Until 1926 Dutch bulbs dominated the eastern market, other than in Baltimore. It was in that year the biggest boost came to the Virginia industry when a microscopic worm infested the bulbs in
Holland resulting in an embargo of foreign bulbs by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Dutch firm of M. Van Waveren and Sons needed a new supplier of bulbs and turned to Charles Heath for help. They leased his 300 acres at “Auburn” and several were brought in to oversee the cultivation but they did not understand the local labor force and were unable to successfully handle them. Mr. Heath’s son, George, came home and was enlisted to take over the enterprise.
George Heath was and excellent manager and learned everything he could about bulb farming. Other growers saw the light and thus was born one of the biggest industries in Gloucester’s history. The $20,000 payroll provided by the daffodil business helped to fill many depression pockets.
After the Wall Street Crash the daffodil became known as “the poor man’s rose”. The few dollars asked for a bunch of daffodils was affordable compared to the cost of a bunch of roses. Between the wars, due to the rapid development of motor freight, the daffodil industry grew and flourished. More and better varieties were planted and produced because of the great demand for them.
There was much discussion in the business as to the best methods of planting, picking, bundling, watering, and packing. Rubber bands replaced rags, raffia, and string for bunching fiberboard boxes replaced laundry baskets and slat crates. There was a rush in the spring to harvest the blossoms by mid- day, pack them, and hurry the fragile crop to trucks by day’s end. Bulbs were dug in July and replanted in the fall. Enough money could be made by some during the season to last the rest of the year. The soil and climate of the area led to the domination of daffodil cultivation for cut flowers and bulbs along the east coast. Every year between the two world wars and for a few years after the second, this industry sent as many as 50,000 boxes to metropolitan wholesale markets from Baltimore, to the north and west.
During the peak years of daffodil production hundreds of visitors would travel to Gloucester and Mathews Counties to view the golden fields of daffodils. The area was widely referred to as the “Daffodil Capital of America”. The industry attracted enough attention for a Fox Movietone news release in 1940 and an article in the May, 1942 issue of National Geographic magazine.
In about 1937 the embargo was lifted and M. Van Waveren and Sons left. It was at this time that George Heath went into business for himself and an association was formed with other local growers. The Gloucester-Mathews Narcissus Association was mentioned in the Gazette-Journal in 1938. The association began to import bulbs from England and Holland. Heath acclimatized the bulbs and made them available to amateur growers.
Despite renewed competition from abroad, the local producers carried on until almost everyone in Gloucester and neighboring Mathews was raising flowers, including two local growers who were raising bulbs for sale. In 1938, M&G Trucking Company was at the height of the season transporting roughly 120,000 daffodils a day from approximately 30 local farms.
It was reported that the continued success of Gloucester daffodils in the competitive market was due in part to the early availability of some varieties. In 1938, George Heath established the Daffodil Mart on land bordering Back Creek in Gloucester. Heath fell in love with the work and experimented with all the varieties he could get. He is credited with having brought more different varieties into this country than anyone else and, by 1952, had a total of 1400 varieties. He eventually developed a mail order bulb business with national and international sales.