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.
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.
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.
I liberated a shining daffodil covered in buds that produces several white and yellow flowers per stem.
My sweetheart likes the dainty flowers, fragrances and quill-like leaves of jonquils, so he chose a sweetly scented Narcissus jonquilla.
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.
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.
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.