Saturday, 9 April 2016

In Praise of Daffodils by Julia Jones

Splashes of vivid yellow against a dull fence. Clumps and lines of bright trumpets assertive in an empty garden. Whether or not daffodils have been invited or encouraged, for the last two months they have been all around us. By road sides, pushing their way up through dead leaves and scattered twigs, disregarding litter or neglect, gathered in handfuls for jam jars on window sills. Daffodils are such generous flowers. Even when they’re sold in mean little bundles, elastic-banded together, their flowers tight-shut as if traumatised bring them home, give them just the minimum of light and warmth and water and within hours they will be opening out, sharing their glorious, life-affirming colour.

For I, the lent lily, the Daffadowndilly,
Have heard through the country the call to arouse.
The orchards are ringing with voices a-singing
The praise of my petticoat, praise of my gown.
The children are playing and hark! they are saying
That Daffy-down-dilly is come up to town! 
               
from Flower Fairies of the Spring
by Cicely Mary Barker

Never mind the dear children, if I had a wish it would be that the daffodil fairy would deliver a bunch of a dozen Most Ordinaries to every room and home and sheltered flat of every old person in the country. No need for creamy ruffled doubles, jonquil hybrids with split coronas, narcissistically lovely though they are: just your standard Golden Cheerfulness. Or, alternatively, those dainty, species daffodils planted in tin buckets and sold cheap-as-chips in every garden centre and probably every supermarket across the land. Their flowers may be small but the intensity of their colour is such it will surely penetrate the most cataract-fogged eyesight or dementia-befuddled brain.

The best thing my mother and I have managed over these frequently grim weeks of depression and confusion is to colonise a neglected strip of flower border directly opposite the window of her flat. After ripping out the couch grass and cutting back the dead twigs the first small positive step we took was the planting of two small clumps of daffs. The joy they have given (both of us) cannot be over stated. Even in the time of sundowners when Mum’s brain is exhausted and she sees figures who are not there and she is lost in her own mind, as well as her own space, just sometimes the little yellow fellows have gleamed through the gathering dark. And in the morning there they are again, life-enhancing as the dawn chorus which she can no longer hear.

Our two small clumps have shrivelled now and a flamboyant hydrangea, given by a grandson, is catching Mum’s attention and transmitting joy. I meanwhile have Wordsworth’s poem off by heart and have been reciting it when almost all else fails. And I don’t intend to stop.

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 the inward eye
That is the bliss of solitude
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.                    

Daffodils by William Wordsworth

“Ah!” sighs Mum, regular as clockwork when I reach that last line. And she smiles.

Yeovil Hospital CEO, lead dementia nurse, member of town council & me(!)
Last week I was invited to Yeovil Hospital to open their dementia garden, a small sheltered area that is already bringing moments of peace and relief. Let’s have gardens in hospitals and flowers back in wards (except where there are people with respiratory disease). Let’s have colour, art and music for all who are tired and ill. We are also writers and readers so, if we have no flowers to offer, let’s share the beauty of words.






12 comments:

Wendy Jones said...

What a beautiful account. I agree daffodils are cheerful and a sign of hope and new life. Thanks for sharing

Umberto Tosi said...

Your post leaves me smiling, and more aware. Words as flowers, of many shapes and conditions, push up through the soil of imagination. Spring comes late here in Chicago. A few trees have started to bud, but most remain bare. A light blanket of snow from a brief unseasonal squall blankets cars, streets, lawns, branches and alleys sparkling white this morning. Finally yesterday, walking towards the lakeshore, I saw the brave purple shoot of a single crocus daring to peek out from a sleeping flower bed. The daffodils can't be far behind. Just a little more patience now and spring will arrive, with poets' gentle urgings.

Jan Needle said...

they're all still out up here in the frozen north. and aren't they wonderful....

Leela said...


Beautiful words to read on a Saturday morning . Looking at the daffs in my garden and every day when I drive I see clumps of bright yellow against the grey day it lifts my heart.

That verse of Wordsworth took me back to my schooldays in Madras/Chennai India, reading and re-reading it and conjuring up the image of daffodils( we did not have any growing in our city). This blog gave me a nostalgic shiver of delight.

Susan Price said...

Julia, you are going through a hard time now, but your posts here are eloquent and beautiful. Thank you.

Spring flowers are perhaps the most beautiful of all - certainly the most keenly anticipated. Snowdrops, crocuses, primroses, daffodils. The foaming white blossom on blackthorn too.

And soon, bluebells! Perhaps you could get some English bluebells, in the green, and plant them where your Mum can see them? Intermingle them with primroses, as they grow in the woods on Skye. The blue and yellow accentuate each other and they are breathtaking.

Bill Kirton said...

Couldn't agree more, Julia. First, the incredible snowdrops, defying all logic, shoving their way up through crusts of frost and lasting for weeks, then discreet little crocuses which dance less but bring a bit of gaudiness, then the daffs waving about, tall, blatant, reassuring.

It's good to hear of the effect they have on your mum. I'm on the board of the Grampian Hospitals Arts Trust whose collections have been making rooms and corridors in our hospitals much brighter, happier, more colourful places for years. I think it's hard to measure the impact such things have but there's no doubting that they do.

Sandra Horn said...

Brilliant, beautiful post, Julia!

JO said...

I, too, love daffodils - and not having flowers in a dementia ward is just bonkers.

julia jones said...

Thanks to all - as always

Lynne Garner said...

Thanks for that.

For the last couple of weeks I've been trying to take a photograph of two that does them justice, sadly I've not managed it. Most are now looking a little tired so I'll have to have another go next year.

Mari Biella said...

I love all flowers, but daffodils have a special place in my heart. They're so bold, so colourful, so defiantly cheerful - a bright and beautiful reminder that, come what may, life carries on. Nature, colours, art, music - they all have a very definite place in hospitals, schools, and so on. They have a healing effect all of their own.

Lydia Bennet said...

A beautiful heartfelt love letter to the daffodil, as well as the colour and shape, I also love the scent of them - not just the floral sweet smell of Cheerfulness but the usual 'green' fresh polleny fragrance of yer usual daff.
I'd be happy to join you in a campaign to get flowers back into hospitals, it was a cynical and foul move to ban them, an attempt to blame visitors for mrsa, claiming they 'brought it in' when strangely nobody has got it outside among the 'visitors' but in hospital since they became dirty and lax with antibiotics. Very damaging to the healing of patients esp long stay ones to have nothing from the natural world around them. May I recommend two daff-related pieces - Gillian Clark's stunningly moving and poem about poetry, daffodils and how they can reach the very damaged mind, Miracle on St David's Day, http://poetrystation.org.uk/poems/miracle-on-st.-davids-day and Wordsworth's sister's account of them in her diary the same day she and William saw them together https://wordsworth.org.uk/dorothyjournal.html