Celebrate the friendliest flower
A while back when I was in a funk, I started a gratitude practice. Over the years, I'd read that expressing appreciation for the small joys of each day is a way to generate happiness.
Before going to sleep each night, I reviewed the day, thinking of three little things I was grateful for. 'A flock of bush tits flitting through the hedge … fresh wild salmon for supper … clean towels fresh from the dryer.'
A warm calm feeling filled me up like a cup of chamomile tea with honey. This gratitude practice lasted a while, but eventually faded away. This seems to be the way with good habits - it takes strong motivation to keep them up.
It took another struggle with the blues to start over, but this time in writing. In April 2009, I began a file on my desktop called Joys of the Day. Since then, I've been more faithful, writing not every single day, but often enough.
Just yesterday I wrote: 'Daffodils in a vase at the Gem Yoga Studio, brilliant yellow, with long ruffled trumpets, the picture of exuberance. Delicate yet strong, ephemeral yet eternal, rising every year from the mud to become some of our first flowers. I look at them and take in their warm light.'
Reflecting more this morning, I think of the person who planted the bulbs, maybe last September or perhaps years ago, and appreciate his or her efforts. Someone cut them, brought them to the studio and arranged them in a vase. Our teacher instructed us to walk around the studio looking mindfully at whatever drew us in - for me it was the bouquet of daffodils. I feel grateful for all of these individuals' efforts.
The image of beaming yellow daffodils stays with me as an icon of joy. They ask for just a little work at the front end: turning the soil, enriching it with a little bone meal, covering them up carefully and then leaving them to take root. Seasons pass before the sturdy stems pierce the soil, and after a while buds form and flowers unfurl. They bloom, fade, form seed, die back. Daffodils go through their changes, following their perfectly natural cycle.
The other night, while sharing a Chinese supper with my friend Nancy Lamb, I told her about my daffodil epiphany. Her face lit up.
'They are the friendliest flowers!' she said. 'Don't they just look happy? They have a gentleness about them, but sturdy stems so they're not wimpy.' Appreciating daffodils on my own was satisfying, but sharing it with a friend who really 'gets it' increased my joy exponentially.
Where to get daffodils
You can find the most popular daffodils in garden centers in autumn. But if you want unusual varieties - such as 'Jetfire' with bright orange-red trumpets, 'Tete-a-Tete' with super-early flowers or 'Cheerfulness' with piercing fragrance - mark your calendar right now to order the bulbs by mail this summer, before they're sold out. For large quantities, try Van Englen (www.vanengelen.com). Its sister company, John Sheepers (www.johnscheepers.com) carries the same bulbs, only in smaller quantities. I'm a big fan of Brent and Becky's Bulbs (www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com) for their size and quality.
Closer to home, and carrying unusual varieties, are Cherry Creek Daffodils (www.cherrycreekdaffodils.com) and Mitsch Novelty Daffodils (www.mitschdaffodils.com). When I visit their websites, I'm sure that some day I will turn my garden into a field of daffodils.
Luckily, even without planning, you can find six packs of daffodils in bloom right now in many garden centers and even markets. Enjoy them now and plant the bulbs as soon as the foliage dies back.
Where to plant them
Good places to tuck them are between the emerging crowns of summer-flowering perennials such as 'Rozanne' cranesbills (Geranium 'Rozanne'); in front of fall-blooming sedums such as 'Matrona' and 'Autumn Joy'; or at the edge of most any spring- or summer-flowering shrub.
In some years, I remember to order new batches in the summer, but when I forget, I head over to Costco and buy two big bags of daffodil mixes. As I cut back the skirts of billowing perennials that are spent, such as 'Red Shift' coreopsis and 'Ann Folkard' cranesbill, I plant handfuls of daffodils in the gaps.
Instead of digging single holes for each bulb, I open a space big enough for five or seven bulbs, sprinkle some bone meal and plop them in shoulder to shoulder. When they bloom in spring, they look like a ready-made bouquet.
Hardy Plant Society of Oregon's Spring and Art Sale, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., April 9 and 10, Portland EXPO Center, 2060 North Marine Drive. More than 110 specialty plant and and garden art vendors. Admission is free. Parking is $8 per space, $7 for carpools of 3 or more. For more information, visit www.hardyplantsociety.org/plantsale.htm .