Daffodil Week: Going Public

Nothing is more cheering on a sunny spring day than a broad swathe of daffodils emerging from lengthening grass, or a delicate cloud of cherry blossom hovering in the air. Driving out of Canterbury towards Harbledown yesterday I was greeted by verges and roundabouts thronged with narcissi. It was as if a magician had pulled a million bunches of flowers from his hat and public spiritedly plonked them in every inch of sward he could find. The effect was uplifting; a little bit of the unnecessary in a world where the beautification of things ‘just because’ seems very far down the list of priorities.

Narcissus actaea, St James' Park, London, March 2014

Public displays of daffodils are relatively commonplace in England, but I wish they were more so. Some of my favourites are in London’s Royal Parks. In St James’ Park, choice varieties such as Narcissus actaea are planted beneath cherry trees to create little cameos of paradise in the heart of the city. In these days of council cutbacks there’s little hope of more displays like those at Pegwell Bay in Kent being created at the tax payer’s expense. Yet this particular spectacle, around the Danish longboat replica ‘Horsa‘, attracts hundreds of visitors to East Kent every spring. In Thriplow, Cambridgeshire, the village’s 450 residents have worked together to plant thousands of daffodils in private gardens and public spaces. They stage a special Daffodil Weekend each year, raising huge sums for charity and bringing enormous pleasure to all those that take part in the event. Wouldn’t it be great if more villages followed Thriplow’s example, and not just with daffodils? A rose festival or a dahlia derby would surely be crowd pleasers.

Pegwell Bay daffodils

Whilst researching public displays of daffodils I stumbled upon a moving story in last week’s Telegraph newspaper. Having been told he only had eight weeks to live, retired RAF pilot Keith Owen decided to leave his £2.3m fortune to the resort of Sidmouth in Devon. The interest was to be spent on schemes to brighten up the seaside town and its neighbouring villages. One of Keith’s wishes was that a “valley of a million bulbs” should be planted at Park Head, on the cliffs above Sidmouth (see below). Since 2013, 400,000 daffodils have been planted by volunteers and groups, ranging in age from 2 to 90. Their reward is nothing more than being able to enjoy the ‘flowers’ of their labour every March and April, along with the town’s many visitors.

Whilst Mr Owen could have left his legacy to any number of worthy causes, he chose to invest in a place that he loved, for the benefit of thousands of others. Just occasionally we should all afford ourselves the opportunity to do something because it’s a beautiful gesture, not because it’s a necessary one. I’m certainly going to put aside a little ‘daffodil money’ from now on.

Do you know of any good public displays of daffodils? And if you could leave a horticultural legacy, what would it be?

Wishing you all a lovely weekend.

Sidmouth daffodilsPhoto credit: Sidmouth In Bloom