Recollections of the 1998 England & Northern Ireland Daffodil Tours
by NCDS member Kirby Fong, Livermore, California
In 1998, The Daffodil Society (England) celebrated its centenary and organized a tour of England culminating with the Society’s show and banquet in Solihull. To complement the Daffodil Society tour, the Northern Ireland Daffodil Group (NIDG) organized its second World Daffodil Tour for guests to come tour Northern Ireland after the Daffodil Society show. The NIDG tour ended with the Belfast Spring Fair, a flower show including daffodils.
Monday, April 13
After an uneventful, overnight flight from Dulles Airport, the bulk of the American tourists arrived at Heathrow Airport on a bright, sunny morning. Among the first to greet us as we exited customs were Kiwis Spud Brogden and Andrew Jenkins who had arrived in England a few days before us. As our hotel rooms at the Tower Thistle Hotel in London would not be ready until later in the afternoon, our buses took us on a leisurely ride west to see Windsor Castle before heading east into central London. Each of us was assigned to one of the two buses for the duration of the English tour. The tour leaders for my bus were Tom and Maureen Handley, both of whom have previously come to American Daffodil Society shows and Northern California Daffodil Society shows. We were later to learn Maureen deserves much of the credit for attending to all the administrative details in organizing the tour.
Arriving at our hotel in early afternoon, we met other tour group members from other countries such as David and Robin Jackson from Tasmania and David and Leitha Adams and their son Lane from New Zealand. We were then free to wander around London for the rest of the day. It being Easter Monday, a holiday, many businesses including restaurants were closed. By mid afternoon, it was turning windy and overcast. As I left the hotel I met Jamie and Kaye Radcliff of Tasmania who were returning from a walk. As the question of Daphne had come up recently on DAFFNET, I asked them if they still had any for sale. They said it was a slow increaser but believed they still had a modest stock although they have not listed it in their catalogue since 1992.
As it was getting too cold to stand in the wind, we parted company, and I began my walk south across the Tower Bridge, west along the south bank of the Thames, north across London Bridge, and east back to the hotel including one circuit around the Tower of London. The Tower is lower than most of the streets that now surround it. The banks on the west and north side are nicely landscaped but are not readily visible from street level. I think in olden times there was a moat completely surrounding the Tower. Returning to the hotel for dinner, I found that most of the tour group had finally assembled. Some Americans had taken other flights than the one from Dulles, and we were joined by Australians and New Zealanders including Michael Brown who has recently assumed the office of president of the National Daffodil Society of New Zealand.
Tuesday, April 14
Because the Royal Horticultural Society show would not be open to the public until afternoon, we (except those invited to judge) had the morning free. Ian Tyler who was the tour leader for the other bus led a group of us across the street to the Tower of London. As we were there when it opened at 9, we did not have to wait to see their most popular attraction, the Crown Jewels.
The RHS has two buildings in Westminster, and both were in use for the flower show with the daffodils occupying one end of the New Hall. As we had only three and a half hours before the buses would return for us, I spent all my time with the daffodils, ignoring the alpines and other plants. The 1998 daffodil season has been difficult for England and Northern Ireland. A warm winter brought daffodils into bloom early. This was followed by freezing weather as well as torrential rains which caused the worst flooding in the Midlands and East Anglia in decades. (Sounds a lot like the eastern U.S. season!) As a consequence, exhibitors who did not pick and refrigerate their outdoor flowers early had to scrounge for surviving flowers. Nevertheless, rough textured flowers did not seem to be as prevalent as they were at the ADS Richmond show which also suffered from erratic growing conditions. I presume the difference is that exhibitors in England can and did grow some of their flowers in green houses (or glass houses as they’re called there).
Brian Duncan won the prestigious Engleheart Cup for a collection of twelve raised by the exhibitor. The collection contained Chobe River, Doctor Hugh, Bazouki, Queen’s Guard, Assertion, Surrey, Cape Point, Cheetah, Goldfinger, Dorchester, Tropical Heat, and June Lake. The most prestigious amateur award is the Bowles Cup for three stems each of fifteen cultivars from at least four divisions. This was won by Eddie Jarman with Sherborne, Hawangi, Badbury Rings, Chelsea Girl, Barnesgold, June Lake, Jacobin, Regal Bliss, La Vella, Ringwood, Ahwahnee, Purbeck, Nacre, Ashmore, and Stanway.
The champion bloom and best division 3 bloom was Moon Shadow exhibited by Paul Payne. If I recall correctly this was in his Richardson Trophy collection in the amateur classes. The reserve champion bloom and also best division 1 bloom was John Pearson’s seedling 92-8-P29, 1Y-Y. Best division 2 bloom was Regal Bliss shown by Brian Duncan. Best division 4 bloom was Dorchester in Brian’s Engleheart collection. Best division 5-9 bloom was Ice Wings shown by Geoff Ridley.
Best miniature was the miniature poet Kibler number W-12 brought from New York by our own Eileen Whitney. I should add that Steve Vinisky also brought flowers from Oregon to enter in the Engleheart and other classes. One of his best entries was Sammy Girl, 8W-P, bred by Harold Koopowitz. The practice at the RHS and other shows we were to see is not to have a special winners table. The champion and other premier blooms are left intact in their exhibits, and the prize ribbons are hung on the vase. This means you have to walk around the show to find the winners.
Other flowers notable for their beauty or progress in breeding were Noel Burr’s Glynde and 1Y-O seedling 1-31-90, John Pearson’s Lavender Mist, Sheelagh Rowan, and Fine Romance, Clive Postles’ Fire Blade and Ombersley, Michael Baxter’s Lakeland Fair, and Reg Nicholl’s 3W-P seedling 5/96.
I fortunately had an advance copy of the schedule so that I could see there were open, amateur, and novice classes. This fact is not so obvious just from looking at the show. The prestigious Engleheart Cup class is in the open section, and that’s where the best flowers are likely to appear; however, the amateur collections were also very strong. The champion bloom in fact came from an amateur collection. Since daffodils are permitted to be grown in green houses, the best specimens probably were green house grown. Exhibitors growing daffodils without protection were at a disadvantage.
This show and the other shows we would be seeing used tiered staging with a board behind the back tier rising higher than the top row of blooms. At all three shows the staging and backing were covered with a dark colored cloth so that there was no distracting background behind the flowers. The RHS daffodil show had nominal cash prizes but no entry fees. The Daffodil Society show had no cash prizes or entry fees. The Belfast Spring Fair had nominal cash prizes and entry fees of 30 pence per entry for the first twenty entries by an exhibitor. All three shows had entry forms for exhibitors to list the classes they intended to enter. The RHS and Daffodil Society shows had strong down light which emphasized any textural problems such as roughness. The Belfast daffodil show was in a tent whose white cloth cast a diffuse light.
Among the people we met at the RHS show were Peter and Lesley Ramsay from New Zealand. They were traveling independently of the tour, and we would have the pleasure of seeing them again at Solihull. I also met Noel Burr for the first time. He introduced himself while I was admiring the flowers in his Engleheart entry. Have your ever noticed that the most discerning observers are the ones who admire your entries? At the Solihull show I would similarly meet Dan du Plessis while looking at one of his collections.
As we waited outside the show for the buses which would take us back to the hotel to change clothes for the RHS reception, it began to rain. This was to be the first of many occasions when it rained during both tours. It turned out the reception was to be held in the same hall as the daffodil show. The reception was in honor of the 100th anniversary of The Daffodil Society which is a separate organization from the RHS. It was also the occasion for the formal release and initial sale of the new International Daffodil Register and Classified List, a work which has been in preparation for eleven years. It is a 1-5/8 inch thick paperback book. This is the RHS’s equivalent to the ADS Data Bank. I ordered one at the reception to be shipped to me because I didn’t want to add another two and three quarters pounds to my baggage. It arrived the day after I got home.
During the reception I had a chance to look at some other exhibits including two large trade displays by Hoffland’s Daffodils and Broadleigh Gardens. Hoffland’s is the trade name used by John and Rosemary Pearson. If I recall correctly, their display was about twelve feet wide and six tiers high filled with vases. Each vase held nine blooms, three in the top row, four in the middle row, and two in the bottom row. It must have been an enormous amount of work to stage that many vases of nine blooms not to mention transporting them to the hall. There is only on-street parking around the hall, and you can park only a limited time except at night and Sundays. I mention Broadleigh Gardens because they have many of the rare Alec Gray miniatures even though the rare miniatures were not in their trade display. Alas for us outlanders, Broadleigh does not export.
Wednesday, April 15
We rode out to the RHS Wisley Garden which is southwest of London just outside the M25 motorway which rings the greater London area. Wisley is a very large garden and can hold many busloads of visitors without appearing crowded. After welcoming remarks in a drizzle by the garden’s curator, our tour group scattered throughout the garden. I trooped up Battleston Hill and down the other side to the Portsmouth Field where the trial gardens reside. All sorts of plants besides daffodils are grown for several years in the trial gardens and rated for garden merit. There was one plot of daffodils for display and two plots for evaluation. Most if not all the daffodils for evaluation were donated by bulb sellers. At the edge of the trial field are some of the daffodils transferred from the Rosewarne Experimental Horticultural Station when it closed. Included are many of the older cultivars with which I am not familiar. People more knowledgeable than I remarked that some of the daffodils were mislabeled. One which was correctly labeled was Will Scarlett, one of the earliest achievements in breeding colorful cups. Though not a show flower by today’s standards, its historical significance justifies keeping it so we can appreciate all the breeding efforts that lie behind our modern cultivars.
