The arrival of Spring is heralded by daffodils but most people might be surprised to know many of those on sale are grown in Marykirk and harvested by a truly international squad of 120.
The flower pickers at Dyke Head are a mixed bunch coming from Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, Japan and even America. There are many hardened pickers from the UK too but few locals, despite efforts to employ locally.
Richard Milne, who runs the business, says unusually were are four local boys during the holidays picking, whose mothers had kicked them out of the house. He adds they were delighted to make £50 but it is possible to earn £150 a day when skilled and quick.
With weather tanned face and faded protective trousers Raoul, from Spain, calls to the others down the field. When asked what languages he can speak Richard says: “I can manage French, Italian and sign language.”
Supermarkets insist on the yellow daffy variety known as ‘Standard Value’, varied colours and shapes are surprisingly unpopular.
Professional pickers arrive at the start of the Scottish daffodil season in mid March, having started in Cornwall in January. They follow the Spring up the country before dispersing back to Europe for the apple crop or to vineyards in France.
This is piece work, daffodils are selected for length of stem and colour: they have to be green and are picked in 10s then bundled together and left at the end of the rows like crocks of gold.
The atmosphere on the fields between workers is friendly and supportive, there are jokes but the work is serious. Mandy, a Scottish girl, with latex gloves and plasters up her arm covering sores from the corrosive daffodil sap says: “We are allowed to start whenever we like in the day, some of us start really early morning. Everyone works for themselves. The faster we work the more we earn.”
Richard is keen to point out there are no gangs employed at Marykirk. He explains: “Gang masters are not welcome here, they exploit their workers. Our pickers contact us directly. We have zero trouble this way. There is honour amongst them and they enjoy backgammon tournaments and great parties. There is a knock on benefit to the local area, as well as the splash of Spring colour the local supermarket sells more alcohol in these four weeks than it does over the Christmas period.”