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Nothing rivals the splendour of Keukenhof daffodils in glorious bloom

by Ron van der Ploeg

LISSE, Netherlands: A grower’s meeting and awards ceremony marked the opening of the 2015 Daffodil Show which runs at Keukenhof’s Oranje-Nassau Pavilion until April 21.

Celebrating the beauty of blooming daffodils, the Keukenhof show also offers a good opportunity to spot the latest breeding breakthroughs.

The jury, composed of members of the Dutch Gardeners Guild, Jan de Boer (Huis Bingerden), Maarten Vos (Kasteel Hackfort), Marco van Buiten (Kasteel De Vanenburg) and Wim Hoogendam (Dekema Estate) was unanimous in its decision to present the Best in Show Award to W.F. Leenen & Zn. for its Narcissus viridiflora 4, while M.J. Koomen from Kruiswijk won the overall Keukenhof Daffodil Industry Award for its Narcissus ‘Rip van Winkle’ .

Early flowering and grown since Victorian times, Narcissus ‘Rip Van Winkle’ (pictured) is a small plant featuring highly-cut petals in golden yellow.

The annual Narcissus Show at Keukenhof will be from April 16th to 21st April and showcases both narcissi cut flowers and pot plants. It has a long history, with the first indoor show in the Queen Juliana Pavilion in 1983 featuring exhibits from just eight growers. Now 32 years on and the Keukenhof Daffodil show has an established and growing international reputation.

The genus Narcissus is surely among the most loved in the world. In temperate climates it is a floral banner of spring, with the predominant colour reminding everyone of sunshine, even when skies are grey. Among the best known of all poems in English literature is one celebrating this flower. And well over a thousand years earlier the prophet Mohammed described narcissus flowers as ‘feeding the soul’.

For such a popular genus, it has some surprising features commercially. Although there is an extremely large number of varieties – around 25,000 – a very small number of them, some introduced decades ago, account for a large percentage of the overall demand. It has been almost impossible for a new variety, however attractive, to win very significant market share, unless the bulbs have the natural ability to multiply rapidly. Old favourites such as ‘Carlton’ and ‘Dutch Master’, introduced between the two World Wars, have just this feature.

In the Netherlands, very much the dominant nation in the production of flower bulbs of almost all kinds, in 2013/14 the area down to production was 1464ha. This was over 200 ha less than three years previously. The fall occurred mainly because of reduced production of the miniature variety Tête-à-Tête, although this variety remains the one most widely grown.

The narcissus is the one startling exception to the rule that the United Kingdom is of very little importance for flower bulb production. In this genus, that country is the world leader, with over 4,000ha, about half of the world total. One company alone, Winchester Growers (now part of the UNIVEG Group) grows around 750ha. The UK’s very large domestic demand is fully met by domestic production, and there is a significant export volume to other European countries and to the USA.

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