilst moving them in the green like snowdrops may be frowned on by some, it means that I can get them exactly where I want them, and also I’ve been able to assess their actual heights, flowering times and colours, relative to others we grow which is important if one’s aiming for a succession of flower impact. I can now also confirm that my experiment with moving N. ‘Topolino’ bulbs in the green at various stages after flowering (as in the 2 linked posts above,) seems to demonstrate that 3 years after the move, one can’t detect any significant difference between those moved 4 weeks or 8 weeks after flowering (flowers fading now, but groups of bulbs moved from 2 to 10 weeks post flowering from left to right in the front of this image).SDIM6728 (2)
We buy most new varieties in just ones and twos from Croft 16, but as with the snowdrops, the wonders of fibonacci sequence compounding, means that in a few years, you can have enough of one type for a reasonable visual impact. And we like the idea of producing a small scale visual reference and comparison site for some of these older cultivars in Wales, which of course uses the daffodil as its national flower. Why not visit us, or the blog, next spring to see how this project is developing?SDIM6573 (2)
As an additional link, can I suggest any daffodil fans might think of acquiring the beautiful recent book “Daffodil: The Remarkable Story of the World’s Most Popular Spring Flower” by Noel Kingsbury and photographer Jo Whitworth. I found it an aesthetic tour de force, and a most enjoyable read. I did see a review by a daffodil aficionado who was a little scathing about its limitations and pointed out a couple of minor naming mistakes, but I think most lay gardeners would love it. Click here for more.
But for now, as a taster, about two thirds of the way through our daffodil season, here are the cultivars which have opened so far (in order of flowering).
We also have, so far, another 15 unnamed varieties which have flowered and which I need to establish a name for. An asterix indicates that flowering has now finished for this season.
  1. Rjinveld’s Early Sensation * (Very early cultivar). From early January, though much later this year.
  2. Tete a tete *
  3. N. pseudonarcissus obvallaris (Tenby) *
  4. February Gold *
  5. Eaton Song
  6. Topolino
  7. N. pseudonarcissus moschatus *
  8. Brunswick
  9. N.pseudonarcissus lobularis
  10. Rip van Winkle
  11. W.P.Milner
  12. Old Welsh Double
  13. Sir Watkin
  14. Ice Follies
  15. Fintry Beauty
  16. Loch Fyne
  17. N. cannaliculatus
  18. Elvira
  19. Thalia
  20. Barrett Browning
  21. Stella
  22. Maybole Elegance
  23. Mary Copeland
  24. Bath’s Flame
  25. Autocrat
  26. Maggie Maybe
  27. Geranium
  28. Jenny
  29. White Lady
  30. Damson
  31. Amabilis
  32. Lady Mary’s Gwyther
  33. Ice  Wings
  34. John Evelyn

Since this is an incomplete offering, I’ll include a few more images of some favourite known varieties:


SDIM6474 (2) ‘Ice Follies’ SDIM6659 (2) ‘Loch Fyne’SDIM6436 (2) ‘Maggie Maybe’ typeSDIM6592 (2) ‘Fintry Beauty’SDIM6476 (3)

And 2 of our most appealing unknowns, in case anyone can suggest a name.SDIM6611 (2)SDIM6641 (2)

And finally a couple which we really would never have chosen, but arrived as offerings or wholesale mistakes which we’re unlikely to ever throw out! Like mini N. ‘Rip Van Winkle’.SDIM6189 (2)

And ‘Barrett Browning’ ?SDIM6602 (2)

These tend to get moved (as above) into a daffodil medley dumping ground, beneath our Amelanchier canadensis, where we don’t have to look at them too closely.SDIM6761 (3)

But I shall now return to what I’ve called the ‘Old Welsh Double’ daffodil, which was growing in the hedgerow of our access track when we first bought Gelli Uchaf. Since Gelli had been derelict for 30 years before that, we figured it was anyway an old variety, but just how old?SDIM6698 (2)A Google search came up with an interesting link and name. The ‘Derwydd’ daffodil or Narcissus obvallarisThomas’ Virescent . Barry Stewart mentioned that this supposed double ‘Flora pleno’ variant of the local native ‘Tenby’ daffodil Narcissus obvallaris (which is now a garden stalwart with us) was first recorded in a garden near Llandybie, (“Thlann-der-beer”) Carmarthenshire, which is only about 20 miles from us.SDIM6696 (2)

But no further clues existed in his post as to a precise origin, though an American site lists the variety as pre 1576 origin. But I then discovered that there was indeed a Derwydd mansion at Llandybie, which had recently had its remaining house contents sold after the death of the last owner. Click here for more. What was really interesting, was the history attached to this house and its very early owner from the 1400’s, one ‘Sir Rhys ap Thomas‘. Click here for more.

