Scilly season: The year's first daffodils can be tracked back to the pharaohs

 

I got a letter this week from Churchtown in the Scillies. I love this letter – it's one I get every year in November, as the Julian family gears up its daffodil farm for a winter of blooming and picking, boxing and despatching.

Narcissi start to flower earlier in the Scillies than anywhere else in Britain, thanks to the Gulf Stream, so Churchtown has gloriously scented stems from November. About 90,000 cardboard containers of flowers leave the Isles of Scilly every year, by Royal Mail boat and then plane to Land's End, hopefully some of them wending their way direct to me. But while I wait, somehow this letter full of pictures of the Julians and their employees at work reminds me that spring is now definitely on its way.

I'm not the only soul sitting around waiting to be cheered up by cheeky yellow flowers. Noel Kingsbury, environmental writer and garden designer, has just published his hymn to the narcissi family, Daffodil: The Remarkable Story of the World's Most Popular Spring Flower (£17.99, Timber), which makes it clear just how very Cornish the daffodil story is. Kingsbury is fascinated by the breeders who have brought out the variety from the wild plant, allotting scrupulous, well-told essays to each of them.

It's not all West Country, though. Turns out that even in the UK, Lincolnshire has more acres planted with daffs than Cornwall. And starting (much) further back, Kingsbury kicks off with the flowers found in the tombs of the pharaohs. Ramses II, aka "The Great" (pretty much the Muhammad Ali of Pharaohs), was buried with daffodil bulbs over his eyes, likely to have been white Tazettas. Intensely fragrant, the Tazettas today include some of the most fun you'll get from a spring bulb: Bridal Crown, with soft-white double flowers, is a great choice (£3 for 10 at peternyssen.com). Daffs of the pharaohs! Now there's an idea for a Christmas present.

But inevitably the tale does wend its way back Kernow way. Kingsbury brings to life the stiff-necked Cornish breeder Percival Williams who created "Carlton", the most-grown daffodil of all time, the one that fills the seaside fields before Mother's Day each spring. "Carlton" is as close to being completely reliable as a bulb can be, and you can get 25 for £9.99 from Suttons now if you act quickly (suttons.co.uk).

Williams' philosophy was that you should always examine the daffodil flower from the back first. Obsessed with habit and stance as well as good looks, he created many sturdy and disease-free narcissi varieties which today lend themselves to commercial growing. His son kept up the tradition: Michael bred "St Keverne", an unrepentantly yellow daffodil named after one of the Lizard's prettiest parishes.

Having discovered a bit about Michael Williams, I found it magical to realise he also created "Jack Snipe", a tiny daffodil in my favourite colour combination, a yolk-yellow centre surrounded with bright, starlike white perianth petals. "Jack Snipe" clumps up beautifully over the years in a sunny spot, and gives that fabulous effect of a whole bouquet of blooms growing from the earth.

There's a lot in the book, too, about the arcane world of daffodil societies, breeders and registrations. Kingsbury has a wonderful way of telling his tales, so that details you'd expect to be tedious come to life. Spectacular images of the Cornish sea, overlooked by daffodil fields, make this a perfect gift for the gardening enthusiast. Plus I had to laugh when I read that, due to their sandy maritime soils, the Scilly farmers concentrate on growing the Mediterranean Tazettas. So when I open my Churchtown box, I'll be sniffing the daffodils of the pharaohs!

A distinctly satisfying thought.

Four more daffodils to plant

'Jack Snipe'

Very inappropriately named after a shy little brown wading bird, this lovely bright flower will lift your spirits. £7.99 for 10 bulbs, suttons.co.uk

'St Keverne'

A perfect daffodil: tall, large-cupped, eye-catching and good at clumping up over the years. £4.95 for 12 bulbs, marshalls-seeds.co.uk

'Geranium'

Another lovely Tazetta, with single petals and pure sunlight-orange centres. £2.90 for 10 bulbs, peternyssen.com

The easy route

Let the Julians do all the work and send a box of 60 scented narcissi stems, wrapped in tissue paper, for just £20 including postage. scillyflowers.co.uk

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
News
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in Fast and Furious 5
film
Sport
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss