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Happy St Davids Day - Presteigne's Daffodils

Its St Davids Day on 1st March. Wales has unique cultural icons; Daffodils, dragons and leeks not to mention the welsh language, welsh history and rugby. All can be celebrated on our Welsh cycle tours like the Welsh borders Cycle Tour But here is a rather surprising Spring-like history of daffodil breeding in the border town of Presteigne, which just goes to show that travelling by bike can reveal all sorts of quirky stories, that you miss when you rush past in a car.

Presteigne is the cradle of no fewer than 470 varieties of daffodil, bred by four significant breeders. By far the most eminent among them is Alec Wilson (1868-1953) who alone was responsible for 371 varieties. And Wilson ran his horticultural venture from Middlemoor, the beautiful accommodation we use on our Herefordshire Gardens Cycle Tour

It was during the First World War, in 1918 that Alexander M Wilson (Alec) moved to Middlemoor, Presteigne from Shovell, Somerset. Wilson and his wife had lost their son in the war, and Wilson’s stock of narcissus bulbs had been destroyed by eelworm, so the move to Presteigne was timely. Wilson recalled as a boy saving pennies to purchase individual bulbs, and thus a remarkable horticultural career began, given further impetus after he damaged his spine in a steeplechasing accident as a youth.

Wilson’s contribution to the species is remarkable not only for the number of his varieties: vital too, in the relatively early stages of daffodil breeding, was the almost unparalleled quality of the flowers that he raised. Among the outstanding varieties bred by Wilson was ‘Carbineer’, This became one of the most widely known daffodils, winning a First Class Certificate in 1938, prized for both showing and breeding. Another memorable contemporary was his glorious pure ice white ‘Ludlow’. and many more.

Besides hybridising and recording his crosses, Wilson was running a commercial cut-flower business at Middlemoor, barely half a mile from Presteigne. Two wooden huts were erected on a field beside the drive, and the eldest son of the doctor who had succeeded Dr Lower in Presteigne, Lane Walker, marshalled groups of women pickers. The blooms were bunched using special frames to space the ten flower heads, then tied, put into wooden crates, and dispatched on the Presteigne train overnight to Paddington Station, London. The daffodils were met there by an agent who ensured their safe delivery to Covent Garden market. This business made a valuable contribution to Presteigne, which was struggling economically between the wars. After Wilson’s death, Walker continued to grow daffodils for sale in London, though no longer at Middlemoor. Only the closure of the branch line in 1964 killed Presteigne’s daffodil industry.

Thanks to writer & historian Catherine Beale for this info from her article

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