UK Daffodil production.
by Robert-James Collingridge on February 19th
UK flower production is very varied and crosses the whole range from amateur to professional, from biologic and organic to hi-tech. As growers have historically been producing flowers for the markets of the time for over 300 years there are also many types of crops and each one has a myriad of production methods with its own voluble supporters.
The UK is the largest volume producer of daffodils and narcissi, and it is with those that I will start. The amount of breeding, research, and propagation that has gone into these two species over the years means now that in the traditional view there are now narcissi that look like daffodils and vice versa. The production of daffodils and narcissi are broken down into two categories, indoor and outdoor production. It should not be assumed that outdoor means “natural” production, because it isn’t!
For the sake of brevity, I am going to class all daffodils and narcissi as “daffs.”.
Most bulbs can be “pre-cooled” and daffs are no exception. There are different treatments for different varieties, but after a certain amount of time in a cold store (to convince the daffs that winter is upon them) they can be taken out and planted. Depending on the production replied they may go into heated glasshouses (mainly in the Spalding area of Lincolnshire) where they are quite often grown in tomato trays, or into the earth, outdoors, or again in trays, in the more clement parts of the UK, such as the Isles of Scilly, Cornwall and Devon.
The indoor heated daffs can be available from very early November, the outdoor from possibly later that month depending on the weather. In the Isles of Scilly, growers accidentally discovered in the early 20th century that if they heated the bulbs of their traditional crop of Narcissus Sol d’Or these also flowered in early November. The story goes that observant growers noticed that when they burnt the trimmings from their hedges (of pittosporum, necessary to protect their crops from the wind and to keep their cattle in) on the fields where the bulbs had been planted, that the Sol d’Or underneath came through and flowered earlier than the bulbs elsewhere. Their mild (but windy climate) also gave them a big advantage in their natural production, and untreated daffodils from the Isles of Scilly were always the earliest on the wholesale markets in the UK between the wars, especially Covent Garden. In those days the flowers came across in ferries to Cornwall and then by train to London and the other big provincial cities. It provided a vital part of the islanders’ income for many years. The Second World war, obviously stopped the traffic, but after the war the growers enjoyed halcyon days as the rest of Great Britain struggled for normality.
Unfortunately their climactic advantage has been eroded by the very geographical location that boosted the business in the first place. The cost of transportation to the markets has risen astronomically through the last century, and the newer technology of “pre-cooling” has enabled many other growers to “cash in” on making the season stretch out longer.
By working our way from West to East we can find some big growers in Devon and Cornwall, who take advantage of their location to ensure they have a 4,5 or even 6 month season from daffs. There will be daffs on display at the Chelsea Flower show (mid May) although these will have been held in cold store to be at their best. And then, there are big producers in Hampshire, and I should not forget the Welsh producers around the Gower peninsula and Pembrokeshire. Then the natural production goes north to Lincolnshire where the indoor producers have a production from November to March to be followed by their outdoor (natural) from March to late April.
Daff producers all reap the benefit of hitting the three peak flower selling periods of Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day and although their flowers are not always directly associated with any of the festivals they do benefit from the increased flower consumption. Daffs used to be the best seller at Mother’s Day, as they were always the flower in natural abundance at that time of the year, and their relative affordability always allowed many young children to be able to buy their own mother a popular present from their pocket money. Today’s standards have moved somewhat onwards from this rather traditional outlook, and while young adults shrink from the humble daffodil for more expressive bouquets, the daff is still there for the under tens to buy.
From Lincolnshire going north we come to Scotland where there is a small production of indoor daffs, but where there main speciality is producing late flowerings, when the main English production has nearly finished. They may miss Christmas and Valentines business, but they can have prime markets at Mother’s Day, depending on when it falls, and similarly with Easter.
Easter is traditionally the end of winter and start of spring, and although we have had the daffodil with us for many months there are still plenty of markets for this traditional flower at this time of year.
Although a lot of daffs are produced for the home market, for sale in florists, supermarkets, on flower stalls and your local greengrocer, an ever increasing amount are exported to Holland for onward European sales and by air to the USA and Canada. Holland produces a lot of daffs, but for once their production is eclipsed in quality (they may argue about that), quantity and above all variety.
From the Isles of Scilly to Scotland the commercial varieties of daffodils and narcissi are seemingly endless giving a long season of bright colours and different, delicate aromas. On a cold winter’s day or night, whatever the weather outside. You can convince yourself that you have a touch of spring in your living room or kitchen. A fantastic flower to smooth away the winter blues.
As you can tell, I like daffodils and narcissus.
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