There were also mass plantings of daffodils (17,000 bulbs of 15 cultivars) in the Jubilee Arboretum, but the fields were so muddy that I did not go to take a close look. The Alpine Meadow is the site of the massive N. cyclamineus planting, but they had all finished blooming. Surprisingly, the bulbocodiums were still in bloom in the Alpine Meadow. The cold weather in the weeks before our visit seemed to have preserved the blooms much longer than they would have lasted in a normal season. The rain resumed after we left Wisley to go around the ring road and head northeast of London to Essex. As the region is not frequented by tourists, there were no hotels large enough for our entire tour group, so each bus went to a different hotel.
Thursday, April 16
Our buses met at the RHS garden at Hyde Hall near Rettendon. This is one of the newer of the RHS gardens, and development is still in progress. There weren’t many daffodils here; however, there was a new planting of Slieveboy in honor of the Daffodil Society’s Centenary Slieveboy is the daffodil which appears in The Daffodil Society logo. Due to the fact that it started to rain again, everyone headed into the little cafeteria simultaneously. There were not enough chairs for everyone, but the serving line was slow enough that the first people were able to finish and vacate their chairs before the last were ready to sit down.
The rain let up as we headed off to Little Totham where John and Rosemary live and grow their daffodils. Peter and Diane Irwin from New Zealand were visiting the Pearson’s and would later help them stage flowers at Solihull. There was a marquee (what we call a tent) in the back yard to provide a modicum of shelter, but it fortunately did not rain hard enough that everyone tried to stand under it. John put a display of potted daffodils in the green house for our viewing. Because they were in good condition, well lit, and out of the wind, I spent some time photographing them, leaving little time to look at the daffodils out in the field. There was one row protected from the wind by frames, but most of the fields were out in the open. I did manage to walk down one row of seedlings, but I saw probably less than five percent of all that was there to see. What I did see included a 1Y-O seedling 97-5-53 and a promising reverse 92-6-P23 which looked like a trumpet, though I didn’t measure it. And yes, Lavender Mist does open with an intriguing lavender tone in the cup. We could have stayed longer, but we left and were deposited at Maldon for an hour of shopping. Considering how busy John and Rosemary must have been that week, they probably needed every hour they could get to prepare for the Solihull show.
Friday, April 17
We faced a four hour bus ride from Rivenhall End to Solihull. On the way we stopped at Stratford Upon Avon. We were also stopped in a traffic jam caused by an accident on the M40 motorway. Due to the possibility of inclement weather, we hired guides to ride on our buses for coach tours of the Stratford area rather than let people go on a walking tour of the town. We were allowed to walk briefly around town before our coach tour, and I saw sand bags around some of the lowest lying stores, with silt from the flood waters still on some floors. We were told Stratford gets about 3 million tourists per year. The town seemed relatively uncrowded that day, presumably because most tourists were still discouraged by the recent flooding. By riding rather than walking, we were able to see some sites outside the downtown area such as Warwick Castle, Anne Hathaway’s cottage, and Mary Arden’s house. We stopped at Mary Arden’s house, though not long enough to go inside. Indeed, many people seemed more interested in watching Alfred the longhorn bull in the pasture across from Mary Arden’s house.
We proceeded finally to the St. John’s Swallow Hotel in Solihull, a suburb of Birmingham. Normally, the Daffodil Society show is held at the Solihull School; however, in recognition of its centenary year and the multitude of overseas visitors, the Society rented the hotel ballroom for this year’s show. Before and after dinner we were able to watch the exhibitors stage their flowers. In the early evening Bob Spotts and I first watched Chris Yates as he prepared the daffodils he brought up from Dorset. After dinner (in England and Northern Ireland we never had dinner before 7) we watched as more exhibitors arrived to stage their flowers. It was interesting to see how exhibitors deal with poor flower pose. Because the exhibits use vases instead of test tubes, it is possible to put a wad of moss behind the stem at the bottom end and another wad of moss in front of the stem at the top of the vase. This causes the stem to lean back so that a flower which is facing downward can be lifted slightly. Furthermore, one need not jam the stem all the way down to the bottom of the vase. By putting it only part way down, the stem appears not only to be longer but can also be made to lean even farther back. One can get the stem to lean back about twenty degrees to help compensate for a downward facing flower. Another technique to improve the pose is to prop the flower up with a small stake after it has been staged. The bottom of the stake stands in the vase while the top of the stake (cut to the right length) holds the perianth tube up over night. Exhibitors also faced their staged flowers against the dark staging back board in the hope the overhead lights would help raise the flowers. Incidentally, there is once again a manufacturer of lip pins in England. We call them card pins in America and use them to hold labels in large collections. Labelon quit manufacturing them in America years ago. The pins have become available again in England at four pounds Sterling for a box of 200.
