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Hever Castle head gardener Neil Miller talks Dazzling Daffodils ahead of flower festival

By Neil Miller

Well, it’s finally here, March is well upon us and it’s daffodil-fever time! These wonderful plants rarely fail to engage.

Now, not all daffodils are the same, in fact there are hundreds of different shaped flowers in a myriad of yellows, whites and even pinks!

We are very lucky to have discovered a rare variety growing in the Orchard and in Park Wood at Hever Castle. Narcissi Telamonius Plenus, or the ‘double daffodil’ actually dates from 1620 and has rarely been seen growing in the wild in the UK this century.

Daffodils at Hever Castle
Daffodils at Hever Castle

This golden discovery was made by our CEO Duncan Leslie. Luckily enough for us, we had bulb-master extraordinaire and daffodil expert Johnny Walkers close by

so he could identify this unusual clump of flowers whose “double” part was restricted to inside the main trumpet of the flower.

Johnny Walkers identified the flower as Telamonius Plenus, a daffodil that can lie in the earth without flowering until it is disturbed or until light is thrown on it by the

clearing of trees. It’s really amazing to muse how long these daffodils have been in Park Wood - quite extraordinary to think they may have been here for many years - possibly hundreds.

Johnny and I will be forming a double-act again this year during Hever’s festival Dazzling Daffodils and will taking visitors along a mown pathway through Anne Boleyn’s Orchard (not usually open to the public) so they can get up close and personal with the golden trumpet shaped flowers.

Daffodils on Anne Bolyen's walk
Daffodils on Anne Bolyen's walk

The bulbs in Anne Boleyn’s Orchard are among the oldest on the estate.

The Orchard is marked on a map which dates from 1785 so we know that some of the bulbs we found growing over 1 foot below the surface are pretty old. Other

interesting daffodils that excited Johnny last year in Anne Boleyn’s Orchard included: Rip van Winkle (pre 1884), Sealing Wax (1957), Ice Follies (1953), Jetfire (1966) Tete-Tete (1949), Minnow (1962), Pheasant’s Eye (1768) and Van Sion (pre 1620).

Rip van Winkle (pre 1884)
Rip van Winkle (pre 1884)

The narcissi plant really can engender feverish devotion among its fans. The daffodil was a favourite of William Waldorf Astor, the American businessman and former owner of Hever Castle.

We can see in his journal a note to plant daffodils ‘across the Estate’. He was so mad on the flower he commissioned four beds laid out in the shape of daffodils when he undertook his garden renovation between 1904 and 1908.

These beds were lost in the mists of time, but thanks to a malfunctioning lawnmower a couple of years ago, the four beds ‘reappeared’ as the grass grew. Each of the four ‘petal-shaped’ beds meet at carefully placed Roman well-heads which acted as the ‘trumpet’ part of the flower.

We decided to begin the process of reinstating Astor’s daffodil shaped beds, by planting them with box - they’re coming on nicely now.

There are keen daffodil fans throughout the country and even a magazine devoted to the flowers.

Thanks to a keen group of daffodil enthusiasts in Sussex, I have recently taken possession of ten rare daffodil called ‘Hever’. These daffodils were produced by Noel Burr a well known amateur breeder and exhibitor of daffodils who lived in Mayfield in East Sussex but who sadly passed away last year.

Noel was a real whizz with daffodils and registered no less than 58 new cultivars with the International Daffodil Register - many of the daffodils were named after places in Sussex and Kent.

The Sussex Group of Plant Heritage are now holding the collection among its members as a ‘Dispersed National Collection’ - the daffodils are being grown and cared for by eight volunteers. I promise to take really good care of Noel’s ‘Hever Castle’ variety and will be displaying them in a pot for visitors to enjoy this March.

Neil Miller
Neil Miller

Some daffodil facts...

The most famous is the double Van Sion (Telamonius Plenus). This amazingly durable variety dates back to 1620 and was first introduced by Vincent Sion.

Somehow it was listed as V. Sion and it was inevitable that everyone soon forgot what the “V.” signified. As could be expected V. Sion became Van Sion and for some Von Sion.

According to E.A. Bowles’ writings in A Handbook of Narcissus, in 1934, “Its first appearance in England is that chronicled by Parkinson, who tells in the Paradisus that Vincent Sion, a Fleming, living in London, cherished it in his garden for many years before it flowered in the year 1620. He thought that John de Frauqueville might have given him the bulb, but that worthy disclaimed the honor, never having seen the like before.

Before his death Van Sion gave bulbs to George Wilmer of Stratford Bowe, and also to Parkinson, who seems somewhat aggrieved that Wilmer ‘would need appropriate it to himself, as if he were the first founder thereof, and call it by his own name Wilmer’s Double Daffodil, which since hath so continued'.

Narcissus is the Latin or botanical name for all daffodils, while ‘daffodil’ is the common name for all members of the genus Narcissus.

Daffodils multiply in two ways: by ‘bulb division’ where exact copies of the flower will result, and from seed where new, different flowers will result.

Hever Castle (7806969)
Hever Castle (7806969)

Daffodils come in all sizes from 5-inch blooms on 2-foot stems to half-inch flowers on 2-inch stems.

After blooming, let the daffodil plant rebuild its bulb for the next year. The leaves stay green while this is happening. When the leaves begin to yellow, then you can

cut the leaves off but not before.

The daffodil is unlike other bulbs that can often dwindle and die after a few years, some daffodils have outlived their owners!

* Dazzling Daffodils at Hever Castle runs from March 20 to March 24. For further information and ticket prices please visit www.hevercastle.co.uk

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