California Daffodils -San Francisco Chronicle-1900

Spring Daffodils Barn Field Image Credit


California Daffodils -San Francisco Chronicle-1900

The Lady of the Daffodils lives in Haywards. Her father is a painter and she herself sang in opera, and now the artistic feeling that first manifested itself in color and then in sound comes out in form and fragrance, and every one who buys an early daffodil in San Francisco and breathes in its faintly perfumed breath may fancy that he has received in another form the sweetness of Ivy Wandesford's songs—for Mrs. Wandesford Kersey is the Lady of the Daffodils. She grows them by the ton, she counts them by the hundred thousand, she sorts them with fingers that contain a supplementary sense, throwing the perfect ones of proper size to one side and the defective ones of unsymmetrical development to another, like the sheep and goats in the Biblical prophecy —only Mrs. Kersey is very tender with the goats. Them she plants again in the soft brown velvet of the sloping hillside and gives them another chance to grow into strength and beauty, and after a twelvemonth these bulbs that were weighed in her fingers and found wanting are full and globe-shaped and fit to send East to blossom in green and gold.

Eight years ago Mrs. Kersey, who lives with her parents, found that here the daffodils were the best and earliest in all the countryside. The discovery was accidental. There was, behind the house, up the path where the grape-vine and the white fig from the Azores grow, a hillside whose gentle slope stretched in a peculiarly inviting way to the sun. This was the place where the daffodils grew. Something in the golden hearts of the daffodils appealed to the singer, who straightway bought the bulb-lore of the Dutch" and began to study. For eight years, with unwearied application, she devoted herself to books on bulbs, until she mastered the daffodil branch, so difficult and complicated a thing is the growing of lilies—. those lilies of the field, which, of all flowers, seem to grow most by themselves, without human interference, with no cutting or pruning or transplanting. On the nourishment and care of bulbs an entire literature has been built, and Mrs. Kersey, with the painstaking zeal of the specialist, has confined herself to one branch, hence her success. She admits that she is only an amateur in the matter of hyacinths, of tulips, out on daffodils she is an authority. She is only just beginning to see beyond the rim of her daffodil beds. She has begun the cultivation of the yellow Spanish iris and of the large and interesting narcissus family, but the children of Narcissus are banished from the carefully fenced precincts where the daffodils grow, and the best that they can do in the spring is to peep between the pickets at the sheets of yellow, where thousands of favored daffodils are carefully sheltered.

The daffodil garden is on a sloping brown hillside. Just now part of the hill is resting under a coverlid of brown weeds. Under the weeds sleep thousands of daffodils, each parent bulb surrounded by its young family. In the spring all these bulbs will wake up, and by January the whole hillside will be like the field of the cloth of gold. The fragrance of the place may be inhaled for a mile, and people passing on the road—unromantic people hurrying to market—vaguely turn their faces toward the house that plays hideand-seek in the trees and wonder what that breath of spring means in the winter time. The daffodil garden is divided into sections by pear trees. Instead of impoverishing the soil they seem to improve it, and the rows of trees serve to separate varieties. But the pear trees have something more to do than to act as rows of gendarmes separating one handsome flower family from an envious neighbor. Sometimes in the spring there comes a week of sudden sunshine, hot, penetrating, and under the searching rays the daffodils shrink and the beautiful petals of beaten gold are transformed into a mummy's dry and crackling skin. The daffodils, shade-loving and moisturecraving, shrink into themselves and all the beautiful cups go brown. The flower is literally cooked on its juicy and pipe-like stem. The friendly and protecting arms oPthe pear trees, bare of leaves at that season, are utilized as tent-poles, and from them bolts of cheesecloth are spread over the field of the cloth of gold to protect it from a sun which must envy its beautiful color and seek to draw it to himself.

From three to five weeks before anybody else's daffodils are ready to burst their slender, boatlike shells, Mrs. Kersey's flowers are showing a faint line of yellow against the green, and therein lies her success. It is the early flower that catches the market. In time for the Christmas trade her daffodils are in the shops, and their golden tissue shines at many a Christmas dinner and lights the dark corners in many a wintry room. When clouds hang low and skies are glowering, her daffodils shed a radiance which seems like the sun himself. For at least a month she has a monopoly of the market. Five of the leading city florists are supplied by her, and their clamor is ever for more, more. Prices are good, and the little buds

cannot come out fast enough to suit the demand. Even the daffodils forced under glass do not blossom as quickly or as freely as these openair flowers on the warm hillside which they find so congenial. Suddenly the floodgates are opened. Everybody else's bulbs start ablooming and the market is flooded. Prices go down, the flowerboys hawk daffodils on the street and the golden age of the daffodil is over. When the blossoms are sold at a cent apiece Mrs. Kersey no longer bothers about cut flowers, but devotes herself to her bulbs, which is the main business of the year. She has many orders from the East, for they find it cheaper there to buy new bulbs than to plant the old bulbs after forcing. A daffodil bulb, like everything that has been forced, must rest some time, and the Eastern growers find that it takes years for the life and health to come back to the exhausted bulbs which have been hurried into early blooming by their persuasive furnaces and glass roofs.

The chatelaine of the daffodils is exceedingly careful of the diet of her pets, for they must be fed, like anything else. They are very light eaters, with dainty appetites. Manures are for heavy feeders, and daffodils will not grow in manured grounds until some grosser flower has first been put in to take the superabundant nourishment from the soil. Fertilizers are used by Mrs. Kersey and what they are she would refuse to tell you, if you were ill-bred enough to ask, for this is her own secret, part of the lore which she has learned from those Dutch tomes over which she has been poring early and late for years.

It is by no means all play on the daffodil farm. The heavy work is done by a gardener, assisted by a scraper and two horses. The gardener does some of the planting, but all of the work is under the close personal supervision of the mistress. The daffodils, blooming, resting, waking, sleeping, are scarcely out of her sight for a single day.. The blossoming host she watches herself, for the whole wealth of the year lies garnered there. She knows the bulbs so well that she can tell most of the varieties without knowing which row of pear trees sheltered them. Each season brings its own labor. On the first of September Mrs. Kersey begins her planting. Then comes the time for tending the narcissus, of which several varieties are grown. In August the garden is full of exquisite dahlias, which go to the florists for decorating. There are great crimson and white ones, their heads almost too heavy for their slender throats. But these are only side issues, as are the sturdy gilly-flowers and the dragon-snappers—the daffodil's the queen of this garden and the rose is only a secondary thing.
The mistress's heart is fixed on a daffodil which is advertised in one of the magazines devoted to the flower—a creature with a long Latin name which does not fit a flower half as well as it would fit a steam plow or a threshing machine. This particular daffodil is a giant and the bulbs only cost $60 apiece. They are transported at the owner's'risk, and if the bulb be barren the loss is the buyer's. But if it should bloom—that is a possibility which the lover of daffodils cannot contemplate without a prickling in the hair. There is something about flower-growing which makes the dweller among flowers more human, more gentle, more worth living with.

The last sentence contains a truth which has been felt for may years. Sir Walter Scott knew it, when in drawing the character of Rose Bradwardine. whom Waverley found more "worth living with" than the majestic Flora Maclvor, he added the delicate touch that she was a lover of flowers. The hero of the novel found the major domo of TullyV'eolan "just amusing himself in the meantime with dressing Miss Rose's flower-bed," and on ascending to her boudoir saw that the gallery before her window was "crowded with flowers of different kinds, which she had taken under her special protection." We must, however, leave the reader to discover the truth of the statement in his or her own daily life.