CALIFORNIA’S GOLD COUNTRY
Eureka! Each spring the gold rush begins anew as visitors flock to the Mother Lode. They strike it rich in Daffodil Hill.
It’s neither a park, nor a town—more like an intersection of two winding roads that seemingly go nowhere—yet each year the flower faithful come. What began as a 19th century family garden now draws thousands each year to the Sierra foothills. Like the Argonauts of old they seek gold. They will find it, too, on a historic working ranch where more than 400,000 daffodils, in 300 varieties, blanket the hillside.
Space was tight on the old ships sailing ‘round the Horn to California’s goldfields. Immigrants brought only what they needed. Peter Denzer was an exception. Tucked in among the mining tools were a few daffodil bulbs from his native Holland. The Dutchman (who never found the yellow ore he sought) couldn’t possibly have imagined the golden bounty his simple love of flowers would bring.
In 1887 Denzer’s homestead, 65 miles southeast of Sacramento, was bought by Art and Lizzie McLaughlin. Lizzie, also a daffodil lover, planted more bulbs—many more. At the time of the purchase, the ranch doubled as a toll-road and way-station for travelers and teamsters hauling lumber across the Kit Carson Pass. The McLaughlins, wagon pioneers themselves, rented rooms and served meals—breakfast was 25 cents. Saturday night dances were held in the barn.
Lizzie died in 1935, her two daughters added a few more daffodils each year in her memory. Before long, travelers and truck drivers alike were stopping to admire the blooms. Word spread and so did the garden. A few hundred flowers grew to a few thousand until now there are six acres of them.
Daffodil Hill is not a commercial enterprise. It’s not even formally publicized or promoted, yet the garden has drawn as many as 400 visitors in a single day. They come from all over the world to wander the twisting paths lined with old wagon wheels, rusted mining tools and preening peacocks. Mary Ryan, Lizzie’s granddaughter, takes special pride in the splendid peafowl. “In spring their feathers are in good bloom too—just like the flowers.”
Ryan and the other McLaughlin descendants continue to plant bulbs each year in memory of their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great grandparents, but the gold fever has spread. Volunteers also help with planting and thousands of dollars have been donated for the purchase of new bulbs. The efforts of all are a glowing tribute to the pioneer past.
planting—if you live in a warm climate, store your bulbs in a cool and airy place until Halloween. Then plant them in November. Select a well-drained, sunny hillside or raised bed where plants will drain easily. Plant your daffodils so that their pointed end is up and at least two times as deep as the bulb is high.
cutting—once the daffodil foliage looks dead, you can cut
it off. The leaves are no longer needed by the plant.
displaying—two gallon pots are recommended for standard size daffodils, one gallon for miniatures. Sterilize used pots and allow them to drain before filling. Place a pinch of fertilizer in the bottom of the pot over a little soil. Then fill the pot with three parts soil to one part perlite. Place 3 to 4 bulbs in pot about one third of the way down, spacing them the diameter of one bulb apart and that same distance from the pot’s sides. Water heavily—every day the first week.
buying—order early (April or May) to ensure the pick of the crop. Prices vary and so do bulbs. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Nature sets the schedule for public viewing. The working ranch opens to the public when 25 percent of the flowers are in bloom and closes when only 25 percent remain. (Usually mid-March to mid-April.) Weather permitting, Daffodil Hill is open every day during that period from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission and parking are free. Call (209) 296-7048 for information.
The surrounding area is dotted with Gold Rush towns. Their names—Volcano, Drytown, Enterprise, Fiddletown—bespeak a colorful heritage. All of them boast charming inns dating from 49er days. For more information, see amadorcountychamber.com or call (209) 223-0350.
“We hope the spring’s new rush of golden blooms will give visitors something to take away with them, not a treasure of ore, but a memorable bullion of flowering loveliness”—Mary Ryan