The Slow Decline

World War II briefly cut off the supply of foreign bulbs, restricted transportation, and severely limited the labor force, but after the war, daffodil growing resumed with a vengeance. New plantings were started, a wholesale florist opened, greenhouses were put up to force blooms earlier, and a cold room was built at the freight terminal where daffodils were processed and shipped by the thousands daily. In the late 40s, visitors were still coming at the peak of the growing season to travel the “Daffodil Trail” through Gloucester and Mathews Counties.


Ultimately, more than 150 families were growing flowers. Eventually this overproduction, rising costs, and competition from cut flowers brought in by air freight from around the globe caused prices to fall. A slow decline began as daffodil farming was abandoned by many.


The business had settled by the mid-50s and there was still some profit in cut flowers. When the blooms appeared the pickers would flock in. Schools let out so that the children could join them, and up to $20 a day could be earned in the fields. The season meant additional spending money to youngsters and adults who picked and to farm families with small patches of flowers.


Prominent names in the daffodil industry in the 50s included Heath, Hicks, Hammer, Hopkins, Emory, and Clements. Businesses included River’s Edge Flower Farm, the Daffodil Mart, the C.H. Hammer Nursery, M & G Transportation, and R.L. Mickelborough and Sons of Mathews. A newcomer in the business was the Little England Daffodil Farm in Bena.


In 1960 fields of daffodils could still be viewed from a boat ride along the North River on the old land grand plantations of “Auburn”, “Green Plains”, “Elmington”, and “Toddsbury”. In 1962 it was reported that Gloucester and Mathews Counties were still the principle centers of daffodil culture in the country, with more than 24 million daffodils being shipped out each spring bringing more than $250,000. In the late afternoon interstate trucks still rumbled along county roads and picked up cardboard boxes of flowers to be delivered to airports and cities.


Over the years the business gradually declined with more and more people turning over the land which had once been golden with daffodils to more profitable ventures. In the late 60s and 70s the best place for visitors to see daffodils in bloom was the Daffodil Mart which had established itself as one of Gloucester’s major spring tourist attractions. In 1971 an article in the Washington Post still designated Gloucester as the “Daffodil Capital of America” and in 1973 over 10,000 people were expected to visit the Daffodil Mart.


But, by the early 80s only 150 acres were planted in daffodils as compared to the 1,000 acres under cultivation during the peak years. During those years you could drive almost anywhere through Gloucester and Mathews and see fields of flowers where now only abandoned patches remained. Some fields were still worked and some locals still took a few weeks each spring to pick for 5 cents a bunch.


In the mid-80s, the Daffodil Mart, run by third generation grower Brent Heath, was selling nearly 500 varieties of bulbs through mail order catalogs. Heath still spends most of his time crossbreeding to produce new varieties.


Today the country’s major daffodil region is Washington State which has a longer, cooler growing season that helps the flowers thrive. The largest producers in Gloucester are Brent Heath, with five acres at the Daffodil Mart, and Granville Hall, who has six acres he bought from a retired grower after World War II. In a 1981 article for The American Daffodil Society Journal, Mr. Hall stated that “the business still clings to life …. but an era has ended.”

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