‘The Daffodil Maker’

One of the best things about the last few months is the chance we have had to get to really explore the local walks around here. One hidden gem, and a bit of homegrown history that I look forward to every year, are the amazing daffodils in Dinton. Not the brash yellow flowers that cheer up supermarket checkouts, but the most amazing collection of blooms, from the palest white to deepest orange, large and small, fine petalled and blousy - and it is all down to one man: The Reverend George Engelhart.

In the late 1800’s people were going ‘Narcissi mad’ and the fashion for breeding new hybrids was a competitive and lucrative business. Engelhart set out and achieved what other botanists had thought impossible, and that was to cross the wild Narcissus ‘poeticus’ with the ordinary trumpet variety. He waited seven years for the seedlings to flower and the wait paid off. The resulting flowers had brightly coloured short-trumpets with cream open petals and a beautiful fragrance. He then went on to refine many more poeticus hybrids, and two particularly popular ones with florists in the first part of the twentieth century were ‘Horace’ and ‘Albatross’.

Engelhart’s success in breeding meant he needed more space, so in 1902 the family moved from Hampshire to Little Clarendon in Dinton where, much to his wife and daughter’s relief, he proclaimed the Wiltshire soil “just right, very good indeed”.

So the planting began, up behind the house and into the woods beyond. Hundreds of bulbs planted out in precise blocks of different varieties and huge glass houses dedicated to cultivating. Over 700 hundred different and new cultivars were bred and registered, individualised with appealing names such as Sea Gull, Oriflamme, White Queen, Firebrand, Will Scarlett and Beersheba. The last, a pure white long trumpeted variety named in commemoration of the WW1 Battle of Beersheba fought in 1917.

Englehart’s patience, research and trialling has earnt him the fitting title of the ‘Daffodil Maker’. He was awarded many RHS prizes including the Victoria Medal. In honour of his legacy The Engelhart Cup is still presented today to a select group of breeders who can produce the best dozen daffodil cultivars raised from seed.

Sadly, after devastating problems with eelworm in the 1920’s, Englehart sold most of his stock to other breeders. However, there are still lots of daffodils all around the village, so if you are taking a stroll why don’t you see how many you can spot? They flower right the way through March and into April allowing lots of time to enjoy them.

Originally published in Focus magazine

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