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John W. Blanchard V.M.H.

October 28, 2022
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I am sorry to report the death of John Blanchard on 20 September 2022 aged 92. He was predeceased by his wife Eve in June this year. Like his father Douglas, John was a solicitor practising at Blandford Forum in Dorset and an amateur plantsman.

Exhibiting and hybridising

Douglas like John was a  Narcissus enthusiast and is still remembered as the breeder of what is now called the ‘Nylon Group’ of miniature daffodils. Consequently, it is perhaps not surprising that John started by exhibiting and hybridising daffodils jointly with his father before doing so alone. His record of Best Bloom in show awards at RHS Competitions and Shows was impressive and many of these awards were won with cultivars that he or his father had bred. Although a regular entrant John never won the Engleheart Cup for twelve cultivars raised by the exhibitors. It was then very much a class where the staging of any daffodil other than one of the large standard sized blooms from divisions 1-4 and 11, was regarded as either suicidal, or evidence of desperation. However, undaunted, in 1985 John became the first person to stage an entry using twelve miniature daffodils. The collection would have been a culture shock at the time to both the judges and other exhibitors. To John’s pleasant surprise the “whatever do we do puzzle” was solved by placing it third out of five entries. Another key contribution that John made as an exhibitor was entering all the miniature classes at  RHS Daffodil Competitions and Shows.  When I first started exhibiting in the mid 1970’s miniature daffodils were unfashionable and John was often the only entrant. This willingness to go it alone helped keen gardeners become  aware that small daffodils existed and were interesting. John’s dedication kept the miniature classes alive until the tide turned many years later.

John bred 20 daffodil cultivars jointly with his father and a further 38 alone. Although he raised daffodils of a wide range of sizes and parentages, John will be particularly remembered for his miniature daffodils. Using ‘Mahmoud’ (1937), a small but none the less standard sized small- cupped daffodil with white petals and a red cup as the seed parent and the difficult to grow N. dubius’ for pollen, John flowered ‘Crevette’ 8W-O in 1967 and registered it in 1992. The orange cup made ‘Crevette’ the first miniature daffodil to include a colour other than green, white or yellow and provided the inspiration that encouraged other hybridisers to widen the choice of colours available in miniature daffodils. John also raised several very successful miniature daffodil cultivars using species from Sections Jonquilla and Apodanthi of the botanical classification of Narcissus. Of these, the beautiful early flowering ‘Pequenita’ 7Y-Y (1985) raised from N. atlanticus x N. cuatrecasasii is a personal favourite.

Narcissus 'Crevette' - credit Michael Baxter

Looking for wild daffodils

John made numerous plant hunting trips to Spain, Portugal, France and Morocco. Many were family holidays or with other enthusiasts from this country and abroad. These trips were not simply eco-tourism, as they also involved careful field research based on wide reading and much prior thought. They formed the basis of his book “Narcissus a guide to wild daffodils” that was published by the AGS in 1990. Despite being written by an amateur for gardeners, the book remains widely respected many years later and is often quoted in academic research. He did not attempt to reclassify the genus. Focusing instead on describing accurately what he had seen and commenting,  if he thought that what he had seen did not fit with conclusions reached by others. When asked if there were any mistakes in his book he would say  – “see my articles” (published annually for several decades in what is now the Daffodil, Snowdrop and Tulip Yearbook). If he made a mistake or changed his mind having seen different evidence he would say so. In 2012 the AGS gave the Kath Dryden Award to John in recognition of his meritorious work on the genus Narcissus.

Plant Societies

John joined what was then called the RHS Narcissus and Tulip Committee in 1965, was Chairman 1984-1994 and an Honorary Member of its successor the Bulb Committee when he died. For much of this period he was also heavily involved in the work of related committees dealing with Narcissus classification, show schedules, plant trials and the  Daffodil, Snowdrop and Tulip Yearbook. He was also a member of the RHS Council 1991-6. This work and John’s many contributions to horticulture were recognized by the RHS who awarded him their highest honour the Victoria Medal of Honour (VMH) in 1997. John also served on the Narcissus species panel of the American Daffodil Society, who awarded him their Gold Medal in 1989 and was a Vice President of the Daffodil Society in the United Kingdom. An active member of his AGS Local Group, John was a well known speaker nationwide and respected judge of daffodils, other bulbs and alpines at Harrogate and at RHS and AGS shows.

Personal recollections

John was a true plantsman whose interest in daffodils was simply a part of his deep love and understanding of a wide range of bulbous genera and other plants. It was therefore no surprise some years ago when he brought back from Spain flowers of Galanthus that he hoped Joint Rock might be able to identify. I also recall joining John when climbing a tall honeycombed concrete block retaining wall in the Sierra Nevada to look at a colony of Crocus nevadensis. A modest man who made considered and cautious judgements, John gave freely of his knowledge if asked, but wore it lightly. He also gave his time and abilities willingly to his local Rotary Club and I was surprised to discover recently that he was a railway enthusiast.

John’s legacies to horticulture are his pursuit of a responsible approach to plant hunting, his

acute and accurate record of what he saw and his demonstration through the plants he raised of what it is possible to achieve. We will miss John and pass on our condolences to his family.

Malcolm Bradbury