BELFAST, Maine — This month, daffodils have been popping up just about everywhere in the city of Belfast — from gardens to highway embankments, from parks to roads to the side of the Belfast Rail Trail.
That didn’t happen by chance.
The abundance of cheerful yellow flowers is the first installment of one local woman’s dream to plant a million daffodil bulbs in the city over the next 20 years. So far, Elisabeth Wolfe and a crew of volunteers who are participating in her 3-year-old Belfast Daffodil Project have planted more than 128,000 bulbs. And they’re just getting started.
“They make me laugh and they make me smile,” Wolfe said. “In this time of pandemic, it’s been a tightening, contracting time. And then I go out and see the flowers, and it just opens my heart and my mind to the love and joy we have in this community. And the beauty.”
The idea to plant all those flowers came to her when she went on a birdwatching trip to Virginia a few years ago. She drove past a field of daffodils and was struck by their beauty.
“I thought, wouldn’t this be great to do in Belfast?” she said.
She thought the plan had merit. Daffodils look delicate but are actually hardy plants that can grow in lots of different types of soil and which come back every year. They attract pollinators. Animals such as squirrels and deer rarely dig them up. Plus, there was another reason that appealed to her.
“My husband is in real estate and sees a lot of out-of-staters coming in. He’s always saying, ‘How can we keep the funk in Belfast?’” she said. “Daffodils are one way.”
So Wolfe, a health care provider and gardener, got busy. Initially, she wanted to plant 100,000 bulbs a year, but she found that number was too ambitious. In the first autumn of the project, she and other beauty-minded folks in the community planted 50,000 bulbs. Even though it was just half her goal, it was overwhelming.
“We nearly killed ourselves,” she said.
In the process of all that planting, they learned that realizing her dream was possible, but would require even more effort and help.
“People all thought I was crazy that first year. They just couldn’t understand it. But there were a few people that thought, ‘Yeah — we’ve got to do this,’” Wolfe said.
From left (clockwise): Daffodils bloom at the Route 1 Jughandle in Belfast; The Belfast Rail Trail has been brightened this spring by daffodils planted through the Belfast Daffodil Project; Daffodils are blooming in unexpected places this spring thanks to the Belfast Daffodil Project. Credit: Abigail Curtis | BDN
Among those who understood were city officials, including the Belfast City Council and Norm Poirier, the director of Parks and Recreation. The city has been acting as a sponsor of the project, Wolfe said, and city staff are among those helping to plant the bulbs.
“It’s a great community project,” Mary Mortier, a city councilor and avid gardener, said. “We can all use brightness and light and happiness in our lives when our long winter ends and spring begins, and daffodils are one of the first wonderful, bright yellow, happy flowers to bloom.”
Each fall since, more people have gotten involved with planting bulbs. Springs are busier for the project, too. In addition to being the time of year to admire blooming daffodils, it’s also the season to order more bulbs, Wolfe said. For those interested in helping the project, there are three ways to join the effort — planting daffodils in their own gardens, purchasing bulbs and planting bulbs throughout the city in the fall.
This year more residents and business owners than ever have pledged to get involved. One of those is Lisa DuHamel, the owner of Brambles, a plant, gardening supply and gift shop in downtown Belfast. She’s excited to be part of it because when she moved to Searsmont 32 years ago, she planted lots of daffodils, which are still blooming.
“My yard is just filled with thousands and thousands of daffodils that bring me such joy every year. They’re an enduring plant,” DuHamel said. “So I wanted to be part of this lovely project, which is such a simple way to bring smiles to people’s spirits and hearts.”
This spring, Wolfe has been struck by the abundance of daffodils blooming in so many places.
“I’m finding myself laughing, actually, when I’ll be driving around and I’ll see seven or eight pop up in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “Spring can sometimes be hard in Maine. It’s great to have these daffodils saying ‘Yes! Life is coming back.’”