The Trouble With Daffodils — and My Writing

White and yellow daffodils blooming at Bishop's Ranch, Healdsburg, CA, in March. Photo by BF Newhall

Daffodils at Bishop’s Ranch, Healdsburg, CA, in March. Photos by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

I don’t like daffodils. I feel about daffodils the way I feel about some of my writing – too damned cheerful. Too nicey-nice. Too tidy. Too certain that in the end everything’s going to come out just fine, that all shall be well.

I prefer irises. I especially like the bearded irises that are volunteering up and down the hills of our neighborhood right now.  Their swooping, swooning petals are downright lascivious. So are the fuzzy, yellow-brown beards cascading from their centers.

These are not nice flowers.

Bearded iris with furry tongue showing. Photo by BF Newhall

An iris with a caterpillar-like beard that helps insects find their way to nectar and pollen. Photos by BF Newhall.

Daffodils, by comparison, are starchy, unequivocal. They are trumpets of optimism playing to the sun. Last month, there were daffodils blooming all over the neighborhood, as if there had not just been a winter. And if by chance there had been a winter, as if there would never be another.

The trouble with daffodils is they have no subtext. They are all cheer and sparkle and optimism. They are avatars of perky. They get on my nerves, no doubt, because of that daffodil place in my psyche, which from time to time locates itself in my writing.

In my daffodil brain, everything happens for the good. Problems can be solved. Human beings are redeemable. God is in God’s sweet heaven. And my 92-year-old mother, who’s been lying in a hospital bed with a broken hip for the past five weeks, is not going to die. Ever. In just a few weeks, my mother and I will head over to Nordstrom again for lunch. As usual, she’ll order the chicken salad with berries. I’ll get the one with artichokes. After lunch we’ll hijack Nordstrom’s loaner wheelchair and scoot over to Macy’s where things are more affordable. She’ll sit in the wheelchair with her purse in her lap, credit card at the ready, and I’ll roll her around the petites department. She’ll ask me to back up to take a second look at the crisp brown and white linen jacket. She’ll offer to buy it for me, I’ll decline.

My mother will come through this hip thing just fine. She always has. She always will.

92-year-old-woman-bedridden-with-broken-hip. photo by bf newhall

My mother, a few weeks after breaking her hip — she fell while carrying a vase full of flowers.

My daffodil brain does not write about my mother’s spine, which is as curved and uncertain as question mark. It averts its eyes from the sun-damaged splotches darkening and growing across her cheeks. It makes excuses for the strings of nonsensical sentences coming from her mouth. (It’s the painkillers talking.) My daffodil brain is too polite to type words like constipation, commode, diaper, droopy buttocks, crepey skin, thinning hair, boney knuckles.

No, my mother’s days are not numbered and, therefore, neither are mine. My mother will not spend her last days in pain and uncertainty, wondering how God, or death for that matter, could possibly be real. And neither will I.

On a lighter note, read more about irises at “Irises, Close-Up and Very Personal.” Sign up to hear about more of my posts by clicking on the Twitter, Facebok or email icons above right.

Daffodil-growing-california-in-March-photo by BF Newhall




  1. Katherine Philipp says:

    So, I read your piece about tulips this morning and saw at the end of the tulip article a link to daffodils. I like tulips but in the last few years I have planted hundreds of daffodils in the back of my house. Deer love tulips. Deer do not like daffodils. I look forward to them as a harbinger of spring. Especially this year when the first bloom didn’t appear until March 19. I did not expect this article to remind me of my mother’s death (2011) but I know she likes seeing the daffodils at the edge of the woods in spring.

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Tulips won’t bloom here in the winterless San Francisco Bay Area unless you put the bulbs in the refrigerator for a couple of months before planting them. Too much work for me. I didn’t know that the deer will leave daffodils alone. Good to know. Makes me reconsider . . .

  2. As a child, I took to some basic constructs of life with reluctance. I was in 5th grade before I nailed the days of the week, and in college before I could recite with certainty the order of the months of the year. A side effect of this stubborn mental block was that I never could be sure when my birthday was coming.

    Ever patient, instead of insisting I learn what she knew I would come around to eventually, my mom taught me that my birthday was just days away when the daffodils bloomed. Even as I moved around the country, to Minnesota with Peter, to Chicago, and now to Seattle, every year about 4 or 5 days before my birthday, a little bouquet of daffodils arrives in the mail.

    What I learned in the Midwest is: these little harbingers of spring, so sweet they could make your teeth hurt, erupt out of the frozen dead earth as startling reminders that the world is not developed in sepia tone.

    A lesser flower could not rise to the task of awakening us to spring. A heavy headed peony is too fragile, to submissive; it would bow where a daffodil stands tall. Lilies, marigolds, roses, foxglove, impatiens, dahlias, even your irises, these are the flowers of summer: bright complex fireworks battling their way up through the dense foliage for their passing moment in the sky.

    Our precocious daffodils would be lost in this milieu, a young trumpeter late to battle.

    Instead, for their fleeting moment, let us be fooled that no winter is too cold to give way to spring. A little girl will pick this first flower of spring and run to show her mother. A woman will receive a bouquet by mail and smile with dampening eyes knowing she is remembered. And perhaps, a little table in a hospital room will be forcefully brightened by a flower so yellow, so brimming with sunshine, even aging eyes can see.

  3. Judy Mitchelson says:

    Thank you Barbie. I feel the meaning of this essay at a level to which I prefer not to go. I do love daffodils, but I had not experienced the shadow side until reading your thoughts.

  4. Diane (Erwin) says:

    Great piece! My Mom is 89 and currently taking care of my brother who has a very serious case of emphysema. Drives him to the dr. appts., etc. She is virtually industructable (in my eyes), and she is never going to go through the indignities that await most other older people. Thanks for that article. I enjoyed it very much.


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