Saturday, April 18
While final staging and judging took place, our buses took us to visit Clive and Astrid Postles. As their mailing address implies, they live in an old cottage which they have restored and augmented. In front (east) of their home they have built a beautiful garden including a pond. A green house is off to the north side of the garden while the daffodil fields are south of the house and garden. As did John Pearson, Clive had numerous pots of daffodils in bloom in the green house for us to see. And again, I spent a lot of time photographing these before going off to see the field in the inadequate remaining time. In the green house, the pot of Honey Bourne was impressive, but most interesting was a pot of 4-24-88, a division 2 flower with pale orange perianth and yellowish orange cup. I had only a limited time to walk around the field before returning to the bus. I did not see the W-O trumpet of which I’ve read.
At last we came to the show which was the focal point of the English tour, the Daffodil Society Centenary show. Here the most prestigious class is also the open collection of twelve raised by the exhibitor for which the award is the Bourne Cup, a perpetual trophy. The winner was John Pearson whose collection contained Sheelagh Rowan, Goldhanger, Stoke Doyle Altun Ha, Caye Chapel, Lighthouse Reef and seedlings 94-65-Q66, 94-51-Q28, 94-46-Q82, 95-25-Q45, 89-19-M2, and 94-72-Q26. Not only did he stage this and numerous other entries but he, Rosemary, and the Irwin’s put up a trade stand for Hoffland’s almost as large as their stand at the RHS show. Can you imagine the work of entering two major shows, putting up two trade displays, and entertaining two busloads of tourists all in one week? 94-51-Q28 and 94-72-Q26 were particularly good looking reverse bicolors. Hanbury was the eye catching flower in Clive Postles’ Bourne Cup entry. By the way, though it was late in the Cornwall season, Ron Scamp still had enough flowers for a massive trade display.
The champion bloom, best division 2 bloom, and best amateur bloom was Gold Convention shown by Len Olive. The reserve champion bloom was Crowndale shown in a collection by the Norfolk and Norwich Horticultural Society. Best seedling and best division 1 bloom was John Pearson’s 94-51-Q28. Best division 3 bloom was Cool Crystal shown by P. Wilkins. (Cool Crystal is very popular in England; it appeared in many exhibits.) Best division 4 bloom was Crowndale shown by Paul Payne. Best division 5- 13 (yes, the ribbon said 13) bloom was Cantabile shown by L. Mace. There was no ribbon laid on the best miniature, so I couldn’t find it, but I believe it was something shown by Jackie Petherbridge. The Crowndale’s illustrate a peculiarity of the Daffodil Society show – namely that the division premiers are selected from the single stem classes, not from all classes,while the champion and reserve champion can come from any class. Thus the reserve champion Crowndale being in a collection was not eligible for best division 4 bloom!
The banquet and program that night was a lengthy affair lasting until 12:20 in the morning. Featured speaker was Steve Vinisky who urged everyone to hybridize daffodils and encouraged the English in particular not to neglect the higher divisions when hybridizing. Naturally, the program included the announcement and presentation of awards. Until that point I had not realized that the various silver trophies are normally locked up for years at a time. The occasion of the Centenary warranted bringing them out for a rare public viewing. The American Daffodil Society made and donated a special medal to award to the winner of the American collection class, and the winner was Tony James whom Americans will remember as a visitor to some of the ADS conventions. His collection included Conestoga, Pacific Rim, Monticello, Berceuse, and River Queen.
