Lionel and Helen (Meg) Richardson were breeders of daffodils, based at Prospect House, Kilcohan, in Waterford City. The house still stands, now surrounded by modern housing estates which also cover what was previously the Richardson’s farmland – they kept Jersey cows for milk and also grew tomatoes commercially – and the family name is given to a number of city streets: Richardson’s Folly (commonly simply called “The Folly”), Richardson’s Meadow and Richardson’s Square.
Lionel Richardson was an enthusiastic exhibitor of daffodils and enjoyed extraordinary success. The first show at which he exhibited was the Royal Horticultural Society’s show in Dublin in 1915 when he won the Lord Ardilaun Cup for a display of 50 varieties. These shows are occasions when the recognised experts bestow awards, the highest being the Gold Medal, on daffodils of outstanding quality and the Richardsons were awarded 64 Gold Medals over the course of their careers. There were many other awards and First Class Certificates almost became commonplace though, of course, they were far from being that as they were a recognition of a daffodil breeder achieving an admirably high standard. Lionel Richardson was also invited to be a Vice President of the Royal Horticultural Society and was awarded their Veitch Memorial Medal, a recognition of his immense contribution to horticulture.
The Richardsons were known for the depth of orange and red in the cups of their daffodils, for their introduction of the first pink trumpeted daffodil in 1958 and also for the wonderful range of double-flowered daffodils they produced. Double daffodils have multiple trumpets within each other giving the flower a very full appearance. Peculiarly, their first double occurred by accident – a chance seedling from a flower of Narcissus ‘Mary Copeland’ started the Richardson’s range of double daffodils, an example of great skill and good fortune! The Richardsons produced Daffodil Catalogues from the 1920s to the 1960s and sold worldwide, to North America, Great Britain, Europe and even to the home of bulb growing, Holland!
One of their most famous daffodils was ‘Kingscourt’ which was named for a town in Co. Cavan. To the uninitiated, it is simply a good, beautiful strong-growing yellow daffodil – nothing fancy, it would seem. However, ‘Kingscourt’ was the only daffodil ever to be voted “Best Daffodil” and best in its class at the R.H.S. Daffodil Show for ten consecutive years. It received the RHS Award of Garden Merit in 1963.
As in ‘Kingscourt’, the Richardsons often used placenames to name new daffodil cultivars. There are 830 daffodil cultivars attributed and registered to the Richardsons and it must have been a challenge to be inventive with each new selection so it is no surprise to read just how often they resorted to the use of placenames. Many were of places close to home: ‘Helvick’, ‘Ardmore’, ‘Carrickbeg’, all in Co. Waterford; others a little further afield: ‘Bandon’, ‘Bantry’ and ‘Cashel’, all Irish towns; ‘Roscommon’, ‘Sligo’ and ‘Wexford’, Irish counties and others quite exotic: ‘Cape Horn’, ‘Casablanca’ and ‘Congo’.
Last year, a friend, who knew of my interest in plants of Irish origin and knowing that one connected to such a famous, and local to me, daffodil breeder would be treasured, sent on bulbs of Narcissus ‘Limerick’ which is listed as pre-1938. It has been a thrill to see it come into flower in these last few days. It shows the strong colour in the cup for which the Richardson daffodils were well known. ‘Limerick’ will live for a long time, I hope, in Waterford and will be treasured for its connection to the Richardsons and as a perennial reminder of the thoughtfulness of a kind gardening friend.