Hey! I thought I’d lost it! but my lovely heirloom ‘Beersheba’ is back in my garden again.
As you can see, Beersheeba is a refined daffodil, with its smooth long trumpet and gently incandescent petals.
It reflects the sensibility of the age it was bred in. But wait – this daffodil is from 1923. Wasn’t that flappers, screaming colors, LOUD? Well, part of it was. And the person who bred this daffodil was also devoted to the screaming colors, as we shall see. But it takes five to seven years to bring a daffodil from pollination to seed, so the aesthetic of the flower is an interesting cross between the tastes of several years before (when the pollination was planned), and the tastes of the current time (when you decide whether it stays in the garden, or gets put in the compost pile). That means Beersheeba was conceived in the thick of WWI.
Rev. Engleheart may have named Beersheeba as a peace offering to the Battle of Beersheeba in 1917, a well-known battle in the Sinai and Palestine campaign in WWI. (Beersheeba, or Be’er Sheva, is a town in what is now Israel, near Jerusalem.) In 1923, England would have been full of war victims, and still devastated by the upheaval of the war that changed the world forever.
It’s hard for us to conceive what it was like to be in the aftermath of WWI, although I contend that it’s a war we’re still reeling from, the war that brought us into the modern world and left the old one smashed forever. In England, shocking numbers of a generation were dead, the class system was in the beginnings of upheaval, and the memories of bombing, cold rooms, and scanty food were fresh, as was the shellshock of the men returning.
Maybe it’s human nature to turn toward plants for peace, because this time was also a heyday for the modern daffodil, evolving since the 1880s. Beersheeba’s breeder, Rev. G. H. Engleheart, was a daffodil man, one of the amateurs doing their part right in there with the professionals.
All white daffodils originally come from the wild Narcissus pseudonarcissus subsp. moschatus. What Engleheart did was cross a seedling with one of the early white daffodil hybrids, ‘White Knight’. “…it was immediately recognized as way out in front of any other runners. Strong bulbs, healthy dark foliage, and sturdy stems held flowers of amazing size and very distinct character. Long triangular petals were welded at right angles to the trumpet, with no hint of leaning forward. Trumpets were long and narrow, but neatly flanged. Above all else, soon after opening, the flowers were a sparkling pure white. It was the first white to gain real recognition from the general public.”
Between the 1880s and the 1930s, Engleheart worked on poet daffodil crosses, and bred brighter-flowered daffodils which were a part of later professional breeding programs. He also worked on white and pale-colored daffodils, which led to Beersheba. It was the daffodil which made him immortal, at least to the lovers of narcissus. “…still a white trumpet to be reckoned with well after the Second World War,” as Michael Jefferson-Brown puts it in 1991.
Next post: more about Beersheeba, and why we should care about it now.
Reference: Narcissus, Michael Jefferson-Brown,Timber Press, 1991