21 Oct 2016

Dazzling daffodils

From Country Life, 9:25 pm on 21 October 2016

Graham Phillips and Ian Riddell grow over a million stems of daffodils each year - the classic yellow daffodil (always a top seller) but also hundreds of other commercial varieties and hundreds more seen only at flower shows.

Gargle Blaster, Sedate, Divine, Snowy Morn, Spring Fling, Polar Sky...

These are just a few of thousands of varieties of the daffodil - that cheery spring flower that heralds in spring.

Graham Phillips and Ian Riddell's Clandon Daffodils is based Gordonton just north of Hamilton. It's one of New Zealand's largest daffodil growing businesses.

Graham is the daffodil specialist and has been growing, showing and hybridising daffodils for over 50 years.

He estimates they have several hundred varieties in their cut flower collection and between 500 and 1,000 in Clandon's exhibition and seedling collection.

Six times a week, at the height of the season, Graham and Ian take turns getting up at 2:30am and drive the van, bursting with buckets full of daffodils, to markets in Auckland.

The daffodil we all know; the yellow one with a yellow centre, always sells well, he says.

Double daffodils, that have three or four times the number of petals as a conventional daffodil, are also popular.

But buyers are conservative when it comes new varieties, says Ian. He sometimes ends up bringing home the "more beautiful" bunches that don't sell at the flower market to sells in his own little drive-up shop.

"Many of the varieties that we sell in our shop almost never make it to supermarkets because... the supermarkets are a bit conservative about just buying yellow. A common thing you hear in the shop is 'that's not a daffodil' because it's a different colour, it's not yellow. But indeed you have to argue with the experts who botanically name them Narcissus, don't you?"

Meanwhile Graham is always imagining the next stunning daffodil he might produce.

He's a patient man. By the time he cross-pollinates daffodils by hand, waits for the seeds to develop, plants them and waits for the first flower, it could be five years.

"A lot of hybridisers talk about five years glorious anticipation and five seconds utter disappointment and frustration," he says with a laugh.

And to top it all off, Graham says only 1 hybrid in about 50 is considered good enough to warrant growing on.

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