The Welsh born Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, who spent 14 years living in Wales, before another 14 years in exile in Brittany (then a separate country), and France, plotted to invade Britain and so end the war of the roses between the houses of Lancaster and York.

At the second attempt, a plan saw him successfully landing near Milford Haven with a small band of followers. A key figure won over very quickly was the Carmarthenshire based Rhys ap Thomas, who quickly switched allegiances from the then King, Richard 3rd, to back Henry after being promised further lands and power than he currently possessed. While Henry travelled from Derwydd, the ap Thomas home, via Aberystwyth towards Shrewsbury, Rhys moved South, East and then North and when they joined forces again in Welshpool, Rhys had gathered the Welsh majority of the 5,000 or so troops which made up Henry’s new army. Moving into England this quickly thrown together force was confronted by a far superior number of about 10,000 men under Richard 3rd at the Battle of Bosworth field in Leicestershire in August 1485 (click here for much more fascinating background), just 3 weeks after Henry had left France.

Richard was killed in this battle, and so Henry 7th was crowned and the line of Tudor kings established. And all thanks to Welsh military prowess. So there were clearly close ties between the nations back then in the late 1400’s?SDIM6690 (2)

The Welsh soldier poet Guto’r Glyn (click here), records later that it was Rhys ap Thomas himself, who actually killed Richard in the battle with a blow to the back of his skull. Though this must be open to debate. Certainly ap Thomas was knighted on the field of battle, and when to much excitement a skeleton presumed to be that of Richard 3rd was discovered in a Leicester car park in 2012, the injuries to the body were consistent with this bard’s description of his fate. Click here for more, and here.

So, does the Gelli double daffodil come from the same lineage as the Derwydd/Thomas bulb? I guess that given the close proximity of Gelli Uchaf to Llandybie, there’s a fair chance, since it has such an unconventional and frankly messy form. Only a few of the Gelli bulbs show green petal colours (‘virescent’), but close inspection shows quite a range of flower size and form, which is I guess what one might expect if our Gelli population has been quietly existing and morphing over decades or hundreds of years. But just who planted the bulbs in the hedgerows, and when, I guess we shall never know.SDIM6695 (2)

Should anyone be so taken with the story of the site of origin of this historic daffodil that they would like to grow some (and frankly it’s not the most attractive flower, so I don’t know why else one would want to), then do get in touch and I shall see if I could save a few bulbs once the foliage has died down. And if you do grow it, place it amongst some twiggy material like a hedge, or Hydrangea, so that it doesn’t flop over at the first hint of rain!

Finally for those wondering about the flowers in our blue bowl, here they are in the garden.

White Honesty, Lunaria annua var. alba, Pulmonaria, Primrose, Primula vulgaris (types), Omphalodes cappadocica, Aubrieta and the spurge like Chrysosplenium davidianum – a favourite of ours to light up a shady spot at this time of the year.SDIM6735 (2)SDIM6727 (2)SDIM6724 (2)SDIM6729 (2)SDIM6733 (2)
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11 thoughts on “Historic Choices, Succession, and Digging up Gold

  1. Fantastic photographs again and so many varieties of daffodils – I had no idea. Thought you may be interested in one of my blogs regarding Sir Rhys ap Thomas and ‘our’ Bosworth stone. Maybe we should plant the double daffodil near the stone!

    Copied from Lletty Cottage blog:
    February 9 Richard 111 and our Bosworth Stone February 9, 2013

    Filed under: Uncategorized — lletty @ 1:23 pm

    The papers have been full this last week with the exciting news that the body dug up in a Leicester carpark is that of Richard 111. I’ve watched the programmes all about the ‘dig’ and read all the articles in the papers and been amazed by it all.

    Now we too have a connection with Richard 111 and Bosworth…it might be a slim link but it is a link. This stone is on the A40 just down the road from Lletty Cottage at the entrance to Abermarlais Park. There are footpaths through the park and at this time of year there are wide expanses of snowdrops sweeping over the banks by the river Marlais for all to enjoy.

    The monolith is locally called The Bosworth Stone as it was allegedly brought home from Bosworth Field by Sir Rhys ap Thomas as a souvenir when Henry Tudor defeated Richard 111! However, other sources have other ideas as written below.

