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Was John Lennon’s Double Fantasy a freesia or hibiscus?

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Will the real flower please stand up.

The Masterworks Museum has been called into the principal’s office accused of mixing up their flora.

Next summer, they plan to erect a statue in memory of the legendary Beatles singer, John Lennon, who visited the Island in the summer of 1980. He was killed a few months after leaving Bermuda.

It is said that he titled his last album ‘Double Fantasy’ after seeing a ‘Double Fantasy’ freesia flower while touring the Botanical Gardens in Paget.

Double flower blooms are often extra frilly and have more petals than a single flower. The album cover has a picture of him and his wife, Yoko Ono, on the cover.

Masterworks is working with local music producer and tourism promoter Tony Brannon. The project has been given the go ahead by Mr Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono.

Masterworks plans to erect a statue designed by local artist Graham Foster next June to commemorate Mr Lennon’s visit complete with a picture of the flower on it.

But Mary Lodge, principal of St George’s Preparatory School in St George’s, has her doubts that Mr Lennon ever saw a freesia at the Botanical Gardens. She lives near the Botanical Gardens and walks there frequently.

“I have several points that make me think it wasn’t a freesia,” Ms Lodge said. “In the early mid 1980s there was one of the little black signs in the park that clearly labelled a hibiscus bush as ‘Double Fantasy’.

“Lennon was here in June and July and freesias don’t flower at that time.”

This variety of freesia, would have been cultivated, rather than wild.

“The only way it would be there is if they planted it,” said Ms Lodge.

The Royal Gazette contacted former director of Agriculture and Fisheries, Edward Manuel, who worked with the department for more than 40 years before retiring two decades ago.

He said he had no recollection of seeing a Double Fantasy freesia at the Botanical Gardens. But he couldn’t remember seeing a Double Fantasy hibiscus there either.

“June and July would have been too late for freesias to bloom,” said Mr Manuel.

Ms Lodge said if the flower Mr Lennon saw was in fact, a hibiscus, it would only be to Masterworks’ benefit.

“The Double Fantasy hibiscus is gorgeous,” she said. “It is as big as a dinner plate.”

If there ever were Double Fantasy freesias at the Botanical Gardens, chances are, they weren’t there for very long.

Double Fantasy freesias were first grown in Holland. Unfortunately, double freesias, in general, are notorious for having fertility problems, and it is probably for this reason that the Double Fantasy freesia is extremely rare today.

In 1971, two scientists, J Baer and O Kho, wrote a paper about freesias called ‘An Investigation into the Cause of Sterility in Double-Flowering Freesia Varieties and the Possibility of Restoring Fertility’.

They found that this flower tended to produce single flowers rather than doubles when grown in conditions exceeding 20C (68F).

The average temperature in Bermuda in June is 27.2C (81F). Even in the winter, the temperature in Bermuda is at the limit for the flower with average temperatures being between 15.5C (60F) and 20.5C (69F) in January, February and April.

However, if a mistake was made, it was made by John Lennon himself. Perhaps, to speculate, he saw the label left over from when the flowers bloomed there in the spring, and imagined the flower that went with the label.

Mr Lennon said in a 1980 Playboy Magazine interview: “It’s a type of flower, a type of freesia, but what it means to us is that if two people picture the same image at the same time, that is the secret.

“You can be together but projecting two different images and either whoever’s the stronger at the same time will get his or her fantasy fulfilled or you will get nothing but mishmash.”

The question may be for Ms Lodge and Masterworks, whose image of John Lennon’s flower is the strongest and whose will prevail?

Tom Butterfield of the Masterworks Foundation said luckily the flower on the statue by Mr Foster looks fairly generic.

“As I look at the flower it is neither a freesia or hibiscus it is just a flower in double,” said Mr Butterfield. “Call it the androgenous flower. We are thrilled with the opportunity to celebrate Lennon and the fact that it will draw attention with Bermuda as a potential creative spot.

“One can only lament this debate. However, most of the debate weighs in on it being a freesia that Lennon saw.

“My weigh-in is not as a botanical expert, but rather someone who celebrates the notion that Lennon found inspiration in working here in Bermuda and that tragically it would be his last album.”

John Lennon
The Double Fantasy hibiscus - could John Lennon have mistaken this for a freesia?
The album cover of Double Fantasy
John Lennon is shown in New York City in this August 22, 1980 file photo.

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Published November 23, 2011 at 9:12 am (Updated November 23, 2011 at 9:12 am)

Was John Lennon’s Double Fantasy a freesia or hibiscus?

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