The late Ronald Mansbridge, a scholarly publisher with Cambridge University Press, had a lifelong interest in and passion for many things. Possessing a dry British wit, he enjoyed writing serious poetry as well as lighthearted works such as a high-spirited book of bawdy limericks. He was a constant contributor of letters to the editor to The Weston Forum and for years wrote a weekly newspaper column on bridge, a game he played so voraciously that porters would set up a special table on the train for him during his daily commute to New York City.
Mr. Mansbridge died in 2006 at the ripe old age of 100, and now another one of his lifelong passions is about to be shared with the entire town.
More than 1,500 daffodils he planted at his home on Lyons Plain Road along the banks of the Saugatuck River were lifted on June 2, and are being stored in a dark, dry place until fall, when they will be transplanted onto the grounds of Morehouse Farm Park.
The daffodil lifting — a term that means digging up the bubs with as little root disturbance as possible in order that they might be transplanted — was organized by Mr. Mansbridge’s daughter, Dr. Jane Mansbridge, a professor at Harvard University, along with Mr. Mansbridge’s longtime friend Harry Walsh and Farid Francis of Nutmeg Landscape in Bethel.
After Mr. Mansbridge’s death, his home and property were sold to Jay Faillace, who also assisted with the lifting in order to find a new permanent home for the little yellow flowers.
The daffodils being transplanted at Morehouse are special and not the ordinary garden variety. The species is Narcissus pseudonarcissus, the original Spanish and later English wild daffodils of which William Wordsworth once wrote in his poem “Daffodils.”
“When my father retired, he discovered that the original daffodil flower was descended from a small daffodil called “pseudonarcissus,” a name that sounds like it is fake. But it isn’t. The pseudonarcissus is the first original species of daffodil. My father was intrigued by the flower’s history and the fact it was immortalized in Wordsworth’s poem, so he decided to grow the exact same species in Weston,” Dr. Mansbridge said.
Planting a field of daffodils took years and a lot of hard work, but Dr. Mansbridge recalls it being a labor of love for her father. “He always ordered daffodil bulbs from England, and it was an exciting moment when they would arrive in the fall in wooden crates. He explained what they were as he put bone meal on them to fertilize them,” she said.
Over time, a golden field of small yellow daffodils grew alongside the Saugatuck River from the pseudonarcissus bulbs Mr. Mansbridge planted.
But while Mr. Mansbridge enjoyed the flowers and sitting under a tree along the river to enjoy them, it was the entire process of growing them that he truly loved.
Mr. Mansbridge delighted in taking his time with special things in his life, be they complex or simple, his daughter said.
After he retired, every day for lunch he made himself a cheese sandwich. But it wasn’t just any kind of cheese sandwich, Dr. Mansbridge recalled. Her father would start the process with a single slice of special Portuguese bread, spread with lots of soft butter that had been left out all night at room temperature. He then added a slice of cheddar cheese that was also room-temperature soft, followed by a layer of peanut butter and topped with Dundee’s ginger preserves. No substitutions.
“My father enjoyed the whole ceremony and the ritual of making the sandwich — spreading the butter on just right. He liked the fact he was creating something, and that’s how he viewed the daffodils,” Dr. Mansbridge said.
In order to naturalize the daffodils, Mr. Mansbridge went from flower to flower with a paintbrush and personally cross-pollinated them — all 1,500 of them.
He also put little cloth bags around every single flower after they bloomed in order to capture the seeds from the seed pods. He then planted those seeds and waited 10 years until they turned into blooming plants.
Inspired by her father’s love and appreciation of the daffodils, Dr. Mansbridge said she was happy when Mr. Faillace gave his permission and encouragement to move them to a public place for everyone to enjoy.
Because the species is not indigenous to Connecticut, the daffodils could not be planted on property owned by the Nature Conservancy. Dr. Mansbridge said her father’s friends, Cynthia Williams, Claudia Hahn, Andy Neilly, and Woody Bliss discussed the issue with town officials, who agreed to allow them to be transplanted at Morehouse Farm Park.
“I planted a few daffodils at Morehouse for a test run and I’m hopeful they will take when they are transplanted,” Dr. Mansbridge said.
After the bulbs are planted, a brass plaque will be put up reminding landscapers not to mow over them and kill them.
Mr. Mansbridge immortalized the daffodils he tenderly cared for in a poem he wrote called “A Corner of Weston Field.” (See below)
Next spring, Mother Nature willing, the whole town will see his golden vision come to life.
The late Ronald Mansbridge wrote the following poem about the daffodils he was growing in Weston.
A Corner of a Weston Field
Rupert Brooke said, “Think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England.”
Here is a corner of a Weston field
That is forever mine — and yours, and yours,
Bruce, Jenny, grandsons, friends, and passers by
In years to come, walking in the spring.
Here in this field I’ve planted daffodils.
They come from Wordsworth’s lakes in Cumbria,
From Salamanca, city of proud defiance,
In Spain, the mother garden of narcissus,
Asturiensis and triandrus albus.
April shall never be the cruelest month
If year by year narcissus push their heads,
Little, but brave, through biting frost and snow
In quiet testimony to faith and hope.
Let them speak too of love, love that endures
And conquers hate. And let me add a fourth
St. Paul left out. Let these wild daffodils —
How can they not? — show beauty, that survives
Through cruelty and war. That is my prayer.