    The Bosworth Stone The Bosworth Stone

    from http://www.geograph.org.uk

    ” This massive stone, 9ft high and known as ‘Y Garreg Fawr’ (trans. The Big Stone’) or The Abermarlais Stone, stands at the main entrance to Abermarlais Mansion (the house was demolished in 1982 after a disastrous fire in 1980). Originally the stone was located within the park grounds and was upended by Sir Rhys ap Thomas shortly after 1485 to commemorate Henry Tudor’s victory at the Battle of Bosworth. Apparently the stone was moved to its present position in 1840. “



    Nobody really knows the true story behind The Bosworth Stone ….maybe they should dig it up and see if there are any bones hidden beneath…now that would be good!

    • Hello Marianne,
      Thanks for a really interesting comment and wonderful additional information on Sir Rhys ap Thomas. Fiona is going that way tomorrow, so I may see if she can call in and peruse the stone! Also interesting to hear of yet another Carms. mansion which is (recently) no more. I couldn’t believe how many of those around Llandybie no longer exist, when I was delving into Derwydd.
      If you’d like a few of the daffs, just let me know!
      Best wishes

  2. Fascinating connection. I like the double daffodil although I don’t usually like fussy daffodils. I hope you cherish it for its position of seniority in the garden as well. I’m still at the stage of putting in stuff that thrives, design and colour combinations have taken a back seat to necessity. I do admire a properly designed garden and your garden does give a perfect backdrop for daffodils in the spring. Your project with the cultivars will be a great help to anyone with similar weather conditions. Amelia

    • Helllo A,
      I quite understand the need for planting stuff that thrives – that’s the most important thing – I guess we have the luxury of such preposterous finessing ‘cos we’ve been in the garden for so long now.
      Re deadheading daffs I have a suitably perverse approach –
      Those that I’ve worked out are sterile – like ‘Geranium’ and ‘Thalia’, I don’t bother with.
      Those where I fancy collecting seed, like ‘Topolino’ and ‘Tenby’, I wait until viable seed capsules are formed to harvest.
      Some like Jetfire, which being sterile (I think!) and bright yellow/orange I deadhead if the colour clashes as the tulips come out ….usually just a few days before the flowers would fade anyway.
      All the rest are more likely to be left as numbers increase . But so many of the cultivars seem to be either sterile or of poor fertility – at least partly because they usually attract few pollinators (in our garden) – that leaving the flower heads on, probably has little adverse effect, since so few seed are formed. Topolino can contain 50 to 60 seeds per pod, so leaving these is probably quite a drain on the bulbs.
      If in doubt, split an apparently developing seed pod – most will have tiny vestigial white seed – the viable seed become large and shiny black when mature ….
      Oh dear, was that more than you bargained for?

      • No, it makes sense. I hadn’t even realised before your post that some varieties were sterile. I prefer to leave the green unless it is covering something very close to it. I’ve never tried growing the seeds though, I’ve seen the white seed but did not know they would be black and larger if viable.

      • Hello again A,
        Thanks for that. Actually it’s really nice to get this sort of honest comment….I had no idea either until 3 or 4 years ago, and blindly followed the accepted gardening wisdom of dead heading. But what’s the point if the plant isn’t actually directing costly resources into viable seed?
        It was quite a shock when I opened the seed capsules of so many varieties hoping to be able to grow our own varieties to find nothing at all in the way of viable seed. But also the fact of almost no insect visits at all in our garden (most years!) to most of our daffodils. And hybrid tulips by the way (though we can’t grow many of these)….but now I’m onto my insect friendly flowers bandwagon…
        But it would be interesting to know if you find the same issue with insect visits to daffs and hybrid tulips with all your wonderful French bees?

  3. How kind of you Julian to offer me some daffs. As you know I’m not one to refuse an offer! So look forward to visiting your amazing garden again in the future and maybe pick up some bulbs. Many thanks indeed.

  4. Fascinating history about Richard III, somehow I missed the discovy of his skeleton, how amazing. I have lots of daffodils but they are one of the few plants that I haven’t keet specifc records for. I think I know what I ordered but not where I planted them. I have a lot of the cultivars on your list. Hawera never grew for me despite several attempts. Since you and I have totally differnet weather, I would say it is a finicky cultivar.

    • Hello Carolyn,
      Thanks for the comment. Interesting about Hawera failing with you too. I’m sure if we knew more about the breeding that went into them, we might be able to work out that they had, say, Spanish species involved which would mean that they’re not so well suited. Or maybe they’re one which thrives in a commercial grower’s set up, (i.e. monoculture field growing) but not so well in a typical garden setting?

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