Bloom or Bust

Bloom or Bust

Daffodils, jonquils, narcissi. Call them what you will, they’re starting to bloom—a show whose climax is not to be missed.

In raised beds along Chapel Street from High to College, the show is well underway, starring a cheerful yellow variety with telltale flared cups framed by six-way bursts of petals. Hugging the boundaries of Yale’s Old Campus, they march around the corner and up a long block of College Street, appearing in diminishing numbers along the north side of Battell Chapel on Elm Street. You’ll find them snuggled up against the entrance to Sterling Memorial Library, too, a protected microclimate that produces some of the first blooms in the city.

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At least some of them are the result of a memorial gift by Yale’s longtime curator of maps, Alexander Vietor, and his wife, Anna Glen Butler Vietor, in memory of their 9-year-old daughter, Barbara, who died in 1966. Anna Vietor’s 2005 obituary in the Vineyard Gazette on Martha’s Vineyard notes that “after the death of her daughter, Barbara, she and her husband established a planting fund in her memory at Yale; they created a memorial garden adjoining Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library and supported the planting of spring flowering trees, shrubs and bulbs throughout the Yale campus.”

The child was similarly memorialized with a gift of flowering shrubs and bulbs to the Conservatory Garden in New York City’s Central Park. Anna Vietor told the New York Times in 1986, “My child died on May 17, which is when things burst into bloom… The flowering of spring seemed a nice thing in her memory.” Back in New Haven, both mother and child are also memorialized on Phelps Triangle, a pocket park at Trumbull Street where Temple Street splits from Whitney Avenue. Plantings and benches there are maintained by the Garden Club of New Haven.

If the Vietors’ gift to Yale is the most spectacular local display of daffs, it’s in part because they’re more concentrated than at the Pardee Rose Garden, where they line the perimeter of the formal garden and dot the tiered altar near its center. While this city park, officially located in Hamden, tends to draw the most attention in June and July when its 50-plus varieties of roses bloom, it’s worth a trip to see the daffodils in all their glory first. As of this writing, isolated flowering has begun, though peak bloom is still a way off.

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Meanwhile, over in Edgerton Park, a daffodil restoration project is underway. The gently sloping hillside between the greenhouses and the carriage house was once covered with the flowers, says Lianne Audette, the park’s groundskeeper. “It’s been described as a sea of yellow, white, yellow-orange… just swaying in the breeze, and people would say, ‘The minute I walked in the gate, I would be overcome by the fragrance.’” Audette says the original daffodils were lost when the parks department took over care of the lawns from the Brewster family, which donated the estate to the city in 1965, and the daffodil hill was mowed for several years. She’s now working on restoring 10,000 to 20,000 daffodils, planting several hundred per year. At this moment on the replanted hillside, a flower here and a flower there are showing their colors, with the vast majority still to come. Peeking over a nearby stone wall, a pair of stray bunches, cups yellow and petals white, show the way.

For a giant lawn lush with daffodils, you’ll have to leave New Haven. But it’s worth the 25-mile drive to Hubbard Park in Meriden, where the town’s annual Daffodil Festival runs April 27 and 28, including music, food, arts and crafts, kids’ rides, a parade, fireworks and lawns teeming with 600,000 daffodils.

Presumably they’re not all members of the same species. Daffodils’ Latin-derived genus is Narcissus, which breaks down into 25 different species, according to an article out of the University of Illinois Extension. Jonquils are a particular subgroup, Narcissus jonquilla, which, along with several hybrids, “typically have several small, fragrant flowers on each stem with flat petals.”

Daffodils’ pretty features aren’t the only reasons people love them. Golden yellow or summer white, teacup-sized or thimble-sized, ruffled or scalloped or simple, daffodils are bellwethers of more beauty: once they’ve arrived, other spring flowers aren’t far behind.

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Photographed by Dan Mims. Images 1 and 5 feature blooms along Chapel Street. Image 2 features blooms at Edgerton Park. Images 3 and 4 feature blooms at Pardee Rose Garden.

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