That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Since 1804, the poetry of William Wordsworth has echoed this wonderful sight, though the earliest known manuscript of an English garden that included daffodils was written in 1441. Daffodils speak of spring; of life’s renewal; of the joy and promise of hope. It is no surprise that the Daffodil has been adopted by the Cancer Foundation as its iconic symbol. 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 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, notable for the floral decorations carried out in primroses and daffodils sent from Mr. Leichman’s farm, at Nanerup, near Albany.
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. A special flower show was organized in the Sydney Town Hall in August, 1930, in an effort to brighten the spirits of Sydneysiders. With the highest quality sweet peas, daffodils, poppies, stocks, pansies, violas and other blooms, the show was a great success aided by a major retail store offering unlimited strawberries and cream for twopence a dish.
From as early as 1826, beautiful, fragrant, brown boronia was commented upon frequently 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. Tasmanian growers have hundred of hectares under cultivation, collecting the flowers from which an absolute Boronia oil is produced, rather than cut flowers.
It doesn’t seem to concern them that Brown Boronia tends to drop dead, for no apparent reason. Mine did!
In the 1950’s daffodils and boronia were sold from baskets on the streets and corners of central Perth. Well known florists in the city had great displays of spring flowers that were irresistible for colour and perfume. The favourite daffodil of the day was the great King Alfred, (Narcissus “King Alfred”) although the history of daffodil cultivation shows that it has largely been replaced by the Dutch Master or a newer hybrid called Marieke.
Daffodils are easy to grow and multiply year after year. I consider Brown Boronia a temporary plant; grown just for the wonderful perfume. Since my pink boronia (B. heterophylla) grew to six feet tall and thrived in my Stoneville garden, I put my dozen golden daffodils into their vase, and idly wonder why this is so.