Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Daffodil Festival

One week from today is the annual Daffodil Festival in neighboring Gloucester County. As much as I love daffodils, I've never attended this event, although one year I did stop by the old Gloucester High School to look at some of the professional arrangements in the daffodil show. You wouldn't believe how many different types of daffodils there are until you've attended one of these shows.

Additional information on the festival is available
HERE. There's a very interesting section dedicated to the history of the daffodil in Gloucester,and I was surprised to discover that someone I know was descended from a key part of that history.

Below is an excerpt from the "Wild About Daffodils" section of the site:

The history of the daffodil in Gloucester County, Virginia is almost as old as the county itself. When Gloucester was formed in 1651 from part of York County the early settlers brought these soft reminders of English springs as they established themselves in the area. The soil and weather conditions were ideal for daffodils. The bulbs were passed from neighbor to neighbor and spread from orderly beds and burying grounds to the great houses to the fields.

Some, such as the hardy Trumpet Major variety, seemed to thrive on neglect. By the beginning of the 20th century daffodils grew wild in the untended fields of Gloucester. It is from this abundance of natural beauty that grew the extensive daffodil industry which earned the county the title "Daffodil Capital of America" in the 1930's and 40's.

Everyone had daffodils but no one thought much about them except as wild ornaments. It was around 1890 that Eleanor Linthicum Smith, of "Toddsbury" on the North River, first saw the commercial potential of daffodils. She developed a good size bed of flowers and paid local children ten cents per hundred to pick them. The flowers were picked during their spring growing season, packed standing up in laundry baskets covered with cheesecloth, and shipped to Baltimore

Mrs. Smith's baskets of flowers were loaded on a hayrack - one hundred baskets with about 2,500 blooms - and hauled by horse to nearby Dixondale Wharf or Hockley Wharf on the North River. They were put on a steamboat and shipped to her son who worked in Baltimore's Union Station. He resold the flowers to depot newsboys who became the first daffodil retailers.

The profit from her daffodil sales eventually paid off the mortgage on her home. Aware of their value, she dug up the bulbs and transported them with her when she moved to nearby "Holly Hill". As word of the success of the business spread, others in the county began to take an interest in the cultivation of flowers. Mrs. Smith's granddaughter Eleanor and her husband, W.S. Field, later lived at "Holly Hill" and continued with the daffodil business. They were able to put five children through college between 1925 and 1945 on the profits

Holly Hill is the house on Route 14 in Gloucester up on a hill, right across the road from that lone silo standing near the old M&G Transportation (which is now a seafood wholesaler). The home and surrounding barns are now an antique shop.

Anyway, my fourth and fifth grade English teacher at Gloucester Day School, Mrs. Eleanor Martin, lived at Holly Hill until her passing. She was undoubtedly one of those five children who were put through college thanks to the success of the daffodil industry her great-grandmother seems to have inspired.

Mrs. Martin was a lovely, intelligent, dignified lady and an excellent teacher. I can still see the purple workbook--Keys to Good Language--as if it were yesterday.

One time on a whim, I pulled into her old house pretending to look at the antiques for sale. The old farmhouse is brimming with beautiful wares, but I didn't see any of them. I was absorbing the sights and smells of the house, admiring the wall paper, marveling at the wooden floors--thrilled to be able to legally trespass walk throughout the home which I'd admired as much as the lady who once lived there.

When a woman approached and asked if I needed any help or if there was anything in particular I was looking for, I thanked her and confessed I was more interested in reminiscing about my former English teacher who once lived here. To which the woman replied, "She was my mother."

To this day there is an area next to the barns where the daffodils--likely transplanted from Toddsbury by Mrs. Martin's innovative great-grandmother--still peek through.

The next time I see them, I'll smile.


Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Beautiful photo of the daffodils.

Kate said...

I've been to the Daffodil Festival a few times in the past, though I don't recall any special memories. And what a small world we still live in, to find your teacher's daughter in the old house on the hill. That's always good for a smile!

Mrs F with 4 said...

Aaah, daffodils, one of the only things guaranteed to make me instantly homesick. If you want to know why, google 'farndale daffodils'. I'm from the next dale over.

wv pitai... Mrs F is feeling pitai-ful this morning....

Mental P Mama said...

Wow. "I'm her daughter" gave me goosebumps. What women they must have been!

Trisha said...

What a lovely story about your area!

Meg @ Soup Is Not A Finger Food said...

The daffodils are poking through the leaves in my yard... and I've seen some blooming on sunny banks around here. This is as sure a sign of spring as is the fact that it's impossible to get a pedicure appointment this week.

Pueblo girl said...

We will be having a headless dafodil festival this year in the garden of doom, thanks to the whippet's sense of fun (oh, how I laughed, especially when clearing up the sick).

Daryl said...

Lovely flowers, daffs. The spring after Sept 11 they were planted everywhere in NYC ..

VW agusp .. NY is on the agusp of every hot topic/issue

Ann Marie said...

i don't like flowers. :(