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Edward Leeds and his daffodils

Article Index

  1. Edward Leeds and his daffodils
  2. Passionate about plants
  3. Horticultural skill
  4. Receiving and sharing
  5. Daffodil hybrids
  6. What sort of a man?
  7. Sources and endnotes
  8. All Pages

Daffodil hybrids

Although Edward Leeds grew a wide range of plants, and was known locally for his florists' flowers, it is for his daffodils that he is remembered.

It is not known when he began his hybridising experiments with daffodils, but six of his seedlings were featured in The Gardeners' Magazine of Botany in 1851. He went on to produce thousands of bulbs of 169 different varieties, which he tried to sell for £100.2 Peter Barr heard of them, but could not afford the price (around £7,000 - or £59,000 using average earnings - at today's values). The story, likely to be apocryphal, is that Leeds made a will stating that if the bulbs had not been sold at his death, they and all his papers were to be burnt3. In the event, Barr was able to raise £75 in a cartel with various other enthusiasts. They purchased '24,223 bulbs, besides a lot of small ones, not yet flowered'. Half went to Peter Barr, 30% were split equally between Rev John G. Nelson, Mr W. Burnley Hume, Mr Herbert J. Adams and G. J. Brackenbridge, and the remaining 20% went to a Dutch nurseryman, Mr Peter Van Velsen of Overveen.4

seedling_narcissi.jpgSeedling narcissi: from Gardeners’ Magazine of Botany, 1851, p.289Barr also purchased the bulbs raised by William Backhouse. Neither Backhouse nor Leeds had left details of what species or varieties had been used as parents and much time was spent sorting and classifying the bulbs. Earlier attempts at classification were no longer considered entirely useful. The new additional classifications - Barrii, Leedsii, Humei, Backhousei, Nelsonii and Burbidgei - celebrated those men who had been instrumental in raising the new hybrids. The names described particular types, and all types had some from each hybridist. It has sometimes been mistakenly assumed that Edward Leeds raised all those classified as Leedsii. In fact, Leeds-raised hybrids were to be found in all of these groups (except Backhousei, which in 1884 only contained four varieties) as well as in groups with the older names such as major, incomparabilis, bi-color and so-on. Indeed there were slightly more Backhouse varieties than Leeds varieties in the Leedsii division. To make matters more confusing, Narcissus Leedsii (as figured in 1851) was in the Incomparabilis group.

Edward Leeds' name was given to the division of narcissus described as '(Montanus x Pseudo-Narcissus, or perhaps Albicans x Poeticus), flowers horizontal or drooping with a long slender tube, spreading and sometimes dog-eared, pallid perianth, and pale cup, varying from canary yellow to whitish, generally dying off white; and it is in the paler hue of its cup the varieties of Leedsii differ from the white varieties of Incomparabilis.' 5

The suggested classification was accepted at the RHS Daffodil Conference held on 1 April 1884. After a long period during which it had been an unfashionable plant, this was the first step in daffodils becoming today's ubiquitous spring flower. Hybridisation continued and in 1950 it was necessary for a new classification system to be adopted. Edward Leeds' name disappeared from plant taxonomy.

Very little was known about Edward Leeds. William Brockbank lived in Didsbury, only a few miles from Leeds' home in Stretford, but had never heard of him. He was at the daffodil conference and went home determined to find out more. In his 1894 article he wrote that he visited Leeds' garden in the Spring when 'the garden was ablaze with Daffodils - growing by thousands, almost wild'. But there were also many choice plants which Brockbank removed to his own garden 'where they now abound and constantly remind me of Leeds of Longford'.