Sunday, April 19
After a modicum of sleep, we arose early to go to Heathrow for the flight to the Belfast International Airport where we were met by Sandy McCabe. Our buses took us to the Dunadry Inn not far from the airport. The Inn is out in the country not far from Antrim, and I spent the late afternoon walking around the Inn, looking at its landscaping and at the stream which runs by it. The water was running swift and clear. At the reception before dinner we were honored by the presence of Sir Frank and Lady Harrison who had come for the presentation of the Peter Barr Memorial Cup to Sir Frank in recognition of his work with daffodils. Dinner that night was hosted by the NIDG and was one of numerous meals hosted by someone or some group. I didn’t realize until later that the price of the Northern Ireland tour was so reasonable because so many of the meals were sponsored by others. We were frequently the guests of district and borough councils because they sincerely welcomed us and hoped that we would tell our friends it’s okay to visit Northern Ireland. In retrospect I see that visiting Northern Ireland is like visiting the home of a couple that is known to have domestic problems. Stay out the rooms and cupboards where you don’t belong and refrain from meddling, and you will have a pleasant visit.
Monday, April 20
Our first destination was Greenmount College just south of Antrim. Greenmount is an agricultural college, but it’s not just for farmers. They teach such things as landscape design and turf maintenance. The college is very well landscaped with much of the work being done by students as part of their education. The students can also play on the fields, but that’s secondary to learning how to construct and maintain them. Next stop was downtown Antrim so that people could get cash from ATM machines which there are called auto banks. Interestingly, Northern Bank, Ulster Bank, and the Bank of Ireland are allowed to issue their own bank notes. These Ulster pounds are interchangeable at par with Bank of England pounds. While Northern Ireland businesses accept them all, businesses in England may be reluctant to take the Ulster (and Scottish) pounds. It is wise for the tourist in Northern Ireland to ask for change in Bank of England notes.
We then headed northeast to the village of Broughshane which is noteworthy for at least three things. The first is that it was the home of Guy Wilson. His house still stands and is privately owned. Our buses stopped there and let us out to take pictures. I wonder how the residents and neighbors felt about all these strangers standing in the street taking photographs of a house. The second noteworthy thing is the floral displays that have won Broughshane the Ulster in Bloom, Britain in Bloom and Entente Florale awards. It was too early for any floral displays, but we learned about this community effort in a video presentation after the lunch hosted by the Ballymena Borough Council. The third noteworthy thing about the village is that it is the home of Carncairn Daffodils which we visited after lunch. Carncairn Lodge is typical of many of the old estates in having a large, walled garden. Kate Reade had some pots of daffodils in a shed and in a green house, both within and occupying only a small part of the walled garden. The best looking pot was Brave Journey. Kate grows the bulk of her daffodils in a field behind the house. There are four very long rows which run down the hill side. I think the width of each row was about eight or ten bulbs. Kate had a couple seedlings 12/1/86 and 2/5/87 which appear to be yellow-orange trumpets. Unfortunately, I did not have time to inspect all the rows.
Tuesday, April 21
This was mostly a traveling day. To make it more interesting there was a contest to see who could spot the most place names that happened to be names of daffodils between our departure from the Dunadry Inn and our arrival in Omagh (both of which by the way are daffodil names). The names had to be on signs that anyone could see. We got two points for each right answer and lost one point for each wrong answer. Sally Kington, the RHS daffodil registrar, got the chore of scoring everyone’s list. First prize was a bulb of Soprano; second prize a bulb of Dorchester; and third prize a bulb of Innovator 4O-R. It turned out we had to be alert for places like Panache Restaurant, Sportsman Bar, and Peacock Road in addition to towns like Carrickfergus, Broughshane, and Bushmills.
Our journey first took us to Larne and up the Antrim coast. Except for some glens where rivers come down to the sea, the land rises right up from the sea leaving little room for a road. This is a superbly scenic area with sheep grazing on the hill on one side of the road and the ocean about twenty feet below on the other side. Turning west along the north coast, we topped for a tour at Bushmills Distillery, reputedly the world’s oldest whiskey distillery. This was followed by a brief visit to the Giant’s Causeway, a geological formation consisting of a vast number of hexagonal basalt columns. Next stop was the University of Ulster at Coleraine with lunch hosted by the university. The university is the site of the Guy L. Wilson Memorial Garden. This is a daffodil garden planted not only with his cultivars but also with cultivars from other Irish growers. Surprisingly, it also had Cavoda and Moina, a couple cultivars by C. E. Radcliff which I pointed out to Jamie Radcliff. I noticed a number of the heritage daffodils like Kilworth, Arbar, Hospodar, Mahmoud, Will Scarlett, etc. The garden has a very large collection and would deserve a full day visit at its peak. We unfortunately arrived a couple weeks after the peak.
