She grew daffodils. At first, she dug up bulbs from old homesteads nearby. Later, when the Breck’s catalogs came in the mail she would order some. They had names like ‘King Alfred’, ‘Rosy Cloud’, ‘Mrs. R.O. Backhouse’. In time the flowers multiplied, surrounding the house with clumps and drifts of daffodils. After the long dreary winters in southwest Washington, the yellow interspersed with cream and orange was a cheerful sight. Neighbors passing on the road would honk and wave when they saw what was going on at Dorothy’s house. Everyone enjoyed the daffodils, including me. Most years I tried to visit my grandparents during rainy blustery March, and I always came away with an arm-filling bouquet.
After Grampa died, Gramma’s zest for gardening declined. She wasn’t physically able to tend the domestic landscape she had tinkered with for years. Daffodils don’t need much care, so they came up every spring and she looked forward to that. I was instructed to dig up a bunch to plant at my house. They haven’t thrived here, and I don’t know why. Daffodils usually grow happily and multiply. For me, they straggle along slowly after the snow has melted. There are never enough of them that I feel I can bring any into the house. They are best enjoyed outside.
But I’m trying again. Gramma departed from this world in August at the age of 99. Today I finished planting the last of the 99 daffodil bulbs in her memory. I sent for a bag of 100 from Van Engelen, and was delighted at how big and robust the bulbs were. The collection is called “Sparkling Spring Mixture”, which reminded me of Gramma. I dug holes along the west side of my house between viburnum and ocean spray bushes. The shovel clanked on rocks left here by a retreating glacier. I picked some out and nestled seven or eight bulbs in each hole. Then I sprinkled the dirt back into the holes, and hoped for the best. Maybe there will be a long row of sparkling spring daffodils next March and April.
The hundredth daffodil bulb I tucked into a corner in another part of the garden. It’s a sentimental place, my garden. Like my gramma, I dig plants up from elsewhere. Some are from her place–the honeysuckle, peonies, phlox, goatsbeard, ferns, hop vine, Christmas rose. The latter is a start she got from the Benthien Brothers Nursery near Orting in the 1940s or 50s–my grampa’s maternal family (Benthiens) had a horticultural bent. That must come down through blood and bone, because I am certainly not the only gardener among my relatives. I’m trying to think of a single one of them who doesn’t have at least a partial green thumb or appreciation for plants.
The garden is tucked in. The leaves have been raked and piled for composting. Beds have been composted, the last lanky plants cut back. Garlic has been planted, and two plastic tunnels protect kale and other greens. I even tacked black tar paper to three sides of the beehive, to help the bees stay a little warmer this winter. A few staggered out when I swiped a little bit of honeycomb from them–both boxes are nearly full, so they should eat well till spring. The ground is frozen an inch deep, and a few flakes fell as I finished the chores. Even under snow, I can see the structure of my garden and remember how it looks when it’s growing. For now though, it rests.