Backhouse’s daffodils

April 12, 2009

Categories: Daffodil Types, General, Growing Daffodils, Historics, Publications and Resources

Download PDF

Regarding the photos posted to daffnet purporting to be Mrs Langtry.  I doubt whether these are true to that variety.
There is an illustration in “The Book of the Daffodil”, Rev. S.E. Bourne, 1903, of three flowers of W. Backhouse’s ‘Mrs Langtry’.  The perianth segments are different to the ones illustrated on daffnet.  The petals (the inner perianth segments) are pointed and slightly overlapping, the sepals (the three outer whorl of the perianth segments) are slightly more rounded.  Bourne’s book can be taken as a very accurate reference.
There is a good description of ‘Mrs Langtry’ (including measurements) in Robert Sydenham’s book and catalogue 1911 titled “All About Daffodils”.  It reads:
  Mrs Langtry (4)  3-1/2″, 1-1/2″ x 3/4″, 5/8″ x 7/8″.  This is my favourite in this section.  A white perianth with overlapping segments, somewhat pointed;  expanding cream white cup, edged with a beautiful canary yellow like Princess Ida;  it is a strong grower, and increases faster than almost any other variety, very floriferous, often two, three or four flowers from a bulb;  distinct from all others when it comes true to character,. a delightful variety at a very cheap rate, it always does well in fibre, pots or borders.  About 3/6 per 100.
Sydenham explains the measurements this way –  (4) this denotes the old leedsii classification (now division 2 or 3), after this number is the diameter of the whole perianth,  the second set of numbers is the length and breadth of the segments and the third set given is the length of depth of the cup with the size of the mouth.
My old RHS Register 1969,  records ”Mrs Langtry’  Backhouse, 1884 as a 2.  I believe that Sydenham’s measurements and the 1969 Register are correct.  The 1998 and the 2008 RHS  Registers list ‘Mrs Langtry’ as a division 3, this I believe is an error in their classification.
Another Backhouse variety ‘Weardale Perfection” is supposedly illustrated on the back cover of The Daffodil Society Journal, 2008.  Some have gone to great lengths in England to rediscover this variety.  I am somewhat doubtful that the photograph is ‘Weardale Perfection’.  If the photograph is an accurate portrayal of that old variety it appears to show a flower having too much substance for old Weardale Perfection.  Daffodil varieties of the 19th century generally had somewhat poor substance in the perianth segments.  It was only in the twentieth century, from about 1930 onwards that daffodils were bred with perianths of a much heavier substance.  Examples would be, Carbineer, Green Island and Kingscourt. 
Unfortunately, as a generation of daffodil enthusiasts disappear who know a variety accurately, it gets to the stage where one can only guess.  With all the hundreds of thousands of daffodil seedlings that have been raised in the last 170 years, guessing is not good enough.  I can only implore growers to label their present day daffodils in a very accurate way and maybe in the future, enthusiasts will not be facing the same problems that are with us now.
We are faced with many difficulties with the naming of daffodils, in a letter to me recently from a Dutch grower, he explains how some in the industry there, if asked for a variety they do not grow,  will select some seedling stock and put that name to it to maintain their sales.  The RHS is also at fault here – in the the latest First Supplement of the International Daffodil Register and Classified List (2008) the name “Ariel” has been allowed to be used again due to a Dutch 8W-W being granted plant breeders rights in the EU 2006.  There have already been four varieties given this name in the 2008 Register, the most well known one of these is J.L. Richardson’s 3W-OOY.
This season I lifted two bulbs of Balmoral 2Y-Y, 1935 (Brodie of Brodie) to send back to Brodie Castle as they are still searching for Brodie varieties to restore the original daffodil collection.  The gardens and castle have now been taken over by the National Trust.  There are only two of us here in New Zealand now (Ron Abernethy and myself) who have grown and can identify Balmoral accurately.  This shows how quickly varieties can get to the stage where accurate identification is virtually impossible.  I notice there is another Balmoral listed in the 2008 Classified List as a 1YY Brodie of Brodie variety.  This is an error and should be deleted.
National Daffodil Society of New Zealand 
John A. Hunter
195 Patons Road
R.D.1 Richmond
New Zealand
Phone 64 3 544 0011

Comments are closed.