Gardening & Landscaping
Editorial Copy + Images
Each fall for the past decade, members of the Lewisboro Garden Club in South Salem, New York, and community volunteers have spent a late-October Saturday morning planting thousands of daffodil bulbs. They’ve planted daffodils along town roads, in triangle intersections and traffic islands, and at schools, the fire department, the community center and more. In spring, gold and white flowers line the byways of this woodsy cluster of hamlets one hour north of New York City.
The project is called Golden Roads Daffodils. To date, the group has planted more than 38,000 daffodils along area roads, while inspiring local homeowners to plant 38,000 more on their own properties. Now in its 11th year, the roadside daffodil program has evolved into an efficient, streamlined operation.
“Our first two years, things were haphazard,” says Golden Roads founder and committee chairman George Scott. “Eventually you get organized. For instance, now we designate just one site per year to plant, which makes planting events more manageable and safer, too.” Scott works closely with fellow committee members Susie Andrews, Tracey Carriera, Timi Parsons, Gary Roehrborn and Beverly Scott to improve their event each year. Another refinement was to formally establish the garden club as a non-profit entity, making the financial side of things smoother.
For others interested in roadside daffodil projects, George Scott shares tips gleaned from the Golden Roads experience:
1. Daffodils like sun. They also like soil that drains well. No standing water. Where conditions are right, daffodils can multiply and bloom year after year. This is called naturalizing.
2. Plant roadside daffodils in the grass. Daffodils in grass are easy. They bloom before the grass starts growing, then die back and go dormant. After bloom, you just mow them down – but not too soon. Daffodil foliage must die back naturally for eight or more weeks after bloom so the bulbs can recharge with the energy needed to bloom the following spring. We put out homemade signs reading “Do Not Mow Until June 15” to remind town maintenance crews. Note: South Salem is in USDA climate zone 6b.
3. Buy top quality. A bloom display that lasts for four to six weeks each spring requires a blend of different types of daffodils that bloom at different times, early to late. We work with Colorblends, a national flower bulb wholesaler that sells direct to landscape professionals and home gardeners. Colorblends specializes in blends but also carries a long list of individual varieties.
4. Choose sites with impact. We’re looking for drive-by gardening experiences. Plant both sides of the road for an allée of flowers. Slopes are always dramatic. Roadways, median strips, public schools and even police headquarters are all candidates for a daffodil display.
5. Spreadsheets help. Use a spreadsheet to list everything that needs to be done during the year, including which committee member does what. In January, we put candidate planting sites to a committee vote, then apply for necessary permissions or permits. In April, we post "Golden Roads" signs in blooming beds and also put out “Don’t Mow” signs. In August, we request a police car to monitor traffic at our October planting event. In early November, we write a press release thanking our volunteers and donors, and submit it to the local newspaper. And so on.
6. Estimate costs and raise funds. In our early years, we staged a variety of fund-raising events. After five years, we realized that events are incredibly labor-intensive and daffodil planting projects are actually not hugely expensive. Now we rely mainly on donations and stage one fund-raising event each year. In September, we package daffodil bulbs in bags of 50 and 100 to sell at the town Library Fair, where we also recruit new volunteers.
7. Line up volunteers early. Schedule your planting event for the same Saturday morning each year, if you can. We usually plant in the last weekend in October, so we start sending e-blasts out in mid August. Cast the net widely. Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are always eager to help. So are many school groups, especially high school environmental studies classes. We use spreadsheets to assign everyone to specific tasks. Keep groups such as Girl Scouts together as they have more fun that way. When including groups of kids under 12, assign parents or other adults from that group to supervise at a ratio of one to three.
8. Grids make everything easier. Before planting day, block out the planting site in grids to make work assignments clear. We lay out multiple grids of about 40 to 45 square feet each, which we’ve found is a good size for planting 100 bulbs. We mark the borders with two-inch surveyor’s tape or athletic field paint and place a numbered landscape flag at a corner of each grid to identify it. Once a grid’s been planted, we move the flag to the center of the grid. For continuity, group safety, and to avoid winter road salt, we plant at least three feet from the roadway.
9. Make planting day organized and fun. Assign everyone a role. Our committee members are each responsible for a key task such as: planting team coordination, safety, bulb planting instruction, grid detail, digging rocks or moving things. All planting teams are assigned to a grid, with supervision. Our teams plant 4,000 bulbs in three hours: 9 am to 12 pm, working in two 90-minute shifts. There's now a clean-up shift, too: noon to 1:30 pm. We serve coffee, doughnuts and other refreshments.
10. Plant densely. In most cases, people will be viewing these plantings while driving by at 30 mph or more. The denser the planting, the higher the impact: plant bulbs four inches apart. We ask a volunteer to make a supply of six-inch-long sticks for use as planting depth guides. The sticks are also marked at four inches to indicate the desired space between bulbs. Large shovels are the best tools. When planting in grass, volunteers are instructed to dig down to the approximate depth and pull back a flap of sod. They do this either one hole at a time or they "hinge" back the grass in a long line. Others place the bulbs in the holes (a great way for kids to help). Then we replace the sod and press the flaps down with our feet. Later, the cleanup crews check each grid to address any issues, raking to remove leftover grass clumps, small stones and such. They use a tamper tool to flatten any uneven areas and to make doubly sure there are no air pockets underneath. Finally, we spread grass seed on the planted areas. Our goal is to leave the area looking like we’d never been there – until spring that is!