There’s something about daffodils that just makes you want to smile. Maybe it’s their sunny yellow colour, their jolly trumpet shape, or a sign that warmer weather is on its way – whatever it is they’re guaranteed to brighten your day.
They also inspired one of the most famous poems in the English language: William Wordsworth wrote I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud after spotting “a host of golden daffodils” while walking with his sister Dorothy near Ullswater in the Lake District. More than 200 years later daffodils remain one of the nation’s favourite flowers.
Colin Martin has been growing daffodils for Asda for the past 10 years on his farm in Lincolnshire and sells four million bunches each year – that’s around 72 million daffodils!
He works closely with our produce sourcing partner IPL to ensure we have plenty of fresh daffodils in store for our customers for the whole of spring. He has been able to extend the growing season from January to April because he grows 25 different varieties which all flower at slightly different times. Each variety is subtly different: in different shades of yellow with different coloured centres and different lengths and shapes of trumpet. There are even “double daffodils” where the trumpet itself is “filled in” with petals.
All the daffodils are grown on a three-year cycle. In July, after the crop foliage has died back, the daffodil bulbs are harvested, dried and graded. The smaller bulbs are sterilised in a hot water treatment to kill off any bugs and then planted in “new ground” in the autumn to grow into new flowers. The larger bulbs are sold at Asda for people to plant at home.
In the first year the daffodils are left to grow and die back without harvesting. This is to help the bulbs recover and to encourage wildlife – the pollen produced attracts bees and insects. In the spring of the second and third years the flowers are stronger and ready to be picked. There are three identical growing cycles to ensure a continuous programme of harvesting.
All the daffodils are harvested by hand and packed on site in Spalding. They're on sale in our stores within 48 hours of being cropped.
This three-year cycle helps the environment by encouraging wildlife and improving soil quality – something Colin is passionate about. He became interested in farming after spending time on his grandfather’s farm during school holidays. Colin has adopted some of these traditional methods on his own farm where he has created two ponds and spinneys to attract wildlife, as well as insect banks and areas for beetles.
“The wildlife is important to me,” says Colin. “I like the feel of the freedom you get from being near nature. It helps the daffodils too – all insects are pollinators. We need every type of species because everything helps everything else. It’s a cycle.”
The bulb rows are used by ground nesting birds such as skylarks, lapwings, pheasants and partridges and the ground also provides a habitat for small mammals like voles and field mice. This then becomes a hunting ground for raptors such as barn owls, harriers, kestrels and sparrow hawks.
Colin began farming in the mid-1970s after leaving school at 15. His grandfather helped him buy his first seven acres and he started by growing crops like spinach, coriander and mouli for the ethnic market and catering trade, later introducing onions.
When a neighbouring farmer was about to retire Colin asked if he could rent his buildings to store the onions. The neighbour grew daffodils and asked Colin to share-farm them and take on the responsibility for sales and marketing. When the farmer retired three years later Colin bought the stock from him and started growing more varieties.
Colin, who is married to Jane with two grown up children, now grows gladioli, sunflowers, peonies and sweet Williams alongside the daffodils and vegetables. Their house is always full of flowers as Colin “vase tests” the crops at home to monitor performance.
He agrees that daffodils are very cheering and thinks people buy them because they’re a signal that spring is coming. “People are looking forward to getting out of the darker nights,” Colin said. “Now it’s brighter weather and we've hopefully seen the back of the snow people start to feel better – and seeing daffodils adding a splash of colour whether you're at home or out and about really helps with that."