I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils.
Wordsworth made daffodils an icon of the English garden.
Since 1804, William Wordsworth’s poem has echoed this wonderful sight. Nevertheless, the earliest known manuscript of an English garden that includes daffodils was written in 1441. Daffodils speak of spring; of life’s renewal; of the joy and promise of hope. It is no surprise the Cancer Foundations adopts the Daffodil as its iconic symbol.
On my first trip to London, the tour bus left me behind as it sped off to lunch in a local pub. I was so entranced with the sight of golden daffodils peeking through the snow in St. James’ Park, I didn’t give a hoot for lunch.
In New York, great beds of tulips rather than daffodils brighten the streets and the parks.
Yet, the botanical naming of the daffodil has a sad story behind it, drawn from the tragic story of Narcissus. He was so vain that he fell in love with his own reflection and when he faded away, the beautiful daffodil sprang up in his place. All the botanical or Latin names begin with Narcissus (the “genus”) followed by the names for the various species. For example, the famous Poet’s Daffodil is Narcissus poeticus.
Daffodils in Australia
Daffodils feature strongly in the history of Australia. Four hundred years after 1441, in May 1844, daffodil and other bulbs were advertised for sale in Hobart; prior to this, most of the daffodil references suggested that the women of the day were either highly narcissistic or old maids that reminded one of a daffodil rendered pale by a cold north wind!
According to “The West Australian”, The Wilgie Sketching Club was established in Perth in 1889 and organized an art exhibition in June 1890, which was a highly ambitious project of some 300 pictures at the Railway Reading Room.
Included were “two paintings of flowers, ‘Winter Cherries’ and ‘Daffodils, accepted by the Royal Academy in 1888, by F. J. Bayfield, both of which, as far as we can judge, are faultless, and which seem to be appreciated, for we noticed that both had been purchased.”
Its success led to the Premier, Sir John Forrest, opening the first exhibition of the West Australian Society of Arts on December 29, 1896 and the Society continues to this day.
In 1899 “The West” reported a ball held at St George’s Hall in aid of The Blind Institute was notable for the floral decorations carried out in primroses and daffodils sent from Mr. Leichman’s farm, at Nanerup, near Albany.
A Spring showing of Daffodils was an expensive hobby in the early days in Australia.
By 1916, the Unions were fighting to achieve a “living wage” of more than 10s a day for Commonwealth Clerks, and a dozen daffodil bulbs cost 1s/6d. To spend 15% of a day’s wages on daffodils was a great price to pay for a glorious spring.
Following the stock market crash of 1929, Sydney made an effort to brighten the spirits of the locals. A special flower show in the Sydney Town Hall in August, 1930, for the Sydneysiders, was a great success. The highest quality sweet peas, daffodils, poppies, stocks, pansies, violas and other blooms were on display. Undoubtedly, having a major retail store offering unlimited strawberries and cream for twopence a dish was a huge help.
Western Australia’s fragrant Brown Boronia – the wonderful companion plant for Daffodils.
As early as 1826, beautiful, fragrant, Brown Boronia drew frequent comments in the Press. In particular, in 1840, Mr. J Drummond, the King’s Park Botanist spoke of a fine species of Boronia being very plentiful on the banks of the Gordon River. B. megastigma (Brown Boronia) has a very intense and attractive fragrance making it highly sought after to match up with the brilliant yellow of daffodils.
In Tasmania, growers have hundred of hectares under cultivation, collecting the flowers and they produce an absolute Boronia oil rather than cut flowers. It doesn’t seem to concern them that Brown Boronia tends to drop dead, for no apparent reason.
This beautiful Australian perfume was the favourite of my Mum, along with Lou Lou. Although it’s been a couple of years since her death, her last bottle of Boronia stills sits on my bedside table. She often spoke of huge swathes of boronia flowering in the deep forests of the South West, near the swamps.
Perth’s Flower Shows and Flower Days
Who remembers the baskets of daffodils and boronia on the streets and corners of central Perth? In particular, Forest Place, by the Commonwealth Bank was a spectacular sight of yellow and brown. From late July until the spring, the fragrance of daffodils and boronia wafted through the city.
The great King Alfred, (Narcissus ‘King Alfred’) was the favourite of the day. Today, the Dutch Master largely replaces the King Alfred, as does a newer hybrid called Marieke. Cultivation of newer daffodils continues apace.
Old time gardening families, like Dawson’s Gardens were in the forefront of encouraging us to “grow our own” and to cultivate beautiful flower gardens.
In the 1950’s well known florists in the city had great displays of spring flowers that were irresistible for colour and perfume. Not only daffodils and boronia, but every kind of beautiful flower grown in W.A. Flower shows were popular not only in the city but at the Royal Show, and at country events.
In September, store windows and city buildings were bedecked with floral patterns that dazzled the passerby, in support of Silver Chain Nursing Association, for Flower Day. The Horticultural Council of WA remains a great support of our local gardeners today.
My gardening experience with Daffodils has been the opposite of my friends in Northern climes.
Are your Daffodils multiplying year after year? Is Brown Boronia a temporary plant, merely an annual source of its wonderful perfume and oil? Around my son’s home in Toronto, almost every home taunts me with their magnificent bowls of spring flowers.
My success with daffodils has been patchy at best. However, this 2017 spring, I purchased and re-potted two excellent Brown Boronia plants from Bunnings. For the perfume, because I had not a single daffodil in my garden.
The blossoms fell off almost immediately! Now, my two pots of Boronia get a fine mist spray and a steady drip of water, every couple of days. They are thriving! So far.
In Stoneville, my Brown Boronia dropped dead for no apparent reason. Because it is a plant with a short life span. There’s plenty known about that and it can be disappointing.
Yet my pink boronia (B. heterophylla) grew to six feet tall and thrived under my Dad’s tender care. Surely, by next spring, I will have golden daffodils and the sweet fragrance of boronia.
We publish snippets for the fun of sharing, and to entice you to read more. Our personalised stories have much more depth and make a wonderful gift for Christmas or a birthday for children.
Stories like “Brooklyn and the Dancing Butterflies”
It’s an entrancing story for young readers aged 6 – 8 yo, to meet a grumpy caterpillar, learn about his life changes. There are different butterflies to meet, too, in Australia and overseas. Some even have totally transparent wings. A little fairy dust takes us a long way.
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