The Flower Fields

The Flower Fields


When the railway arrived in Cornwall in Victorian times the landscape burst into flower. Tiny south-facing flower fields previously farmed for subsistence punctuated the landscape from Mousehole to the Isles of Scilly and provided perfect conditions for growing the earliest blooms in Britain. And for a few decades they became a vital part of the Cornish economy.

Michael Bird’s lovely atmospheric piece recalls the romance of the trade in its heyday when spring daffodils, fragrant violets and vivid bunches of carnations and anemones were rushed overnight by rail in time for Covent Garden and the London markets. Bird also talks to Bill Harvey, who still grows flowers in this small-scale, hand-held way and uses some distinctly Cornish farming tools and local words like “quillets” and “evals” that trip off the tongue quite pleasingly.


Michael Bird explores how flower fields have shaped the life and landscape of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. He reveals that the quillets were harvested for daffodils, violets, carnations and anemones from the Victorian era to the 1960s, and sent by train overnight to reach London's morning markets.