Daff show a blooming coup

KAROLINE TUCKEY
Last updated 08:48 01/05/2014
show
KAROLINE TUCKEY
Shine bright: Wilf Hall, world-leading Horowhenua daffodil breeder.

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Bringing the North Island National Daffodil Show to Horowhenua-Kapiti for the first time this September is a coup, says John Hollever, chairman of the Central Daffodil Group.

The Central region has never hosted the show before, yet Kapiti and Horowhenua are home to some of the country's top hybridisers, among them Horowhenua breeder Wilf Hall.

For retired teacher Hall, striving to create the perfect daffodil hybrid has been half a lifetime's work.

His perfect daffodil would be a hybrid of a little- known multi-headed class known as a tazetta, and he is widely considered an international expert on them.

Tazetta closely resemble jonquils, a better known type of multi-headed daffodil, with similar flowers and scents. Tazetta can be distinguished by their wide keel- shaped leaves, and large bulbs, he said.

"Tazetta are difficult, there's only really three breeders working with them in the world, so I'm often referred to as the world's leading breeder of tazettas, but I'm there by default because no- one else is breeding the big spring flowering ones."

Tazetta are barely fertile, so producing viable seed from parents with ideal traits is very challenging.

Hall spends hours painstakingly tearing the flowers open to paste the selected pollen on them, and recording the crosses, then hopes for a viable seed.

"It's a labour of love, very time consuming, it takes five years to get them to flower from seed."

Daffodil breeders aim to produce new flowers that have striking, unique, consistent and clear colours, large flowers, strong stems, and which flower prolifically, and at particular times of the year when there are gaps in the market, he said.

Hall also breeds other varieties of daffodils, but predominantly crosses tazetta with poeticus daffodils, the archetypal large single daffodil with a big trumpet, to get colours he likes and large blooms.

His efforts have led to 25 different genetically distinct hybrids registered with the Royal Horticultural Society.

He bred the first commercially sold tazetta in the world, recognised as a "pink" colour grade, Fencourt jewel, which was first sold in 2003. "It's being grown in America, but they are still building up their stocks."

The variety was also picked up by Dutch growers, who lead the world in growing huge numbers of blooms for the cut flower market, he said. "They bought them for $100 a bulb in 2008, but it takes about 15 years for them to get them to commercial production, if they suit their needs - and very few bulbs do."

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"To get a lucky break like that early in my career was just amazing, but I'll be over 89 before I see anything out of it."

Two other varieties, Campion, and Rustic Charm are being grown by commercial growers in Otaki and Ohau.

Hall's first interest in daffodils was sparked by a handful of bulbs he grew in Thames in 1966 as a young teacher, because he wanted some colourful flowers.

"I took a bunch to my landlady, and she said 'you'll have to show them at our show', so I bought a book on bulbs and learned how to stage them and how to dress them - to get the petals as flat as you can.

"I thought I'd be really shown up, but the judge said he hadn't seen daffodils staged like that in years, and I'd won every prize, and the elderly ladies were horrified. So that kind of got me hooked."

He joined the Daffodil Society, and in 1984 became its secretary, a position he held for 25 years until 2009. There are now about 200 members nationally, he said.

He is also sought after as a daffodil show judge, and a speaker, including a trip to Nashville in 2009 to speak at a symposium of the American Daffodil Society.

While Hall describes himself primarily as a breeder, he still enters shows "to show people what I've developed".

He enjoys choosing the right show for staging the first public glimpse of a newly developed plant.

Hall is looking forward to the National Daffodil Show, at Waikanae Memorial Hall on September 13 and 14.

Kapiti and Horowhenua gardening groups have shown strong interest in daffodils in the past, and the standard of blooms on display from local and national growers should be very high, he said.

He hopes the show will prick the curiosity of local gardeners, and new interest will provide new blood for the group.

"It's amazing what New Zealand growers are doing, ... [and] some of the most successful exhibitors nationally in New Zealand are local to Kapiti and Horowhenua."

- Horowhenua Mail

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