Rare plant of the month – March 2018

Narcissus ‘Hades’

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Narcissus ‘Hades’

When we find plants to talk about, more and more frequently they fit beautifully into the mantra – ‘to conserve a plant, give it away’. It is always remarkable to see how often one rare cultivar can create a web stretching from collectors to gardens. While at the same time, giving us a perfect example of recording, succession planning and sharing of plants to actively protect them.

We were delighted to see this story, sent by Sarah Cook, it tells us how a few passionate plantsmen became custodians of this rare Narcissus…..

Sarah wrote: ‘Bred in 1925 by R O Backhouse, this extremely rare daffodil was growing in the Garden of the late Elisabeth Wakeland Smith for many years.  Its rescue from her garden after her death was due entirely to her plantsmanship and record keeping.

Mrs Wakeland Smith was a good friend of mine and Jane Crowe, and a member of Plant Heritage. She had shared many of her plants with us before her death, appointing Jane Crowe as her ‘Plant Executor’, with the purpose of ensuring that the best of her plants should be distributed after her death.

Mrs Wakeland Smith was better than most keen gardeners and an example for us all.  She kept lists of the plants she bought, and a plan of the plants including daffodils, in her orchard.  National Plant Collection holder and Narcissus expert Duncan Donald supplied us with information about, and pictures of the daffodils on the plan.

Armed with the plan and Donald’s information, we were able to label all the daffodils in the garden.  (We were also able to ensure that all the Daffodils that Mrs Wakeland Smith had given us previously were correctly labelled in our own gardens).  Although Mrs Wakeland Smith had actually offered to give me any Daffodil in her garden, I had not wanted to appear too greedy and in my ignorance, had not asked for Narcissus ‘Hades’ during her lifetime.  (Lesson learnt now).

Hades bubils
Twin scaled bulbs of Narcissus ‘Hades’

Fortunately her house and garden were bought by a generous gardener. They gave us material of Narcissus ‘Hades’, which is now growing in our garden. Plant Heritage member, Anne Tweddle and the Suffolk  Propagation Group has successfully twin scaled it.  Stock has been offered to the National Plant Collection of Backhouse Narcissus in Fife, for twin scaling in 2018. It does not appear the most vigorous plant, so let’s hope we – Anne and the Suffolk Propagation Group, can slowly and surely build up clean stock’.

Morals of the story:   Keep records and Maps. Never turn down a plant offered. Pass what you can on to someone who can propagate it (if not you) –  as we say ‘To keep a plant, give it away’.

Finally, a description of Hades, from the 1938 catalogue of Florence Edna Foote who lived, gardened and hybridised plants in Michigan, USA:

HADES 4-5 (Mrs R.O. Backhouse, 1925 A.M. 1928)

‘A most remarkable Barrii with very large creamy-white perianth of splendid form and substance, the segments slightly incurved at the edges. The large widely expanded crown is deep cherry-red throughout, undoubtedly the darkest colour yet seen in a daffodil, and a good clean colour. I have grown the plant several years and find it to be a tall strong grower, the fine large flowers borne on stiff stems remaining a long time in splendid condition. It is an excellent pollen parent and a good increaser. I have not regretted the high price I paid for it and would not be without it. As far as I know, it has the heaviest substance of any of the wonderful red-cups produced by Mrs Backhouse or anyone else’.
– how could anyone resist that!

Sarah Cook holds a National Plant Collection of Iris (Sir Cedric Morris introductions) in Suffolk.

Scotland’s Daffodil Festival 14-15 April 2018, will be held at the Rossie Estate in Fife which houses the National Plant Collection of Narcissus (Backhouse cvs.) – an historic collection of Backhouse Heritage Daffodils. Find out more.