Wednesday, April 22
Our first event in Omagh was a visit to the Ulster American Folk Park. I have to confess I skipped it so I could go walk around downtown Omagh and get a better feel for ordinary, every day life in the province. This would be one of my few chances to see life as the residents see it. Reg Nicholl and I walked through the commercial district up to the cathedral and back. We saw a banner advertising the pig races the upcoming weekend. One of the locals explained that the pigs aren’t trained like horses to run; they’re just turned loose. Our lunch at the Silverbirch Hotel was sponsored by Brian and Betty Duncan after which we went to their house to see their daffodils. Since there were two rows of seedlings in the front yard, most of us started looking there first. Then there were more beds and two sheds in the back yard. Brian had a large number of pots and cut daffodils in the sheds, and by the time I was through looking at and photographing them, it was almost time to leave, giving me no time to visit another shed and the daffodil fields beyond the back yard. There were so many good things to see I won’t even try to list them. To those who are beginning to hybridize, the most instructive sight were the siblings of the 93/32 cross which was N. triandrus x Tiritomba. The different siblings displayed different proportions of the triandrus and split corona characteristics.
That evening we were privileged to attend a reception given by the Duke and Duchess of Abercorn at their estate Barons Court. The ground floor of their house is like a museum filled with art and rare books. They sometimes have open days when the public can pay and see the interior, but we were received by Their Graces in person. Dinner back at the hotel was hosted by the Omagh District Council. Just before dinner I was able to meet Clarke Campbell who with his wife Rosanna and son Desmond operate Tyrone Daffodils.
Thursday, April 23
We were originally scheduled to visit Tyrone Daffodils, but the rains Wednesday afternoon and the slopes made the Tyrone Daffodils field unsuitable for walking. Instead, we went to Tyrone Crystal in Dungannon for a tour of the factory. The Campbell’s met us at the factory to express their regret at not being able to receive us at their field. Desmond seemed keen on keeping the family farm going, so this bodes well for the future of Tyrone Daffodils. Tyrone carries many of the older Irish cultivars which they grow very well and sell at quite reasonable prices. They are thus a useful source of daffodils for exhibitors who are novices or who want to enter the classes for cultivars priced under one pound. The factory tour itself was quite interesting because it showed us how labor intensive the manufacture of crystal is. We now understand why fine crystal is so expensive.
Our lunch was hosted by the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland at Hillsborough Castle. The castle is owned by the government and is the official residence of the royal family and the Northern Ireland Secretary when they visit Northern Ireland. It is heavily guarded, and no cameras or weapons can be taken inside. The British and Irish prime ministers had met there two weeks earlier to confer on the Northern Ireland peace pact. As the castle is never open to the public, we were indeed privileged to be invited inside and to see the garden behind the castle.
After lunch we visited Sir Frank and Lady Harrison at Ballydorn Bulb Farm. Sir Frank’s home is on a hill on the western shore of Strangford Lough which is really an arm of the sea. It is a picturesque site, and from the house one can see the yachts in the lough and the ruins of Sketrick castle. Sir Frank had picked some of the best specimens and had them on display in a shed so I started photographing there before going to see the field. Probably the most attractive specimens in the shed were Castlehill and Hollypark, the latter for its prominent green eye. In the field were four modest length rows running down a slope that faced the lough. Drainage was good due to the slope, but the site is open to the winds that can blow in from the sea. As a consequence, Sir Frank has been most interested in raising sturdy cultivars that can stand up to the elements. We were treated to refreshments by the Harrison’s and Nial and Hilary Watson. Sir Frank is advising the Watson’s who are now the proprietors of Ringhaddy Daffodils. Nial told me his site was not really accessible by buses so it was not on the tour. I think Nial is relatively new to the daffodil business, but he was obviously taking it seriously as he went to the effort to take and stage daffodils at the RHS show in London the previous week. That evening we arrived at the Wellington Park Hotel just south of downtown Belfast where we would stay for the rest of the tour. The daffodil show would be in a park south of the hotel.
Friday, April 24
Our morning began with a bus tour past the various mass plantings of daffodils in Belfast. The Parks and Amenities Department of the city has had a long standing program of planting daffodils in parks and adjacent to major roads. Our first stop where we actually got out of the buses was at a park named Barnett Demesne. This park has several very large beds of cultivars (and one species) that illustrate all the daffodil divisions. Unfortunately, some of the cultivars were mislabeled. Also at this park is Malone House, the venue for the Belfast Spring Fair. The exhibitors had not arrived yet, and the space was still in preparation for the exhibits. The alpines, bonsai, other plants, and artistic designs would be inside the house itself, and the daffodils would be in a marquee (tent) directly behind the house. I picked up a few copies of the show schedule and learned that Libby Frey, Linda Wallpe, John Goddard, and I would be judging the novice section. Curiously, none of the judges for the show were local; they had selected all English and overseas people to judge.
