My latest print is inspired by the magical Cornish daffodils. In Cornwall we are lucky to have fields and fields of bright yellow daffs flowering from as early as January and they herald the coming of spring and hope.
Many of us are delighted with a small bunch of early daffodils as a Christmas gift as they seem so bright and cheerful so early in the season.
As the season kicks in, so does the mud on the roads, tractor activity and daffodil pickers buses left almost abandoned in lay-bys and verges. Children at my school make me laugh when they innocently tell us that they always have daffodils on the table- “you know- the free ones that you can pick from the fields!”
Daffodils were originally farmed on the Isles of Scilly, tiny Islands found to the South of Penzance. A potato farmer named William Trevellick noticed the beauty of a partially wild narcissi flowering near his farm in January 1875. Impressed by the early bloom, he used the twice weekly supply ship to carry his blooms to Penzance and then the train to carry them to London. He found a he had a market for the early season daffodils. Other Scillonian land owners realised the potential for growing early daffodils and they developed sheltered fields with hedges to protect their crops and special wooden boxes for carrying them. They began cultivating new varieties and by 1885, 65 tonnes of flowers were sent to the mainland, four years on, 198 tonnes, and so a flower export trade was born.
The Cornish farmers watched as these flowers passed through their county and although they couldn’t compete with the earliest crops due to the climate, gradually joined in with the industry, supplying florists and supermarkets with our beautiful golden offerings from Land’s End, the Lizard and South beyond Truro.
Daffodil harvesting was traditionally a family affair with the men picking and the women bunching. Everyone wrapped up against the cold in the wintery conditions. Gloves and long sleeves are worn to protect the pickers hands from “daffodil itch” a horrible skin irritation that can occur when exposed to the sap and can spread to the mouth. Now mainly migrant pickers are used to harvest and pick which, since Brexit, has caused huge problems, many fields of flowers left to “go over” and consequently the later bulb crops, sadly left to rot. Some Cornish flower farmers have given up with daffodils altogether and are investing in less labour intensive lavender instead. Time will tell if this will be a wise decision.
I plan to use my design as a print for a tote bag for Cornish Daffodil bulbs. My mum is friends with a small scale daffodil farmer on the Lizard Peninsula near where she lives who has agreed to supply me with a sack full of bulbs for the purpose. The bulbs are not harvested until late July/ early August so they’ll hopefully make lovely souvenir’s or maybe even Christmas gifts. I now need to decide whether I can incorporate colour in my design effectively. My final image is of my sketchily printed tote bag. This was a real experiment using fabric paint as the colour and standard oil printing ink for the print- unsurprisingly it wasn’t overly successful- but I’ve got time over the coming months to play and perfect!