The National Collection of Narcissus, Backhouse cultivars

“A historic group of plants rescued from extinction by a dedicated family descendant of the Backhouse family.  Awarded National Plant Collection Status November 2016.”

Daffodils are often described as the most extensively grown ornamental in the British Isles. Commercially, it is indisputably the most important crop in the United Kingdom, which is the world’s largest producer, accommodating about half the global total area. About 29% of the crop is forced and 28% grown outdoors for flower production. The remaining 43% is grown for dry bulb production, much of which is exported in a trade worth several million pounds a year. In addition, the results of pioneering work in breeding new cultivars have been distributed all over the temperate world, (Dr David Willis ‘Yellow Fever’).

William Backhouse was one of the early pioneers in daffodil hybridization raising three important daffodils. Narcissus ‘Emperor’, N.’Empress’ two of the first triploid daffodils and N.’Weardale Perfection’ the first known tetraploid cultivar in the UK, which changed daffodil breeding in this country for ever. His work was recognised by the RHW when they named a section of daffodils under the title ‘Section Backhousei’. He was the first in the Quaker Backhouse daffodil breeding dynasty from the mid 1800’s to the mid 1900’s over three generations.

Caroline’s mother Lady Georgina Buchan-Hepburn, a direct descendant of the Backhouse family, was the first to raise her conservation concerns that the family’s horticultural legacy was being lost to time. Sadly one victim was our family’s Backhouse Nursery which was put under the bulldozer for a park and little of the original features or plants exist today. This heartfelt concern has been the start of a lifetimes’ work collecting, safe guarding and growing in focused collections both the historic daffodils and the many other plant introductions of the botanizing Backhouses across several genera. Fortunately some of our forebear’s plants have been preserved by the extended family and these have been brought together at Rossie Estate into a focused collection, along with family ephemera on display at the Backhouse Heritage Exhibition and Education Centre. For over ten years a conservation programme to create suitable environments, observe document and record, the collection. The collection continues to increase with kind donations of bulbs, which are under review. The daffodils were awarded National Plant Collection status by Plant Heritage in late 2016. RHS Wisley have requested herbarium specimens for their archive to provide a benchmark for posterity.

“In a race against time, Caroline contacted family members, private growers, the RHS and other horticultural organisations around the world to help collect missing plants and identify others.”

Currently the Collection, based at Rossie Estate in Fife, comprises over 80 Backhouse Heritage Daffodil cultivars – the largest collection of Backhouse heritage daffodils in the world.

Looking forward, Caroline hopes to continue the family tradition by registering new hybrids #livingheritage.

We are delighted to announce that from January 2017 The Backhouse, Rossie Estate Gardens will be part of the RHS Partner Garden scheme. In 2016, we underwent an assessment for the Partner Garden Scheme and we are thrilled to be accepted for 2017, opening 1st April 2017.

What is a National Plant Collection®?

Plant Heritage’s mission is to conserve, grow, propagate, document and make available the amazing resource of cultivated plants that exists in the UK.

The Plant Heritage National Plant Collection® scheme is where individuals or organisations undertake to document, develop and preserve a comprehensive collection of one group of plants in trust for the future. Most of the collections are based around a related group, for example a collection of oaks or daffodils. This allows the scheme to develop systematic coverage of cultivated plants in the UK and Ireland.