Our next stop was Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park where we paused first for tea before going to see the daffodil trial garden. During tea I talked with Reg Nicholl and John Goddard about judging in the U.K. I had already learned that size and intensity of color were given more weight there than in the U.S. I was particularly curious about the vases of three since, unlike the U.S., the blooms there don’t all have to be the same cultivar. My impression overall was that the merits of the individual blooms matter the most (no surprise) but that uniformity and presentation could then be considered. In this case uniformity in size and uniformity in cultivar (i.e., all three the same) were desirable. Presentation included a pleasing physical placement (say, triangle versus inverted triangle or straight line) and color balance (i.e. placement of two yellows and one white or two whites and one yellow for most pleasing effect). After tea we were invited to view the trial garden and vote for the daffodil that we deemed most garden worthy. Of course, we could choose only from cultivars in bloom that day. The winner was Jennie Tait, a recent introduction from Carncairn Daffodils. As an eye catching yellow-orange, it made the most impact when viewed from a distance. Others that looked good that day were Carnearny with flowers standing well above the foliage and Fragrant Rose.
That afternoon we were free to go wherever we wanted in Belfast. I walked with a group to the Belfast Botanic Gardens Park which features a palm house and an indoor tropical ravine. I continued by myself to see Queens University. The University’s main building, completed in 1849, is an architectural gem modeled after Magdalen College in Oxford. I ran into Karin King there, and we both continued walking into and around downtown Belfast. Despite any impressions you might get from television news, it seemed just as safe to walk around downtown Belfast as around the commercial district of any major American city. And we did not encounter any panhandlers as we might have in downtown San Francisco. At dinner that evening I sat next to Ron Fitch and quizzed him about the English way of judging large collections which Reg Nicholl would demonstrate for me the next day.
Saturday, April 25
Those of us invited to judge were bused to Malone House in the morning while the rest of the tour group went sightseeing until brought to the public opening of the show at 2 in the afternoon. The different panels for the open, amateur, and novice sections were to nominate their best division 1, division 2, division 3, division 4, and division 5-9 single blooms and best vase of three. From these nominations, the judges as a whole would then vote for the best in each category as well as champion bloom. (There was no reserve champion.) Between Richard McCaw’s efficient management of the voting and the decisive majorities in most of the votes, we were finished by one o’clock. While the rest of the judges went to lunch, I took advantage of the hour before the public opening to photograph some of the flowers. The floor in the marquee was not the sturdiest, and the benches, flowers, and my tripod would be shaking too much once the public was admitted.
The most prestigious classes are the collections of twelve, one stem each, representing at least three divisions. There is no requirement that the cultivars be bred by the exhibitor. In the open section, this is called the Championship of Ireland class; otherwise, they are the Amateur Championship of Ireland and the Novice Championship of Ireland classes. In the open section Brian Duncan won with his collection of Chobe River, Doctor Hugh, State Express, June Lake, Crimson Chalice, Garden News, Nether Barr, Goldfinger, Ethos, Soprano, Jake, and Savoir Faire. Richard McCaw won the Amateur Championship of Ireland with Samsara, Notre Dame, Triple Crown, Evesham, Silverwood, Arizona Sunset, Gay Kybo, Piper’s Gold, Sperrin Gold, Naivasha, Red Spartan, and Cupid’s Eye. I did not write down the cultivars, but James Smyth won the Novice Championship of Ireland. Best division 1 bloom and best open section bloom was Ethos shown by Brian Duncan. Best division 2 bloom and best novice section bloom was Notre Dame shown by Alice Watson, 7 year old daughter of Nial and Hilary Watson. Best division 3 bloom, best amateur bloom, and champion bloom was a superb Achduart shown by Derrick Turbitt. Best division 4 bloom was Serena Beach shown by Sandy McCabe. Best division 5-9 bloom was Cantabile shown by Richard McCaw. Best vase of three was Triple Crown shown by Richard McCaw. I think the best of Brian’s flowers were Jake, State Express, Ring Fence, Soprano, and Shangani. His Soprano was smoother than those shown by other exhibitors, and I presume it was grown in protected conditions. Another handsome flower was Kate Reade’s poet seedling 1/11/78 which was the best seedling in the open section.
Two things I had heard about but not seen before, I saw at this show. First, there were a couple stems of Fragrant Rose that had an unmistakable pink flush in the perianth. Mine doesn’t grow that way. Second, I finally saw some stems of Sandy Cove that had yellow perianths. Mine and all previous ones I have seen appeared to have white or cream perianths. I guess you just have to grow them in the right climate!
