Lessons from a Daffodil Garden
I love the story author Jaroldeen Edwards tells (Things I Wish I’d Known Sooner) of the trip she took with her daughter one bleak and rainy day. She wasn’t thrilled to drive more than two hours to see flowers some woman had planted. But her daughter insisted. “You’re going to love this, Mom!” Tell me what mom could resist going along with that kind of enthusiasm.
They drove along the Rim of the World Highway, inching their way toward Lake Arrowhead through fog and drizzle in the San Bernardino Mountains, north of Los Angeles, Calif.
By now, Jaroldeen was so agitated, she was certain she was being kidnapped by her daughter. Still not convinced this could be worth the trouble, she kept her mouth shut while Carolyn parked next to a small stone church and announced they would need to walk along a path, through huge, black-green evergreens and over a thick blanket of old pine needles.
Just as they turned the corner, Jaroldeen stopped dead—literally gasping in amazement. “There before me was a most incredible and glorious sight! So unexpected and unimagined.”
From the top of the mountain, sloping down several acres across folds and valleys, between the trees and bushes, following the natural flow of the terrain, were rivers of daffodils in radiant bloom. Every color of the spectrum of yellow-blazed like a carpet before them.
Why? How? Her mind flooded with questions for how this could be.
The Daffodil Garden is the handiwork of one woman. A former Los Angeles High School art teacher, Gene Bauer, with her husband, still lives on the property. Their small home (rebuilt after having been destroyed by fire two times) fits perfectly into the scene in the midst of all the glory.
As Jaroldeen approached the mountain home situated in that sea of yellow, she saw a sign posted by someone who was clearly tired of answering the same questions:
Answers to the Questions I Know You are Asking
Two Hands, Two Feet
Very Little Brain
One Bulb at a Time
Started in 1958
This one woman, beginning in 1958, planted each daffodil bulb by hand, one at a time. No shortcuts.
Year after year, one dried-up seemingly-lifeless bulb at a time, she planted more than 1,000,000 bulbs. She forever changed her world by creating something of magnificence, beauty, and inspiration.
This garden consists of daffodils planted in drifts over the contours of a mountainous terrain covering vast portions of the entire five acres. There are paths that lead to eight sitting and viewing areas.
It is a private garden, designed, personally maintained, and financed by (Alma) Gene Bauer and husband, Dale Bauer.
The period of bloom covers a season of six weeks in the Spring. By their very nature, some bulbs bloom early, some mid-season, and some late. Each flower is in good condition for two weeks—if not damaged by winter storms.
Gene Bauer selected and planted every bulb on the entire expanse of this breathtaking garden. Dale has assisted in the design of the garden and with the construction of the paths and bench shelters.
Just trying to grasp the enormity of this story—this woman—sent me into research mode. I turned up details that still boggle my mind. Suddenly my petty areas of overwhelm—my tiny garden—appear so puny by comparison so as to be minuscule.
- Over 1,000,000 bulbs planted.
- There are three to ten flowers per bulb.
- The planting has taken place over 49 years.
- The goal: Plant 1,000 bulbs a day as time and weather permit.
- Some bulbs planted in 1958 are still blooming.
- No artificial watering.
- No fertilizing.
- Never dug out and divided.
- Deadheading (removing spent flowers) is the only care received.
- More than 500 different varieties of daffodils planted.
- All bulbs planted are hybrids.
- After clearing and spading an area to be planted, Gene sat on the ground and planted each bulb using a hand trowel.
- Even on the two occasions as fires ravaged the property above ground, the bulbs hunkered down, only to rise again the following spring—year after year, after year.
“If I am planning to plant 1,000 bulbs in a day, I place 200 on the ground so as not to overwhelm myself. I sit on the ground and, using a trowel, plant them. They are spaced about 6 inches apart. My left hand picks up the first bulb, my right hand holds the trowel that digs the hole, then the bulb is dropped in and covered with soil dug from the next hole.
“I always begin at the bottom of the slope (nothing is flat here) and work uphill, sitting on top of the already planted bulbs. I always plant left to right. I try to plant 600 before I stop for my mid-day nourishment. That leaves 400 to plant after lunch and it’s always nice to know I have completed over half the task for the day.” — Gene Bauer
You can read more of Dale and Gene Bauer’s historical account of their beautiful Daffodil Garden.
I love to read and recall this story because it holds so many life lessons. As I write, I am waiting and watching for my first daffodil to peek its little head out of the ground. Oh, how the promise of spring makes my heart sing! It fills me with enthusiasm, gratitude, joy—and promise!
Gene Bauer’s example has inspired me to see the “five acres” in my life not as impossibilities but as challenges to tackle—with a plan in mind, a trowel in hand, one “bulb” at a time.
How about you? What do you need to accomplish? Declutter your home? Plant a garden? Build an emergency fund, pay down your debt, downsize to a smaller lifestyle?
Why not get started today? Take that first step. Then take another over and over again, one baby step at a time.
You will be amazed at what will come of your effort no matter how small. Soon you’ll be changing the landscape of your life one tiny, beautiful step of promise at a time.
For 40 years, Gene Bauer opened her property for three weeks each spring, free of charge, so the public could bask in the glory of all that yellowness; in the passion and hard work of a woman intent on making the world a more beautiful place.
Bauer said the people who flocked to her home each year were generally polite and respectful. But she’s elderly now, and preparing the property for visitors has become too much to handle. In 2009, she posted signs around her house saying the Daffodil Garden was closed to visitors forever.
It still is, but now Bauer has filled the void with a different offering of beauty. Her collected artistic works are found in the book Botanical Serigraphs: The Gene Bauer Collection.
I just revisited near my hometown of Newton iL and near the Dieterich blacktop Road there is a hill that says “ Hello” planted in daffodils. Awesome to see every year!
We have been up there, several years (we live in the L A suburbs). Beyond beautiful.
Mrs. Bauer deserves both awe and great respect.
I’d love to see this display. Perhaps someday it will be open to the public again. I read about this about 10 years ago, and it inspired me to plant daffodils of my own. Nothing on this massive scale, but I probably have a thousand in my front yard. If I could do it over, I wouldn’t mix the varieties. I’d plant the same variety throughout the entire bed, and not have dead or dying flowers next to live flowers.
Take a look at the link at the end of the post. It’s the history of the land and the Daffodil Garden written by Dale and Gene Bauer. It’s fascinating and she says what you mentioned. She purposely did not mix the varieties. And the lengths she went to, to find and import specific bulbs. I hope that her family will see the Garden as her legacy to be kept and open for decades to come!
Gosh, what beautiful story! so inspirational!
Wow, words escape me! I have never heard of this before. What a beautiful story and metaphor for life! Thank you for sharing, Mary. .