Those who live in the UK may remember two series of programmes on the BBC called “The Great British Garden Revival.” One of them featured Carol Klein extolling the virtues of heritage varieties of daffodils, some of which have naturalised in the hedgerows of Cornwall, a county that used to grow them for the early cut flower trade.
As I am trying to develop a small spring garden under an apple tree in my garden, I decided I would grow a few of these old cultivars to see how they compare with modern varieties. A Google search revealed R & A Scamp, a company near Falmouth, stocking a selection. After picking five varieties, I placed an order and planted some good, healthy bulbs in October which are now coming into flower.
Dating from about 1893, Seagull has a small cup and grows to around 18 inches in height. It flowers in early to mid spring
Mrs R. O. Backhouse
This is the oldest of the pink daffodils and was named in 1923 by Mr Robert Backhouse after his late wife, a daffodil breeder. It flowers in April, growing to around 18 inches
Another variety introduced in the early 1890s. Again, an early to mid season bloomer, and around 18 inches tall. Needs a well drained soil but likes moisture when in growth
As with the first two preceding varieties, this was bred by George Engleheart and introduced about the same time. Slightly taller, it has been described as his “greatest triumph,” and was for decades the standard of excellence against which all other narcissus of a similar parentage were judged. Engleheart was not a full-time plant breeder; his main job was as the vicar of Appleshaw near Andover in Hampshire.
Albatross is a sibling of Seagull and was registered a couple of years earlier. The main difference between the two varieties is that Albatross keeps the contrasting colour in the rim of the cup as the flowers age (Seagull loses this feature). It grows to around 18 inches, flowering a little later than Seagull. Its breeder called it one of his best creations.
So what do I think of these old varieties? The most obvious feature is that they all hang their heads slightly. There is nothing wrong with this, it’s just the ones we are used to tend not to display this trait. The flowers are also smaller than more modern varieties, but this makes them look more delicate and suitable for informal plantings. I would suggest these older cultivars are kept separate in the garden from the newer ones whose flower power would overpower their subtle charm. But I am glad I tried them and may add some different ones in the future. It will be interesting to see how they perform over the years ahead.