In gardening, as in life, sometimes it's hard to let go of a fantasy. My fantasy was Daffodil Hill.
The inspiration came from the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens' Daffodil Hill, one of my favorite spots in New York City. After a bleak, gray winter, there is no happier sight than that host of golden daffodils, fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Our house in Cary is a corner lot with a steep hill on the side. When we moved in, said hill was covered with grass - or rather, "grass," that special North Carolina blend of Whatever Grows in Compacted Clay. Mowing it was like riding a roller coaster. First you chug slowly and laboriously up the hill, praying all the while that you will not slip backwards. At the top, you do an about-face, then you and the lawn mower go flying downhill at breakneck speed. After a few brushes with death, the thrill wore off and we decided to let the adjacent ivy take over. That's when the fantasy kicked in.
The plan was simple: plant 100 daffodils on the hill, then sit back and wait for them to spread. Toss on a little bulb fertilizer each year, and voilà - Daffodil Hill South.
I was hopeful about my chances. Bulbs can be tricky in the south, but daffodils are among the better ones for warm climates. The trick is choosing your variety carefully - some do just fine with minimal winter chill, others do not - so I made sure to buy a mix suited to the area. Daffodils are also supposed to be somewhat more tolerant of clay soil than other bulbs. I amended the soil as much as I could, hole by hole, then sat back and waited.
I am now 4 years into my little experiment and, sadly, Daffodil Hill South is not going to make it into any guidebooks. Some varieties (most notably Actaea) are multiplying well, but many others (especially the showy large-flowered varieties) are going blind. Translation: you get foliage but no flowers. Far from getting bigger and better each year, my display just gets weaker and punier.
Now that the rose-colored glasses have come off, I recognize that it was an ill-conceived plan from the get-go. What was I thinking? The soil is crummy, and no amount of pine bark will ever change that, especially on a steep hill. The ivy has now taken over and is probably hogging all the nutrients. And between the ivy and the northern exposure, the daffodils don't get enough light.
A few feet away, in a more exposed part of the yard, my Jetfire daffodils are doing just fine. Although they don't get a tremendous amount of sun and the soil isn't perfect, they multiply nicely and flower every year. Meanwhile, Daffodil Hill limps along.
Last fall, in a last-ditch attempt to salvage my dream, I put in another round of bulbs. This fall, older but wiser, I'm sitting it out. Plant in haste, repent at leisure.
The Galloping Horse Gardener is a native New Yorker who packed it in in 2005 to live under the radar in Cary, North Carolina. In 2014, she removed to a new secure location somewhere in Raleigh.
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