Beginning in mid-April, the field and yard leading to Kay Gillispie’s home in Green Bank radiates bright yellows, golds and whites as her collection of daffodils break through the ground to enjoy the warm spring weather.
Gillispie’s daffodils have grown from small clumps of one variety to an array of varieties and colors in the past 15 years.
“When I first came to the farm in about 2003, there were a lot of old daffodils there that weren’t blooming well,” she said. “So I started going out and lining up these clumps. When I’d find a clump, it might have a hundred bulbs in it, so that’s a hundred holes I dug.”
Once those daffodils were separated and began to flourish, Gillispie caught the bug and began adding to her collection. She perused flower and seed catalogs and began to purchase daffodils – large and small – to add to the field.
“At first, I might only buy five or ten of each variety, just to see what I like, and when I really like one, I’ll buy more the next time,” she said. “I’ve gotten so that I know some of these are my favorites. I’ve been doing this a number of years and putting a lot of bulbs in. I did about twenty-one hundred this fall. It took me about three weeks.”
Daffodils belong to the Narcissus family and come in 13 different divisions, which include hundreds of varieties.
Gillispie enjoys trying out different varieties and mixing them together in the field.
“Being an artist – I like color, texture, form – so I have one bulb that’s called Avalanche or Seventeen Sisters, so it’s one stem with about fourteen to seventeen little blooms on it. Then I have one called Hawera – they’re almost grassy like. The little tete-a-tetes – they’ll come out of the ground blooming, and they look about the size of a nickel.”
Over the years, Gillispie has had different types of flowers in her garden, but the daffodils have become her favorite because they keep her active.
“I have gardened with perennials for years, and for a long time I was into day lilies,” she said. “I had thousands of day lilies, but that’s summertime. The daffodils got me out there walking.
These winters are hard on us and to get me out there to walk – because I won’t walk in the winter very well. It’s too cold, and I don’t want to get my feet muddy or whatever, but if I see a little daffodil poking up, I will walk out there and check them out.
“So it’s stimulating,” she continued. “I will faithfully go out there and check on my little babies.”
The Gillispie homestead has always had gardens, but they weren’t filled with flowers. Instead, they were vegetable gardens which Gillispie has now turned into flower gardens.
“My mother-in-law had vegetable gardens, but she never had a flower,” she said. “If you couldn’t eat it, you didn’t grow it. So when I came, I started taking the old gardens and planting flowers.”
With thousands of daffodils, Gillispie is constantly checking on the blooms and picking the mature ones to make room for new blooms. Not one to keep things to herself, she makes bouquets, which she shares with the community.
“That’s part of the fun,” she said. “I’ve got so many and they multiply. The way I look at it, the Lord’s blessing me every time I do this. It’s just a nice gesture. You know that old saying, ‘Give me my flowers while I still live?’ They’re cheerful. They lift your spirits. I take them to church. I take them to the bank. I take them to the doctor’s office. That’s just what I do.”
With sharing the wealth of blooms, Gillispie has turned friends on to daffodils, to the point where one in particular decided she wanted to start growing her own collection.
“Laura Jean Rittenhouse – when she saw mine, she had to have daffodils, too,” she said. “She wanted some tiger lilies to go with them.”
Gillispie helped Rittenhouse order the flowers and now Rittenhouse has her own flower garden.
Despite all the work she puts into the daffodils, Gillispie calls herself a lazy gardener, mainly because she gets a little help with the field that makes it easier to plant her bulbs.
“This is the other thing about the lazy gardener that I am,” she said. “Once you put them in the ground and that work is over, all you have to do is wait for them to come through. In May, we rent out the pasture. The cows chew down the grass so my fields are manicured. My daffodils are coming up through this manicured green grass. The cows fertilize them and keep the grass neat.”
While it is true the cows do help with maintaining the field, it takes a lot of work to do what Gillispie does. Not only does she have the daffodils, which she adds to by the thousands each year, she also plants summer and fall blooms.
“My style of gardening is like the naturalizing or English gardens – one plant will cover up another one,” she said. “Everything has its turn of blooming and growing. So, the little spring bulbs will be covered with something later and you’ll have your fall things that cover your early spring blooming stuff. That’s part of it, too. Everybody gets to share the ground.”
The daffodils will continue to bloom until late May, early June and will rest until next April, when it’s time to add a bright splash of color to Gillispie’s field once again.