Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Bulbs

Painting with Daffodils

by Michael MacCaskey


The Bauer's Southern California hillside garden is blanketed in spring with daffodils and a pool of blue muscari.

A remarkable floral display occurs each spring high in the mountains of Southern California. More than five acres of mountain landscape are host to one million daffodils, accented by assorted other bulbs such as fritillarias, hyacinths, muscari, and tulips. Some of the flowers are in drifts that spill down the steep slopes; others stand in large beds. All were planted, one at a time, by one woman -- Gene Bauer. She started 38 years ago, inspired by a few daffodils in a neighbor's garden. Bauer planted 48 daffodils in the fall of 1958. Needless to say, they thrived. Since then she's planted more daffodils each fall, but in the thousands. Some years, Bauer plants as few as 8,000 bulbs. In the fall of 1993, she planted 35,000. It's a kind of gardening zeal that makes the spring bulb ambitions of most of us seem rather paltry.

Every slope cleared, every trail carved out of the hillside, every bulb planted -- all the hard work -- has been done by Gene and her husband, Dale, but mostly by Gene. Or as she puts it, "The work is done by two hands, two feet and a body minus a brain."

Bauer has learned how to plant fast: "I place bulbs over the area about six inches apart. I sit, dig a hole, drop in a bulb, and use the soil from the next hole to fill the previous hole."

Why daffodils? "First of all because they are beautiful and sturdy. But also because the bulbs are toxic. Gophers, squirrels and all the other critters that feast on tulips and other bulbs leave daffodils alone," says Bauer.

Running Springs, California, sits at a 5,500-foot elevation, well above most of the smog in the Los Angeles basin. Ecologically, it's a transition zone between chaparral and yellow pine forest. More importantly, it has a distinct cold season, which suits the daffodils just fine. Over the hilly five acres grow native black oak, incense cedar, white fir and Coulter, knobcone, sugar and ponderosa pines. The soil is acidic. For fall color, Bauer has planted sugar maples and scarlet oaks among the native trees.

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