Nottinghamshire may not be the most famous of places when it come to the origin of plants although we can boast one or two famous fruits including the Nottingham Medlar, the Merryweather Damson and of course the most popular and widely grown cooking apple in the world – the Bramley. The two later mentioned coming from Southwell which seems to have an affinity with fruit.
I can think of no better time of the year than early spring to bring to your attention the fact that the county has yet another claim to fame, in the gardening world, and that is through the late Mrs J Abel Smith of Southwell who was one of the foremost narcissi hybridisers in the world.
Proof of her considerable talents can be found in her catalogue where one of her bulbs `Park Springs’ achieved the following honours: First Class Certificate RHS 1979, Award of Merit 1976, Best Bloom RHS Competition 1979, The Grand Champion Bloom Harrogate Show 1982, Best Bloom in two Northern Ireland Shows 1986.
J Abel Smith was born at Minster Lodge, Southwell into the Warwick Brewing family and although she left the area before she became a narcissi breeder, her love of the area led her to name a number of narcissi plants after favourite local villages. `Colston Bassett’, `Edwinstowe’, `Farnsfield’ and `Kirklington’ all feature in her list of introductions and even up to her death in 1994 Nottinghamshire villages still featured strongly.
`Laxton Beauty’, described in her catalogue as `an attractive medium sized flower, the perianth is overlapping and very white. Neat bright yellow cap’. J Abel Smith had a great love of hunting and many of her cultivars reflect some of the famous old hunting estates of the county `Barnby Moor’, `Clumber’, `Thoresby’, `Welbeck’ and `Walesby’.
Although J Abel Smith moved to Letty Green in Hertfordshire a many years ago she never forgot her roots, including of course Southwell where she was born. It is no surprise then that one of her cultivars was named after her first home `Minster Lodge’ a beautiful bloom and unique in being pale yellow throughout.
I can also disclose that `Bramley’ is not only the name of the famous apple but that she also named one of her narcissi after the fruit. How fitting are its colours as described in her catalogue as `A charming flower with overlapping smooth perianth, the wide frilly cap has a true apple blossom pink rim.’ One of my favourites.
Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to meet this remarkable lady but I am able to boast that I have a number of her locally named narcissi flowering in my garden and hopefully one day we may be able to display them all somewhere in the county.