Guernsey Legends – The Guernsey Lily
Nerine Sarniensis – Guernsey’s National flower
The legend of how Guernsey’s flower got its name is an intriguing whimsical tale.
One day, the king of the fairies arrived at Vazon in Guernsey in his boat and, after he had landed, he found that he was very tired and so he lay down under a hedge and went to sleep. A beautiful young girl called Michele passed by and saw him fast asleep. Whilst she watched him, he opened his eyes and at the moment that he saw her he fell deeply in love with her. He persuaded her to go with him to his kingdom of the fairies to be his queen, but she asked him if she could leave something for her parents. She knew that they would miss her and she didn’t want to be forgotten. The little man gave her a bulb, and she planted it in the sand at the edge of the beach. Then they went off together in the boat to the fairy kingdom. Michele never came back to Guernsey.
Later her mother, completely beside herself, was searching for her daughter along the beach when she saw a beautiful flower growing in the sand. It was so lovely, scarlet with fairy gold which powdered its petals. At that moment, she knew that she would not find her daughter and that the magnificent flower had taken her place.
The True Story
The true story is a little different. It seems that the first time that the flower was mentioned in connection with Guernsey was in 1664 in a paper called Gardener’s Chronicle. In this paper it was called Narcissus japonica or Guernsey Lily – very rare flower. In 1729 it was described elsewhere as La Belle Gguerneziaize and in 1738 it was named Amaryllis Sarniensis by Linneus the famous botanist.
No-one knows for sure how this lovely flower came to Guernsey or exactly when the island named its national flower. The bulb is actually indigenous to South Africa and grows in the wild on Table Mountain and other south western mountains of the Cape Province. How it first came to island has been the subject of speculation for sometime. One thing is certain, is that it grows and flowers very well in Guernsey.
One local legend states that the first bulbs were washed ashore on the west coast of Guernsey from a Dutch ship wrecked whilst en route from Japan.
Another story claims that it was introduced by green fingered Roundhead General Lambert, during his imprisonment in Castle Cornet. What now seems more likely is that a homebound Dutch East India Company ship put in at Cape of Good Hope where the crew collected nerines from Table Mountain. Six bulbs were given to Jurat de Saumarez after the vessel was temporarily ‘cast ashore’ on mid seventeenth century Guernsey.