Celebrating Nature’s Trumpet: Daffodils at Monticello

Posted by Peggy Cornett, Curator of Plants at Monticello

In the East Front Oval Bed: Yellow Daffodils with French Roman Hyacinths

The first daffodils still trumpet the arrival of spring each year at Monticello. During March and April, a succession of Narcissus varieties bloom in the Monticello flower beds, as well as in clumps in the surrounding fields and along woodland paths.

In 1816, while away from Monticello, Thomas Jefferson asked his daughter Martha Randolph to have enslaved gardener Wormley Hughes “bring some of the hardy bulbous roots … daffodils, jonquils, Narcissuses … ”

While we don’t believe any plantings have persisted from Jefferson’s day, some may date to the early restoration of the flower gardens by the Garden Club of Virginia, as well as previous Monticello grounds crews. Over thirty years ago, we naturalized many Narcissus species in the grassy fields throughout Monticello’s Upper Grove of trees. These included the fragrant Campernelle (Narcissus x odoratus), Tenby Daffodil (N. obvalaris), Lent Lily (N. pseudonarcissus), and the beloved old-fashioned Butter & Eggs double daffodil (N. incomparabilis aurantius plenus).

Monticello’s Flower Gardener Debbie Donley

Last fall, the Monticello garden team planted dozens of daffodils along the entrance road for Monticello’s many guests to enjoy as they ride the shuttle buses from the Visitor Center to the mountaintop. Over time, these naturalized clumps will spread and thicken into a showy, deer-resistant spring display.

Campernelle daffodils in the Upper Grove.

Do you love daffodils as much as we do? We know Shakespeare did when he wrote: “Daffodils, that come before the swallow dares, and take the winds of March with beauty.”

William Wordsworth’s poem, “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud,” was inspired by an event on April 15, 1802 in which the writer and his sister Dorothy came across a “long belt” of daffodils. Written some time between 1804 and 1807, it was first published in 1807 in Poems, in Two Volumes.

Enjoy Wordsworth’s account below. Look for daffodils in your own yard or on when out on a walk. Share photographs of your favorites with Monticello’s Farm & Garden Facebook group. You’ll find our determined friends blooming in some wonderfully surprising spots – often still expanding in numbers many years after their first appearance.

Tenby Daffodils along Mulberry Row

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

BY WILLIAM WORDSWORTH

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.