Carolyn Singer: The legacy of Narcissus |

Carolyn Singer: The legacy of Narcissus

Weeks of Narcissus bloom end with a species on the old Sonntag homestead.
Photo by Carolyn Singer

The glistening white of the wild plum blossoms seems undiminished by the cool wet weather this spring.

Throughout our native woodlands, the plum often appears in the most unlikely locations, adding a bright spot in March, thriving with no summer irrigation. While rain keeps the bees from visiting the fragrant flowers, I pick some sprays to bring indoors for my own enjoyment.

Perhaps the weather has benefitted the thousands of daffodils along the Golden Center Freeway between Grass Valley and Nevada City. Certainly the blossoms are lasting longer with the cool days. But it also seems there are more flowers this year than ever before. Could this be attributed to the increased rainfall?

We have many people to thank for the daffodil plantings. Begun as a Nevada County Master Gardener (University of California extension) project in the early 1980s, each year has brought more plantings, more spring beauty to our community.

Initially, Lin Donald of Nevada City was a primary force behind the bulb plantings. Her inspiration, passion, and dedication in the beginning – and continuing for more than a decade – have been her gift to all of us.

Lin tells me that over 80,000 bulbs were planted in more than a decade. That’s a lot of digging. Plus many handfuls of soft rock phosphate to stimulate root development and ensure that the bulbs would multiply. Perhaps most significant were the number of hands engaged in the actual planting, community members of all ages.

I have noticed over the years that a couple of the areas initially planted to bulbs were no longer healthy. Hopefully this has not been due to pesticide applications during freeway maintenance.

I also observed one year someone picking the daffodils, their vehicle parked on the shoulder of Highway 49. The display of daffodils is for all of us. No picking allowed.

However, if you are growing your own and wish to use them as cut flowers, bring any Narcissus inside. Before heading outside, bring a small pan of water to boiling and then shut off the heat. This is the first step in conditioning a bulb flower.

I usually pick a mixed bouquet of different cultivars, and at varying stages of bloom. Some will be fully open, others beginning to open, and others at bud stage. Back inside my cozy home, I dip the cut ends in the hot water for a few seconds to seal the stem. Flowers are then placed in the vase with lukewarm water.

The first spring I spent on Sonntag Hill in 1978, hundreds of Narcissus appeared. Few were the large daffodil we enjoy along the freeway. All bloomed just slightly later than the “King Alfred” bulbs I had planted the previous fall. And they were fragrant! I was hooked. Over the years I added many species and cultivars, extending the bloom season of Narcissus from February to May.

Ordering bulbs I could not find in local nurseries, I surrounded my home with spring beauty. In late winter when foliage first appeared, the “Sonntag” Narcissus was often moved from shady locations far from the house to closer locations along the driveway and outside windows. I was unable to find this particular cultivar in bulb catalogs. The bloom, slightly nodding, is smaller than the classic “King Alfred.” Some are soft yellow, some pale yellow, others white with yellow.

Years ago, exploring a property on Blum Lane in Chicago Park, I was drawn to an old hillside barn on the hillside. There was the “Sonntag” Narcissus filling the slope below the barn with its charm, fragrance, and color. I realized that Grandma Sonntag must have taken some to this rural landscape when she left the old homestead to live with one of her children, Gertrude Blum.

Nurturing soil, adding beauty, sharing with community. We can each do our part to add to this legacy.

Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of the award-winning “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom”, and two volumes of “Deer in My Garden” (deer-resistant plants), available locally. Send your gardening questions and comments to Check out her website at

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