Flower to the People

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Raising spirits as we went into lockdown, this spring saw a glorious carpet of historic daffodils emerge all over Tooting and along Garratt Lane. A blast of sunshine cheering people up on their daily exercise and thanks to extensive social media coverage, something everyone was able to share at a difficult time. A beautiful art installation exhibiting at Tooting Market for Wandle Fortnight showed just a small selection of the photos we received. Please try and visit and see if your daffodil is there! NOW EXTENDED BY POPULAR DEMAND TO 31st OCTOBER!

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Its hard to explain just how wonderful last year’s Tooting ‘Daffodil Day’ was. On a patch of grass at the entrance to the Aboyne Estate, Garratt Lane, over one hundred people attended the unveiling of a blue plaque celebrating Peter Barr ‘The Daffodil King’ on a glorious September afternoon. With the King Edward VII statue outside Tooting Broadway station garlanded in flowers and clutching a giant daffodil, the Tootopia and Wandle Fortnight festivals in full flow, there was a glorious buzz in the air. Historic daffodil bulbs of the type grown here by Barr had been acquired and The Chair of the Royal Horticultural Society Bulb Committee flew in from Holland to plant the first bulb.

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On that occasion and over the next weeks, daffodil bulbs were distributed to the Tooting community; schools, mosques, churches, charities, estates, food banks. Many of these were planted in public spaces like Streatham Cemetery and the Aboyne and Hazelhurst estates. Daffodil fever gripped Tooting and we gave out almost 5,000 bulbs and instructions on how to plant them. We tried to ensure every primary school got a selection but wanted to include some spontaneous drops, so we slung a couple of sacks over our shoulders and went walkabout to find suitable homes. There were some stand-out moments.

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Walking past the Al-Muzzamil Mosque we ran into the Imaam who got out his phone to show photos of his spectacular sunflowers. Six months later he texted a picture of the beautiful daffodils they grew. At the United Reformed Church they were serving up lunch at the Graveney Canteen. I got up and said a few words and we handed out bulbs which were as well-received as the tasty dinner. Bulbs were also planted at significant locations in Tooting history. A car-park at Tooting Broadway marks the site of the Drouet’s children’s home cholera outbreak of 1849. It took a really strong daffodil to break through there, but what a view, looking across Garratt Lane at some of the places where Peter Barr once lived.

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In November, at the end of a poignant 75th anniversary ceremony involving nearby Smallwood School, daffodil bulbs were planted at the base of a historic plaque which marks the site of a Second World War V2 bomb which caused extensive damage and loss of life in Hazelhurst and Foss Road. This was done by people who had lived there at the time or lost relatives that day, 19th November 1944.

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Streatham Cemetery was carpeted with yellow and has probably never been so awash with daffodils since Peter Barr trialled his flowers there in the 1880s when it was known as Springfield Nursery. Another batch were grown by the Share Community Garden, located on the Springfield Hospital site where planting them gave students the chance to achieve some of their core units working towards gaining their diplomas in horticulture.

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Most of the daffodils popped up all over Tooting and beyond as people grew them in their front gardens, on window sills or in many cases in planters or the bases of trees on their street. One was planted outside the Earlsfield home of recently-deceased 100 year old Ralph Norbury, one of the last survivors of Arnhem. Thanks to one and all for the tremendous response to this and to everyone who helped to make it happen. The cost of the plaque itself and the bulbs were paid for entirely by local people attending Summerstown182 historic walks over the previous year. Truly, this was a case of FLOWER TO THE PEOPLE! 

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Thankfully the first wave of the greatest spring uprising of daffodils in Tooting for 150 years was fully enjoyed by people before lockdown. People looked out for them and enjoyed them on walks in Streatham Cemetery and Aboyne Estate. As this started we encouraged people to share photos of the Tooting daffodils on social media. I like to think it gave us a bit of light relief at a worrying time. Later, a series of downloadable versions of our local history Walks  enabled people to view the daffodils as part of their daily exercise allowance.

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We attracted some great attention with a feature on BBC Radio 4 Gardener’s Question Time where their team visited Peter Barr’s old garden in Garratt Lane, a short walk from Tooting Broadway. There was an article in The Daffodil Society Journal and the Gardens Trust blog

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Surely it can now be confidently said that as well as being famous for Tooting Bec Lido, St George’s Hospital and Sadiq Khan – Tooting is becoming known for its part in the development of the daffodil. The initiative has been picked up by local schools with gardening and growing projects flourishing at the likes of Fircroft Primary.

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‘Blooming Tooting’ doesn’t finish here and there is much more which can be done to promote awareness of this history, including our connection with the Huguenots, William Rollinson, Nelly Roberts and the Exotic Orchid Nursery. Exciting times here on the banks of the Wandle! 

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Covid-19 has restricted our ability to promote the initiative with more guided walks but sharing photos of the daffodils was a great way to keep things bubbling along. Thanks to a grant from Wandle Valley Forum, we have now put together a stunning artistic installation showcasing some of these photos. Please come and see it in the world famous Tooting Market!  We are part of Wandle Fortnight. Its sometimes hard to forget Tooting’s Wandle connection but the rich alluvial soils of its valley were perfect for daffodil experimentation and the nurseries extended for a great stretch along Garratt Lane and up Tooting High Street. A great way to explore them is to do a Blooming Tooting tour which is available to download here. 

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Tooting Market is hosting this exhibition from Friday 11 September. It will be open from 8am until 1030pm every day, from 9am on Sunday. We are happy to be playing a small part in bringing this precious part of our area, serving the community for over 80 years back to life after the devastating period of lockdown, so do look out for the exhibition when you are in there. A local artist has displayed the photos in a highly imaginative and creative way, evoking the Victorian era with artefacts from the period and utilising the daffodil artwork made by local children and the Tooting community last year in the build up to the plaque unveiling. Indeed this is going to be an ongoing exhibition. Once its time to move on, it will reload with new photos and hopefully set up again somewhere else. We really hope you enjoy it and that it encourages you to grow some daffodils next year and we can do this all over again. 

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If anyone would like a fabulous colourful reminder of all this, a beautiful 60x40cm ‘Blooming Tooting’ ready-to-hang canvas print has been kindly donated by Marion Gower of The Streatham Society. The highest bidder for this stunning artwork gets to live the daffodil dream every day. All proceeds will go to Fircroft Primary School gardening project. Closing date 30 September.