A site to see: 40,000 daffodils to bloom in Amherst this May

Friday, April 25, 2014
When the yellow trumpets of daffodils finally bloom we can be assured that spring is truly here. They really lift our spirits.

“Daffodils are a symbol of happiness,” says Dolly Jolly, an Amherst resident who spearheaded the plantings of thousands of daffodils several years ago to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the founding of Amherst. Jolly was a member of the anniversary committee at the time and wanted to start a neighborhood project for the festivities.

She enlisted the aid of the Garden Club of Amherst and Denise Gagnon, a club member, became her co-chairwoman of the “Amherst in Bloom” project. The club held a special fall plant sale, raising $1,300 to purchase daffodils that bloom around May 1.

Gagnon said everyone is eager for spring this year. At CVS recently a clerk recognized her and said, “I can’t wait for the daffodils.” Last year someone emailed Gagnon to say “I love the daffodils on Cushman Common.”

Daffodils come in many sizes, shapes and colors these days. Some varieties normally bloom by April 1 while others start flowering weeks later. Gagnon and Jolly conferred with Dianne Klenotic at Hadley Garden Center and chose three cultivars that are late-flowering, around May 1.

They are ‘Thalia’, a white multi-flowered variety, ‘Camelot’, a large-cup yellow, and ‘Goblet’, a bicolor with a white perianth and yellow trumpet. The next year they added ‘Actaea’, a very old poeticus variety that has a large, white perianth, a small, yellow cup, a green eye and red edge that is especially good for naturalizing.

That first year, the fall of 2008, the Daffodil Project resulted in the planting of more than 20,000 daffodil bulbs to bloom the following spring. They planted in public parks like the Town Common, South Amherst Common, North Amherst Library, Cushman Common, East Street Common, Groff Park, Mill River and Kendrick Park.

Since then, with private funds and underwriting from the Business Improvement District (BID) of Amherst, an additional 20,000 bulbs have been planted, mostly in public parks, especially downtown. Many homeowners have bought bulbs, too, adding to the display around town.

“This is exactly what the BID is about, trying to bring people to Amherst,” said Sharon Povinelli, treasurer of the BID. In the past two years the organization has contributed $8,500 to purchase and plant bulbs downtown.

Daffodil festivals

Jolly says she was inspired by a similar, long-standing project on Cape Cod in the town of Brewster where hundreds of thousands of daffodils bloom along the byways and in public parks.

“Although we have been going to the Cape for years, we never knew that Brewster had a daffodil 
festival until we happened to drive through one spring weekend,”Jolly said. “There is one field of daffodils that is absolutely spectacular and there are thousands of daffodils all over town.” Brewster’s festival is nearly 30 years old.

Yankee magazine just featured another Daffodil Project, this one on Nantucket. The annual Daffodil Festival there, founded in 1974, celebrates a planting of 1 million bulbs across the island. According to this month’s article in the magazine, the event brings 9,000 visitors to the island for the unofficial beginning of the tourist season. The festival includes an antique car parade with the cars decorated with daffodils, special yellow and green restaurant menu items, a hat festival and an American Daffodil Society flower show.

Last fall a group in Boston vowed to plant daffodils along the 26-mile route of the Boston Marathon from Hopkinton to Boston. They raised money from individuals, businesses and such nonprofit groups as Tower Hill Botanic Garden, New England Wild Flower Society and Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Nearly 100,000 “Marathon Daffodils” have been planted so far.

Jolly says she would like to use the presence of the flowers to create events that will make Amherst a “daffodil destination.” The first event they proposed was a Daffodil Fun Run. She and Gagnon approached Renee Moss of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Hampshire County to see if she would organize a road race past the daffodil plantings in the spring.

“I say yes to everything,” Moss said, and started the Daffodil Fun Run in 2011.

The 5K road race for runners and walkers on Sunday this year goes past the public parks where daffodils are planted.

“Our vision is to get the businesses more involved with sales and restaurants,” Moss said. “It should be community event, a festive welcoming of spring.” The race, she added, has become a family event for participants in Big Brothers/Big Sisters. “The Bigs bring their Littles and there are a lot of students involved as Bigs.”

Last year the Daffodil Fun Run raised $40,000 for the nonprofit organization that benefits local children.

“If anything I can say has come out of our project, that is it,” Dolly said.

At the end of the run there is a cookout for Daffodil Run participants in Kendrick Park. Gerry Jolly, owner of The Pub, his chef, Oscar Sarvia, Barry Roberts of the BID, former Amherst police chief Charlie Scherpa and Carol Hepburn, the town animal officer, flip hamburgers, hot dogs and veggie burgers.

A new feature of Amherst in Bloom this year is the Chalk Walk. Kate Lockhart of Big Brothers/Big Sisters noticed a similar project in Northampton, consulted the organizers there and recruited 11 area artists to draw daffodils in front of local business. Lockhart said she got permission from businesses who are sponsors of the Fun Run to use their sidewalk space. The Chalk Walk is Saturday, part of the Sustainability Festival in Amherst. The Fun Run is Sunday.

Drifts of daffodils

Jolly and Gagnon, who have coordinated “Amherst in Bloom” since 2008, say they would welcome volunteer help. “So far it’s just been Denise and me,” Jolly said. “Our goal has been to plant more and more daffodils but we can’t single-handedly do this.”

She gladly acknowledges however, that students from Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have helped plant the bulbs every fall for their community service day. In addition, local landscapers Taylor Davis, Tory Chlanda of Lawn Jockey, Steve Prothers of Amherst Landscape Design, Jason Edwards from Curb to Curb, the former Annie’s Garden & Gift Store, and Gordon Fletcher-Howell, as well as Hope Crolius of Artemis have helped get the bulbs in the ground. Residents of local developments like Echo Hill, Amherst Woods and Orchard Valley have banded together to plant lots of daffodils at intersections.

In the town’s parks, the daffodils are carefully sited around trees to minimize headaches for town employees mowing lawns.

“Every year we beg Guilford (Mooring, town DPW head) ‘Please, don’t mow, please don’t mow,’ ” Jolly reported. If daffodil foliage is mowed before it yellows, the flowers fail to return the next year.

Jolly and Gagnon say they hope to get school children involved in planting bulbs and perhaps with window art in the spring, and a children’s parade.

They would also like to see drifts of daffodils in fields at the entrances to town to welcome visitors. That will take thousands of daffodils. Gagnon noted that people often think if they plant 25 mixed bulbs that is a lot.

“You need hundreds of one kind to make a real impact,” she said. “We planted about 800 in Sweetser Park. For the 250th anniversary we were going for the “wow factor,” she said.

Gagnon and Jolly are now scouting sites on Routes 9 and 116, and on Pelham Road and Amity Street for the additional plantings. But finding funding for areas outside of the downtown area is a challenge; the BID concentrates its involvement in the center of town.

“We’re really grateful for the money from the BID but that is basically downtown, so we need to get sponsorship for the roadside plantings,” Jolly said.

“Amherst in Bloom” is an official 501c3 nonprofit organization and welcome financial donations of any size.

People can send as little as $5, Gagnon said, “because 150 small contributions add up quickly.”

Cheryl B. Wilson can be reached at valleygardens@comcast.net.