The Last Days of Ebullient Ralph Sowell’s Daffodil Collection

Small flowered daffodils

My sweetheart was sorry to hear that his affable gardening friend Ralph Sowell of Jackson, Mississippi, had died and, because his printing company’s property was to be repurposed, his raised beds brimming with many dozens of award-winning daffodils and hybrid daylilies had to go.

It turned out that the garden needed to be emptied more quickly than expected, and unfortunately the daffodils were at the peak of bloom or just about to flower. Bulbs physically empty out when they produce flowers and need a few weeks of sunlight energy hitting the growing leaves to re-fatten for next season. The size and diversity of Ralph’s collection added an extra challenge.

Daffodils from Ralph Sowell's collection

By the time I saw the area, Ralph’s daughters and volunteers had left after rehoming as many plants as they were able to. The beds were in disarray, with hollow dips showing where plants had been removed, but it was easy to sense the care and dedication that had gone into both building and dispersing the collection.

A bulldozer was on site to tear up the raised beds and plough in the remaining bulbs, but the driver was about to leave for the day as recent rain had waterlogged the lower lying parts of the site, giving us a small window of opportunity.

Posy of mixed daffodils

I did what any of you would do – walked round lamenting Ralph’s loss (although I had never met him, his daffodils were eloquent character witnesses), picking a few of the flower stems and pointing out pockets of daffodils that had been reluctantly left to their fate, but seemed worth saving.

My sweetheart’s garden has few vacant spaces and a plant queue in waiting, and his heart was heavy to think of what happens when a keen gardener dies. After some negotiation, we agreed still to pick out one last clump each.

While several of the more unusual specimens were tempting, we both went for resilience and flower power.

Daffodils with anole glass
My choice

I liberated a shining daffodil covered in buds that produces several white and yellow flowers per stem.

Jonquil daffodil (Narcissus jonquilla)
Narcissus jonquilla

My sweetheart likes the dainty flowers, fragrances and quill-like leaves of jonquils, so he chose a sweetly scented Narcissus jonquilla.

Tree frog in a bottle

A friendly tree frog was watching us from between daffodil leaves and, not fancying its chances against the bulldozer, we decided to rehome it in our lush water garden. A few days later, we returned to find only a freshly ploughed field, so it had likely escaped a gruesome end.

Flowers from Ralph Sowell's daffodil collection

I’m a poor witness to the breadth and beauty of the Ralph Sowell daffodil collection having only seen it in the last few hours of its history and can only imagine how happily Ralph, his family, friends and colleagues must have contemplated the garden in its full glory when these cheerful flowers were at the height of bloom.

All the daffodils you see here were part of Ralph’s collection. I’ve tried to give a flavour of their forms and colours but as it was hot and sunny I daren’t linger, not wanting them to wilt.

My sweetheart said his one word description of Ralph would be ‘ebullient’ (cheerful, upbeat, enthusiastic), adding he was the type of person just a moment away from bursting into song. I’d say his flowers share something of that nature.

Daffodils

While it was chastening to see the daffodils that got left behind, it’s a comfort to think that the many plants moved will be spreading joy in their new homes for years to come. And after all, daffodils are tough plants: I doubt there is any that has come down to us over the decades without surviving challenging conditions, be that drought, freezing cold, blistering heat or yes, even bulldozers.

41 Replies to “The Last Days of Ebullient Ralph Sowell’s Daffodil Collection”

    1. We can’t claim to have saved the collection – Ralph’s friends and family did all the hard work. But it was a pleasure to be able to share their story.

  1. So many varieties these days, Susan! I couldn’t begin to name them. Even stepping out of the bus station at Leeds we were greeted with a beautiful golden ocean of them. So sad to say goodbye to a collection but at least some are going to a good home.

    1. No, I wasn’t about to take a guess at any of the names either! I’m glad Leeds rolled out a golden carpet of welcome for you.

    1. It’s hard to know what to do for the best, but I heard him croaking the other day after a rain, so at least he’s alive. Quite loud too!

  2. A wonderful post today. I only wish I could’ve come down from Memphis to take home a couple of clumps. Thanks for posting.

  3. It is sobering to contemplate the end of such a labor of love. I’m glad some of them were saved. I daresay that there might well be a few ‘surprises’ emerging in the open spots there in the coming years. Daffodils are very resilient. 😉

  4. How extraordinary. I’m so glad you were able to rehome at least some of this wonderful collection. I speak as one who spends this season rescuing daffodils broken off by wind or other accidents from gardens, verges – anywhere. I find it so sad to see them dying off before their time. And this event’s even worse.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: