I spotted the daffodil in a vase, at one end of a table where we had stopped for lunch in the Agricultural Society Hall in Batlow, New South Wales. It was sitting amid several other more colourful species, quietly but with great dignity. And it was perfect! Smallish and creamy white, its trumpet and petals exactly matched in hue, the petals each with identical orientation and positioned in two perfect triangles. How often does one see a daffodil like this?
Laraine Callinan walked by and we began to chat. It turned out that this lovely flower was hers, grown at ‘Kunama’, her family farm high above Batlow. She was delighted because it had just received the grand award at St John’s Daffodil Fete, an annual event attended by hundreds of visitors, this year with more than 200 entrant species (including camellias and spring flowers).
I inquired about the daffodil’s name. ‘Well … no-one knows’, she said. She inherited it five years earlier following the passing of a Italian woman whose family had come to live and work in Batlow in the late 1920s. She understands that it dates back more than eight decades in Australian plant history, but has been able to find out nothing more.
Just one bulb was given to her, now there are twelve. She does nothing much beyond feeding them with ‘alpaca poo and sheep manure’ once a year when the opportunity arises. And, of course, enjoying them. They do so well in their elevated environment, where spring water bubbles up and runs down to farms and the town. ‘Batlow has always been a place for daffodils,’ she says.
And for apples! Post-World War One, returned soldiers were given settlement blocks of between 40 and 60 acres around Batlow on the condition that they grew apples there. The town, first known as Reedy Creek, had been set up in 1854 when gold was discovered nearby. The gold deposits were soon exhausted but the growth of fruit trees was encouraged, especially apples that were particularly suited to the cold winters, high rainfall and good soil. Batlow is not a large place, but its 50 or so growers now provide around 10 per cent of the Australian apple crop, with some 1.6 million cases of apples grown and harvested each year.
Driving up the hills and out of the town is a rare experience. Expanses of perfectly pruned espaliered apple trees just keep on coming, stretching into the distance. They include Pink Lady and Bonzer, Delicious and Jonathan, Fuji and Sundowner, Jazz and many more. It’s early spring, but shelters are already rising around the plantations, with long narrow rolls of what looks like white muslin (but is no doubt much stronger) ready to be spread above them.
This will take care of hail and hungry birds, you think. The apples will be perfect. Just like that beautiful anonymous daffodil.
The annual Batlow apple blossom festival is on 18 October. For details, go to Batlow Apple Blossom Festival