Gloucester daffodils

Gloucester Daffodil History and Tidbits

Rich in history and prominent in Gloucester’s culture, daffodils have been around almost as long as Gloucester County itself. Look around Warner Hall’s estate next time you are here in the spring. You’ll see these sweet blooms popping out all over the Virginia plantation.

When Gloucester County was formed in 1651, the early settlers had brought with them daffodils—their “soft reminders of English springs”—and the spreading commenced.

The bulbs were strewn through the fields of Gloucester, being passed along from neighbor to neighbor. By the 20th century, daffodils were growing wild, even in the unattended fields. Some even thrived on neglect.

Though daffodils have had such a longstanding history in Gloucester, affecting economic, historical and cultural components of the area, much of the daffodil history is often looked over.

Here are 10 things you may not know about the daffodil influence on Gloucester County:

 

  • Back in 1890, daffodils were everywhere in Gloucester County. However, it was Eleanor Linthicum Smith who thought that the daffodils could have a commercial potential. She began paying local children ten cents for every hundred that they picked. She then packed them standing up in laundry baskets and shipped them to Baltimore.

 

  • Because the Middle Peninsula never had a railroad, Gloucester was culturally linked to Baltimore and Norfolk. Mrs. Smith could use the steamboats that stopped along the docks to ship her daffodils to Baltimore. This process made her the first daffodil retailer.

 

  • Many entrepreneurs began to take Mrs. Smith’s lead and began cultivating and selling daffodils. One Gloucester family was able to put their five children through college on their daffodil profits between 1925 and 1945.

 

  • After the Wall Street Crash, leading to the Great Depression, the daffodil became known as “the poor man’s rose.”Because daffodils were only a couple of dollars, they were inexpensive compared to roses. Thus, as motor transportation increased in the 1920s and 1930s and wars across the world ensued, the daffodil industry “blossomed”because of their great demand.

 

  • During the peak years of daffodil production (between the two World Wars and a few years after the second World War), many, many visitors would head to Gloucester and Mathews Counties to check out the “golden fields of daffodils,”which eventually evoked the nickname “Daffodil Capital of America,”referring to Gloucester.

 

  • The attention from the Gloucester daffodils was enough to garner attention for a Fox Movietone news release in 1940 and later, in May 1942, an article in National Geographic magazine.

 

  • At one point, almost everybody in Gloucester and Mathews were raising flowers. In 1938, M&G Trucking Company was transporting about 120,000 daffodils everyday during peak season, from approximately 30 local farms.

 

  • Business did eventually begin to decline. Though gradual, more and more people began turning over the land which used to harvest the famous Gloucester daffodils. In the following years, the best place for people to come to see the daffodils was “The Daffodil Mart”—one of Gloucester’s main spring attractions. But, by the early 1980s, only 150 acres of daffodils were planted compared to the 1,000 acres during its peak years.

 

  • Today, Washington State is the country’s major daffodil region. It has a longer, cooler growing season that helps the flowers thrive. But Gloucester remains home to its very own daffodil celebrities – Brent and Becky Heath. Martha Stewart herself said, “I’ve been a big fan of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs for many years. You may recall seeing Becky and Brent on my television show. Brent actually made his debut … when he demonstrated how to force spring bulbs to flower early in containers.” Brent and Becky Heath are third generation bulb growers. They started Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in 1979 and, according to their web site, are “proud to know they have helped many thousands of gardeners plan bulbs and harvest smiles!”

 

  • Though much of the daffodil industry has faded from Gloucester County, the annual daffodil events and the fields that do continue to bloom, are soft reminders of the once dominant and thriving business that flourished in Gloucester for many years.

 

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