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Words: Steffie Shields
Photography: Steffie Shields
Featured in the April 2014 issue

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Steffie Shields highlights a new daffodil named for Lady Sally Bruce-Gardyne.

Blame it on William Wordsworth! Every year without fail, I remember his words. One of our earliest memories, toddling to play outdoors in gardens with mum and dad, the word ‘daffodil’ equals the brightest yellow on the planet. Daffodils wake us from winter stupor and lack-of-light doldrums. The most convincing reason for their existence is to trumpet the arrival of spring.

Perhaps we have become bored and blasé. Daffodils are now so common, welcome flags to villages on roadside verges, in sunny swathes in parks, lining banks of rivers and streams, in clusters on roundabouts and in broad, golden bands, striping fenland fields.

Exciting news: there is a brand new kid on the block – and it is not yellow. Narcissus ‘Lincolnshire Lady’ has been formally registered in 2012 and named in honour of the President of the Lincolnshire Daffodil Society (LDS), Lady Sally Bruce-Gardyne, as a thank you for her many years of support. Such an imaginative and thoughtful idea, she is thrilled by a gift that, every spring, will keep on giving. Get down to Spalding on the 12th or 13th of April to see this new, luminous white daffodil, much more stylish than the familiar Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’.

The LDS moved their Annual Show to Spalding, in association with Springfields Horticultural Society Spring Flower Show, to attract a wider audience and to encourage more gardening enthusiasts to become serious daffodil collectors and exhibitors. This year’s show, their 105th, will be their third to be held at this location. They are engaging local schools to grow and exhibit bulbs – a good move.

Spalding is the centre of the daffodil growing industry. Over fifty per cent of British daffodils are grown here in Lincolnshire. The county is proud of Johnny Walker, in particular, who is the only daffodil grower at the Chelsea Flower Show to have a stand devoted exclusively to his magnificent daffodils. Johnny has won an unprecedented twenty-one Chelsea gold medals. Very generously, he has a smaller stand at this show. For more information see www.lincsdaffodil.co.uk.

At the show, discover the pick of the bunch; fresh-faced perfection, without blemish, a sight to behold standing proud in military fashion; chosen from about 27,000 different cultivars, varying in size, form and shade, now even pink and apricot, besides more traditional classes and divisions, and the heritage bulbs of yesteryear. Daffodils are so easy to grow, long-lasting, relatively pest-free, and, thankfully, disliked by rabbits, rodents and deer. I know you can pore over pictures in catalogues, or on bulb packets and ends of bulb boxes in garden centres, or browse online on your tablets. The best way to learn individual characteristics, and appreciate spellbinding, delicate beauty, however, is to study flowers up close and personal. Enjoy the show, make comparisons, play spot the difference in scale, shape and colour. Note down names of fascinating flowers you have ‘fallen for’ and order bulbs to refresh your own borders and orchards.

A health warning from one who knows: like snowdrops, daffodils can become a passion. When I heard about Lady Sally’s daffodil, I had to order some, only available from www.qualitydaffodils.com. They were not cheap, being new to the market. Given time and popular demand, that will hopefully change. Yes, you have to plan ahead, plant in autumn, and practice patience but it is well worth the effort, for the anticipation and delight as the first tips peek from damp, chilly ground.

‘Lincolnshire Lady’ is normally mid-season to late-flowering, so I purposely planted three in a pot. The minute they broke the surface, on 17th February, I lifted them into the house to force them. I have been eagerly watching their daily progress on the kitchen window as I wash up. Such fun, inch by inch, waiting eagerly for the flower spathe to appear amongst strappy leaves; to swell, and then choose its moment according to the light, to burst open for ‘The Reveal’.

Inheriting an essence of its seed parent, Narcissus ‘Cool Crystal’, ‘Lincolnshire Lady’ is pleasingly rounded, small-cupped, and simple, with both corona (cup) and perianth (petals) white. Cool, frilly and gorgeous! (Mine had a slight, pale yellow tinge to the edge of the cup, possibly from forcing the bulb indoors). This new Division 3 daffodil, according to its size, standard height 40–60cms, was hybridized by Ron A Scamp, a champion and internationally renowned breeder based in Cornwall. A twenty-three times RHS Gold medal winner, Ron Scamp was awarded the Carlo Naef trophy from Springfield’s Horticultural Society in recognition of his work to the United Kingdom’s bulb industry.

In the language of flowers, beloved by Victorian gardeners, daffodil signifies ‘regard’. This is definitely a flower to make us look. Also, appropriately, Lady Sally is held in high regard, but also great affection, by all who know and have had both the pleasure and privilege of working with her. The only daughter of Conservative MP for Horncastle, Commander Sir John Maitland and his wife Bridget, much of Lady Sally’s childhood was spent at Harrington Hall with her four siblings. Her parents restored and developed the great gardens after the war, a huge influence on her love of plants and gardens.

A ‘people person’ with intelligent charm, down to earth warmth and hospitable selflessness, there is insufficient space here to do justice to Lady Sally’s remarkable accomplishments: as a supportive, devoted wife to her husband, the late conservative politician and journalist, Lord (Jock) Bruce-Gardyne; as a mother and grandmother; as an avid and knowledgeable plants woman, (recently returned from a trip to China); as High Sheriff of Lincolnshire (1997); as former chairman of Lincolnshire Gardens Trust, including organising a memorable Millennium Plant Fair for charity; and as an equally active supporter of the National Gardens Scheme, regularly opening up her rectory garden for fund-raising for Aswardby Church until her recent, typically practical house move to downsize. Not that this has stopped her growing and planting. Recently the Board of the Joseph Banks Society, inviting her to be a trustee, has been pleasantly surprised by her immediate, energetic involvement and enthusiasm for gardening education.

White flowers make a perfect and elegant gift for friends or for an Easter arrangement. Out in the garden, ‘Lincolnshire Lady’, like its muse, cannot fail to add a note of grace. Whether she shimmers her way into replacing everyone’s all-time favourite daffodil, the early, vigorous yellow miniature ‘Tête à Tête’ remains to be seen. Imagine a gleaming drift of ‘Lincolnshire Lady’ swaying in the breeze under silver birches. This bulb might just prove popular enough to change our county’s spring landscapes.

“It was a very great honour,” Lady Sally wrote to tell me. “I think it is a lovely name. I hope ALL Lincolnshire ladies will eventually grow them!“ So readers, make her wish come true. Let Wordsworth have the last word:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

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