While reference books gave me a little sense of the role ‘Beersheeba’ played in daffodil history, I thought I’d like to branch out a little, to see if I could find more of Beersheba’s story.
The ‘snippet views’ at Google Books can be tantalizingly frustrating – they give you only a bit of a sentence around the word you are searching for. Still, even these tiny offerings can offer insight: I would love to know what the House of Commons debated on NARCISSUS ‘BEERSHEBA’ in 1971. But that knowledge is denied me.
Even the scantiest information makes it clear that ‘Beersheba’ was used extensively in breeding, and remained one of the most popular white daffodils for many years after its introduction to the world. It won prize after prize, and not only in England. The New Zealand Railways Magazine pictured Beersheba among six of “the best blooms shown at the National and Auckland Daffodil Shows, 1932.” The famous daffodil breeder Guy Wilson used Beersheeba in his breeding programs, ensuring that Beersheeba genes got into the many daffodils that have been bred off his own hybrids. Even a brief glance at breeding records from the UK and the US shows that Beersheba chlorophyll may be lurking in many of our modern white daffodils, so popular was it for breeding early in the century.
But Beersheba also shone on its own, not just as a parent. Its long popularity testifies to that. In 1939, the Herbertia, the American Plant Society’s publication, mentioned Beersheba as a “supreme variety, fully proven”.
In 1948, 25 years after ‘Beersheba’ first made its appearance, “Flowers in Colour” (obviously a pamphlet meant for general home-garden use, nothing esoteric) lists it as “a pure white, producing finely shaped large flowers suitable for second-early forcing or for garden decoration”. When they first open, the “pure white” – the trumpets, particularly – is more of a cream. And grown in shade, the trumpet of my Beersheeba stays creamy. With more sun, they go to that sparkling white these older records keep warbling about.
“In 1966, daffodil expert George S. Lee, Jr., lauded ‘Beersheba’ -then the most widely grown of all white trumpets-as a “flower of perfect form and purity of color that it still holds its own after 40 years, ” reports Scott Kunst, in a 1989 version of his Old-House Journal. Scott Kunst is the owner of Old House Gardens, where I got my Beersheba bulbs. Yes, the world of heirloom bulbs is a small one.
McClure and Zimmerman, which also carries Beersheeba, describes it as “a more delicate version of Mt. Hood” (another heirloom white, which I am very fond of). This description appears word-for-word as a Martha Steward article quote, so I assume it was cribbed from McClure and Zimmerman. While generally McClure and Zimmerman’s writeups strike me as amazingly good (they’re one of the remaining catalogues that relies on words and line drawings to entice), this one strikes me as an insult to both Mt. Hood and Beersheba. It’s like saying an ear of wheat is a more delicate version of corn on the cob. It is, but their uses and personality are so different that saying so doesn’t get us much further forward.
On the other hand, another tiny snippet gave me a lot of information, since I have the context to put it in: Elizabeth Lawrence liked Beersheeba. For some of us, that’s enough, as far as garden taste goes. It also means that this is a daffodil that will do well in warmer areas, up through about zone 8, or maybe higher in the west.
But clearly Beersheba is a wide-ranging daffodil. Dave’s Garden lists the plant as growing in Garberville, California (a northern California town with mild winters and burning summers) and Nantucket, Massachusetts (a lot colder). There are clues to this in some of the older snippets, as well as some of the more modern writeups on what has now become a hard-to-find antique: Beersheba is recognized as a reliable garden citizen, coming back and establishing itself comfortably.
Sometimes it’s good, though painful, to smash old worlds and go on to something new. But Beersheeba is such a beautiful survivor of another world: I’d like to see it come back. Partly because that would signify that at least sometimes, there is a place in the world for the refreshment of quiet beauty.