Many of you no doubt have grown tired of atmospheric rivers, Nor’easter blizzards, and bomb cyclones with “sting jets” like a “scorpion’s tail descending from the sky.” I would be happy, from my perch in Kentucky, for a clean break from devastating winds and floods. On the other hand, I challenge anyone to tell me, during this recent stretch of wildly unpredictable weather, if you’ve grown weary of daffodils.
Ten days ago I took a bouquet of daffodils to 97-year-old Betty Brooke McCord. (I enjoy taking cut flowers to her every few weeks.) At Betty Brooke’s house, her son, my friend Walter McCord, mentioned a certain daffodil party pooper. PhillipLarkin, tired of Wordsworth’s joyful ode, wrote: “Deprivation is for me is what daffodils were for Wordsworth.” Larkin’s daffodil snub leads me to assume the English poet was a crank—or pretended to be one.
Bruce Eveslage’s invitation, for the return of a party once known as the Daffodil Doo Dah, arrived on March 3rd, the same day that a vicious and a little-too-exciting storm, dropped thousands of trees and knocked out power for tens of thousands of homes over portions of central Kentucky. We lost a huge white pine, and power for four days, yet it was impossible to ignore the extraordinary beauty, and even the arrogance of our daffodils—sturdy and unfazed by near hurricane-force winds.
Merriam-Webster describes a doodah as a “state of tremulous excitement.”
“Science and gardening are bedfellows, but not as snug as they should be,” Robin Lane Fox wrote in the Financial Times Weekend edition on February 19th. “My impression is that science and gardening are now in more of an embrace. One good reason is that the changing climate has brought them together.”
A fitful, climate-warming embrace.
Now, each late winter, fed up with damp, cold and gray, Rose and I grow desperate for the triumphant return of ten thousand daffodil blooms—or more.
We had barely cut our first bouquets of daffodils when the temperature hit 80 F (27 C) on March 1st. This struck me as too much like summer, and I am not in a rush for summer’s heat and humidity. I worship at the altar of Kentucky’s natural beauty in spring, but we are not out of the winter woods in March.
The intense low-pressure system swept through two days later, producing “violent thunderstorms, dangerous winds, flooding and several small tornadoes,” according to the weekly Harrodsburg-Herald. Climate’s new abnormal slapped us with wind gusts approaching 70 mph.
It was a perfect storm
The ground was softened from 2.5 inches of rain, and for the second year in a row, another big white pine was toppled. What a mess.
Mac Reid, my friend, a landscape architect who lives a mile from us in Salvisa, has been cutting up fallen trees for a month. He reminded me, “Anything worth having comes with benefits and risks, trees included.”
Rose and I began binge planting 500 daffodil bulbs in the fall of 2011. We chose good, affordable naturalizers: Ice Follies, Barret Browning, Delibes, Fortune, Salome and the poet’s daffodil—Narcissus actaea. There are few plants this easy to grow that can last for generations.
Since the first planting we have seen flood waters try to drown portions of our daffodils and heavy, wet snow weigh them down. They persevere with cheerful indifference.
We have held our own spontaneous Daffodil Doo Dahs
Despite the storm, two-acres of blooming daffodils in the bottomland below the barn felt surreal, like “riding a gravy train with biscuit wheels.” Friends and neighbors dropped by to gawk at the fallen pine tree and stare in wonder at the daffodils. Pick-your-own bouquets were encouraged.
A few friends who straddle the Ohio River between Kentucky and Indiana have celebrated daffodils since the first-known Daffodil Doo Dah in 2002. This has become Bruce Eveslage’s Mardi Gras. Damn past and future storms. Laissez les bon temps rouler.
Eveslage’s daffodil tradition was put on hold during the pandemic but returned this year as the Time Warp Doo Dah 2023,scheduled for April 1st. No fooling.
The Doo Dah invitation was accompanied with photos from previous Daffodil Doo Dahs. Eveslage, the talented one-time dessert chef at Louisville’s Afro-German Tea Room (and recently retired professional gardener), is curious, artful and has the most infectious laugh in the gardening world. Bruce has lived most of his life in Floyds Knobs, Indiana, across the Ohio River from Louisville. He named his 20-acre Shangri-La: Swampview. The name was a response to real- estate developers who come up with dreamy names for subdivisions, such as Poplar Ridge, and then cut down all the tulip poplars. There is no swamp, but there is a nice view where Bruce has planted water-tolerant bald cypresses that now accompany a few native sycamores in a wet area.
The day of the Doo Dah arrived
Our daffodils have been two weeks earlier than normal; Bruce’s were right on schedule.
The name Daffodil Doo Dah is within the public’s domain. It is free for any of you to use as you please. Don’t be shy. Go ahead and plant 50 daffodils in the fall and host your own party next spring.
My granddaughter demonstrated her daffodil-planting expertise in 2015.
There is plenty of wonder left
It is wildflower season in the moist woods of Floyds Knobs, Indiana and Salvisa, Kentucky. There are tons of wake robins, Virginia bluebells, mayapples and toothworts. What could be more beautiful.
The tremulous excitement is far from over.