There were three entries for the Novice Championship of Ireland; however, the differences were great enough that we had no trouble deciding first, second, and third. There were four entries for the open Championship of Ireland. It was obvious which deserved first and fourth but not so obvious which should be second and which third. In America, a collection’s score is the score of its weakest flower, so comparing two collections is equivalent to finding and comparing the weakest flower in each collection.
In England and Northern Ireland, all the flowers in a collection must be considered, and eleven strong flowers can carry a weaker one along. Although the Belfast schedule shows the RHS 25 point scale for scoring a daffodil, Reg Nicholl showed me how they used a 10 point scale for deciding between the second and third place Championship of Ireland entries. You pick a decent flower in the collection and give it a value, like 8. Using that as a point of reference, you rate all the rest of the flowers in comparison. I think the flowers in the second place entry were rated between 5.5 and 9. Then the flowers in the other collection are scored similarly and compared with flowers in the first collection in order to assure consistency in scoring. You then add up all the scores for all the flowers in each collection. If there is a significant difference, the collection with the higher score is deemed better. In this case the third place collection had several flowers that were rated 5.5. Had the totals been close, uniformity and presentation would have been scored. An additional ten percent would be allowed. So for collections of 12 flowers and 10 points per flower, the maximum would be 120 points for the flowers and 12 points (ten percent) for uniformity and presentation.
I practice scored the first place collection, and as expected got a much higher differential over the second place entry than the second place entry had over the third place entry. This was expected since you could tell at a glance that the winner was clearly superior to the second place entry. Given that all flowers, not just the weakest flower, determine the value of a collection, this scoring method seems both quick and fair. The quickness I think comes from limiting the scale to 10 points instead of 100 points. With 100 points, we have to take much longer to decide whether a flower is worth 91 or 92 points. On a ten point scale where anything less than perfection gets at most 9 points and each discernibly lower step in quality is another point off, it’s quick and easy to decide that weaker flowers may score only 7 or 6 because you can’t really slice it finer than, say, half a point. Psychologically, you just don’t feel like agonizing over tenths of a point so you spread the scores out over a greater percentage of the scoring range. Notice, that a pretty good flower might be rated 7, but this does not mean we Americans would have scored it only 70 on our 100 point scale. I conjecture that an approximate conversion from the ten to the hundred point scale would be to multiply by 3 and add 70 (analogous to converting Celsius to Fahrenheit). This would map a 7 to 91. Anyway, thanks to Reg I now understand how the English judge collections. By the way, the second place Championship of Ireland entry as well as the winning entry was made by Brian Duncan. There apparently is no minimum score that a first place exhibit, either single stem or collection, must meet or exceed. The judges can (and id at Solihull and Belfast) withhold the first place award in classes where they believed no exhibit was worthy of first.
As usual, I had to leave too soon. Jan Pennings had urged me to see his display of garden daffodils on a table at the end of the tent. I don’t think he brought them from Holland but that Brian Duncan grew them. I had time for only a glance but did notice that Pensioner with its intense reddish pink really grabs your attention. Pensioner is not a show flower, but it reminds us that, in addition to show flowers, we really need daffodils that ordinary gardeners would want to grow. Rushing back to the bus, I passed a brass band performing in front of Malone House. It had a mixture of young and older players so I surmised it was a community (non paid) group. As a fan of the symphonic band medium, I wish I could have stopped to listen because we just don’t have (that I know of) brass bands like this in the U.S.
Our final banquet and awards dinner was hosted by the Belfast City Council in Belfast City Hall. The hall, completed in 1906, was designed in the Classical Renaissance style and makes extensive use of various types of marble. It is a grand building with domes, ornate moldings, stained glass windows, carved paneled walls, and portraits of all the mayors of Belfast lining the corridors. Dinner was in the banqueting hall which had a small stage at one end. We were entertained by a string quartet. I remember them playing arrangements of a Bach Brandenburg concerto and a movement of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons among other pieces; however, people were talking all the time they were playing. At least they got a round of applause when they finished. Somehow, this dinner seemed different than all the rest of the dinners we had enjoyed. It was probably because we realized the tour was now ending and that soon we would be going our separate ways. Despite the fact that we would have to get up early in the morning to go to the airport, we all lingered to bid farewell to our hosts and overseas friends.
We had come to England and Northern Ireland to see the daffodils and meet the daffodil people. This would not have been as easy or even possible without the efforts of The Daffodil Society and the Northern Ireland Daffodil Group. These groups and particularly the volunteers who accompanied us on the buses and the growers who received us at their fields made the tours a personal experience that we will treasure for the rest of our lives. I thank you all for your hospitality and a job well done.