Caroline Bankes trumpets the flowers' beauty and season.
DAFFODILS IN SOCIETY
From early March until April growers compete at shows across the country. The oldest of these shows is run by The Daffodil Society. The first daffodil show was held at the Edgbaston Botanical Gardens on 13 and 14 April, 1899. Professional and amateur growers travelled from all over the UK to take part.
The society was originally known as the Midland Daffodil Society when set up in July 1898 by Robert Sydenham, a prominent businessman, at the suggestion of Professor William Hillhouse, secretary of the Birmingham Botanical and Horticultural Society.
“From the outset, the society attracted new members, supporters and exhibitors from all corners of the British Isles and visitors from all over the world came to view the annual shows,” said Jan Dalton in his centenary history of the society.
In 1909 the Daffodil King, Peter Barr, visited the show just before he died. Daffodils had fallen out of favour during the mid-Victorian period. Yellow was an unfashionable colour and gardeners considered the daffodil too easy to grow. Barr had started a seed and bulb business in 1861. His company, Barr & Sons, is credited with reviving the daffodil’s fortunes, finding new and forgotten varieties from around the world.
The society cancelled two shows during the First World War and held none between 1941 and 1945. In 1963 it changed its name to The Daffodil Society and regional groups were formed to broaden the audience. The show had been moved to Notcutts in Solihull before spending 10 years at Myton School in Warwick.
Last year it was moved to Coughton Court, a National Trust property near Alcester, Warwickshire; a descendant of the Throckmorton family, who have lived in the house for 600 years, was instrumental in classifying daffodil colours.
Last year more than 4,000 visitors were amazed to see the different hues and types of daffodils among the 186 exhibits on show in a huge marquee on the lawn. Daffodils are judged on form, freshness, colour and the stem. Presentation and balance are also taken into consideration.
For professional bulb growers the Cartwright Challenge Cup and the Bourne Cup are the most coveted prizes. The new chairman of The Daffodil Society, Roger Braithwaite, has been exhibiting for more than 20 years and has won the Cartwright Challenge Cup several times.
The showing calendar starts in early March and Braithwaite’s culminates in the Daffodil Society show on 18-19 April. Only the weather can stop him going. “Two years ago I didn’t have a flower to put an exhibit together,” he recalls.
Rare bulbs can fetch £100 and new varieties take many years to multiply. “We’re all working on breeding white daffs with orange cups because there aren’t any,” says Braithwaite. For more information visit thedaffodilsociety.com.