May 2nd, 2016

Poeticus Daffodil Inspiration

narcissus poeticus 'Sweet Hope' photo by Jonah Holland

Narcissus poeticus ‘Sweet Hope’ not only looks dainty but also smells refreshingly sweet.

Poeticus Daffodils: A Tale of Two Women

Just when I thought all the daffodils had already bloomed, I was surprised to see some jolly miniature daffodils rising delicately, along a Flagler Garden pathway, not far from historic Bloemendaal House. With white petals and dainty cups a striking blend of lime green, golden yellow, crimson red and tangerine orange, these beauties are Poeticus daffodils, the late bloomers that finish off the flowering season of Narcissus. Growing one flower to a stem, these “Poets” exuded a sweet, zesty scent that awakened my senses as I stepped closer for a quick sniff.

Modern Poeticus daffodils arose from breeding species Narcissus poeticus, which was one of the first daffodils to be cultivated and believed to be the narcissus of ancient times mentioned in Greek mythology.  While some daffodils are native to North America, N. poeticus is not. This species used to grow extensively in meadows and fields across central and southern Europe. Because of its abundance, legend has it that these daffodils inspired several poets and therefore got its name. The most well-known daffodil-inspired poem is probably William Wordsworth’s  “I Wandered as Lonely as a Cloud”.

Of the 284 daffodil cultivars at our Garden, 38 are from the poeticus division. They have a great story behind them that I would love to tell you today. This is a story about the late Margaret (Meg) Roberts Yerger and Nancy Roberts Pope, the two women behind our collection of poets.

“Meg was a tall, slender, elegant lady with brilliant blue eyes,” said Jack Holland, a long-time friend of Yerger and former president of Somerset County Garden Club in Maryland, of which she was a founder. “She was enthusiastic about daffodils and sharing them with others,” he recalled. Yerger was especially fond of Poet’s daffodils (amazingly, she had hybridized and registered a total of 106 cultivars herself). Her love for poet daffodils spread not only to members of her garden club, but also to her Richmond niece, the late Nancy Roberts Pope, from a very early age.  

Roberts was a student in Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s garden design program, who unfortunately died in 1995. During her last years, she found great joy in the beauty of the Garden. Her parents, John and Jane Roberts, established a memorial fund in her memory, the Nancy Roberts Pope Collection. The fund has helped us expand our collection of Poets over the years.  In 2007 we were given of six Yerger’s hybrids including: ‘Pride of Baltimore,’ ‘Meggy,’ ‘Glitz,’ ‘Sweet Hope,’ ‘Yerger Hybrid 1’, and ‘Yerger Hybrid 2’.

At the sight of the dazzling Poet’s daffodils fluttering in the breeze, I often think about Nancy Roberts Pope and Meg Yerger. The fiery rims on the Poet’s daffodils remind me of the passion they passed from one to another, to people around them, and to me a stranger who has never met them. I fancy the idea of me interning at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden as similar to working at a museum of living things, where every flower seems to have a story — a history behind them — waiting to be discovered and told, just like with these Poet’s daffodils. 

poeticus daffodil blooming in Nancy Roberts Pope area of Flagler Garden. photo by Jonah Holland

You may still find a few late poeticus narcissus blooming, even this week. They are the last daffodils to bloom.

About Phuong Tran

Phuong Tran is a PR & Marketing intern at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden this spring. It’s very likely that you will find her somewhere in the Garden crouching on the ground and looking through her camera lens for some good shots. When she is not taking pictures, she may also be mistaken for a wandering child. Don’t worry, she’s not lost, just deep in thoughts over stories to tell about all these gorgeous flowers.

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