Thursday, March 15, 2012

Daffodil Dreams


“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed – and gazed – but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”
William Wordsworth, 
“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”

After the dark nights and sparkling lights of December, a slender green head pokes its nose through white snow and cold earth. Pushing quickly through the fallen leaves of autumn, a daffodil emerges to reveal its modest beauty and attest to the coming spring.
Beloved by poets from Shakespeare to Wordsworth, daffodils have long been a traditional harbinger of warm weather, a symbol of rebirth and a promise of better times to come.
Appearing as early as January in warm climates, simple yellow daffodils are a small but reliable miracle of Mother Nature, a welcome sight after a long, cold winter and one of my first and most favorite signs of spring.


            Native to northern Europe, daffodils were beloved along with all flowers in Victorian times, when each bud carried a meaning, and a bouquet of blossoms sent a secret message from a young woman to her beau. In the language of flowers, daffodils stood for “regard.” 
Like Wordsworth, I have a high regard for daffodils. I remember as a young girl visiting an old white, wooden farmhouse in the country to marvel at massed daffodils still blooming wild in the dooryard, hardy after years of neglect.
No primadonnas, daffodils are inexpensive, are easy to grow and naturalize readily. They are beautiful as cut flowers in a clear glass vase. Their butter-yellow blooms are especially beautiful when planted with purple grape hyacinths.
In recent times, modern growers have experimented with daffodils to create dozens of new varieties now available for purchase in shades of orange, pink and white.
Re-emerging year after year with very little care, daffodils are one of the easiest bulbs for beginning gardeners to grow. They demand no special treatment and give years of pleasure to children and adults alike. Daffodils are hardy in quite cold climates, and burrowing rodents find them much less tasty than tulip bulbs.
To plant daffodils, dig holes in the autumn 3 to 6 inches deep in partial to full sun. They will grow up to 18 inches tall, blooming in late winter or early spring. They need no summer watering and will reward your planting efforts again and again.
All daffodils and jonquils are members of the Narcissus family, so named after the mythic Greek youth Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool and was punished for his egotism by being transformed into a papery white flower. Daffodils themselves, however, are neither showy nor vain, offering us their innocent beauty as a simple gift of spring and a testament to joy.
The name “daffodil” is thought to come from Affodyle, an old English word meaning “early comer.” Also knows as the Lent lily, it was called many nicknames in Shakespeare’s day, including daff-a-down-lily and daffodilly.
One popular spring attraction in the hills of Northern California is Daffodil Hill, near Volcano, Amador County. Every spring, from mid-March through mid-April, the 4-acre farm erupts in fields of yellow. The site has been open to the public for generations, attracting visitors from all over the world with its sunny drifts of gold.

            I first visited Daffodil Hill as a baby and enjoyed sitting among the blooms, which were taller than I. Over the years, our family returned several times, grown and changed, yet the daffodils have always been fresh and lovely.               
Daffodil Hill first began in 1887 as a 36-acre ranch and toll road for travelers and lumbermen. It grew well-known in the 1930’s as travelers admired its daffodil-covered slopes. Descendents of the original family held onto the old homestead, planting thousands of new daffodil bulbs each year and nurturing more than 300 named varieties. Today, more than 300,000 bulbs flourish well-tended on the farm.
Those who do not live near Daffodil Hill can view daffodils at any public garden during the spring season. To adorn your own garden with daffodils takes but a bit of preparation and effort in the fall, and the results are well worth it.
Plan now for next year’s show, and you can look forward to your own spot of loveliness next spring.

“Fair daffodils, we weep to see/You haste away so soon.”
-- Robert Herrick, “To Daffodils”


Daffodil photos taken at my home.


 “The Language of Flowers,” Ed. Sheila Pickles, Harmony Books, 1990.

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