BC SealBoston College Magazine Spring 2005
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. Linden Lane
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Flower power

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An interview with Daffodil Judge Andrew Armstrong '05 by Cara Feinberg

Armstrong: "You bring your flowers to a staging room and figure out your strategy." Photo by Lee Pellegrini

Armstrong: "You bring your flowers to a staging room and figure out your strategy." Photo by Lee Pellegrini

How does a Texas outdoorsman become a daffodil enthusiast?
We call it yellow fever. I'm a third-generation grower. My grandmother did it for many years, and so did my dad. I got involved in kindergarten.

Is your daffodil passion noticeable to the naked eye?
Probably not.

I have a few little things in my dorm room—maybe a notepad with a daffodil on it, or a decal from a show I entered on my bulletin board. My majors are theology and history—no horticulture.

Who wields influence in the daffodil world?
There are daffodil societies all over the world that hold competitive shows. The American Daffodil Society holds a national show and convention every year in a different place. For me, as a kid, the best thing was getting to travel to that. Then there are local societies, which also hold shows. The biggest societies are in places like Virginia, Baltimore, the mid-Atlantic, as well as the Central Ohio Valley and the Pacific Northwest.

A lot of it is about climate. One of the best places in the world for daffodils is Northern Ireland. The climate there is cool, with lots of water and a long spring.

How do daffodils rate among serious flower growers?
It depends whom you talk to.

Some flowers are more labor-intensive—roses have to be pruned, orchids are very delicate. But there are thousands of different types of daffodils, in many more colors than yellow. And there are 13 different divisions: some have multiple florets per stem, others have split and double cups. Often when strangers look at them, they can't believe they're daffodils.

What is a typical show like?
If we're showing, we might bring hundreds of flowers, or we might bring three—usually stuck in glass Coke or beer bottles, the preferred method of transport. You'll see people whose cars are full of wooden cases of Coke bottles. You bring your flowers to a staging room and figure out your strategy: what flowers to enter in what classes and whether you want to do collections, which are much more difficult and prestigious. If I enter a single daffodil, it has to be blue-ribbon quality. For a collection, I have to enter five to 24 flowers, and they all have to be blue-ribbon quality. We put each flower in a test tube and arrange it with English boxwood.

Does the competition ever get cutthroat?
In the staging room, if someone thinks you're walking too close to his entries he might stare you down. Or at the last minute, if I notice that someone else enters a better flower in my class, I might go pull my flower and see where else I can enter it, maybe against weaker competition.

Is it hard to become a daffodil judge?
The process usually takes two to three years. Local societies sponsor schools, and there aren't many. Three courses are required, each lasting an entire day. Then there are two tests: You have to identify over 100 different daffodils, and you have to student-judge three shows. Judges are also required to grow over 100 different types of daffodils. And they have to win a blue ribbon at least once every three years.

I was certified in my junior year in high school. At the time, I was the youngest-ever certified daffodil judge in the country.

Are you involved at all in hybridization?
My dad and I have tried several times. It usually takes three to five years from the time you get a seed to the time you get a brand-new bloom. Then it's usually two or three years before you get a bulb. So it takes about seven years to find out if you made a mistake, and then another seven to correct it.

How have people in your daily life reacted to your daffodil life?
In elementary school, it was cool. Instead of an apple on the teacher's desk, I'd often leave a Coke bottle with daffodils in it. In sixth grade, I probably stopped advertising what I did. Around then, I joined the football team, and I played all through high school. Over time, the reactions got more positive.

And now?
When girls find out, they usually give me hugs and think it's the greatest thing. Unless it's a girlfriend. Then she thinks it's cool, but doesn't want other people to know. Of course, my roommates give me a hard time, but that's okay. Between my shaving my legs for bike races and the daffodils, they have a lot of material.

Are there many other young men out there showing daffodils?
There are more guys than you'd think, but it is predominantly women over 40—or 50—maybe 60. It depends on the society. Some are tea and crumpety, some aren't.

Will you do any shows this year?
I am only doing one show because I am pursuing a bid to the nationals in collegiate cycling. But I recently gave a talk to the Chestnut Hill Gardening Club. There were 20 or 30 ladies there who wanted to find out about daffodils.

They must have loved you.
You could say it went over well.

 

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