Down with the Daffodils!

May 03, 1994|By GEOFFREY W. FIELDING

City Hall budget cuts may yet save Baltimore's magnificent spring display of daffodils -- a species in danger not from pests or poisons, but from politicians.

Nothing brightens Baltimore more in springtime than the masses of daffodils which, over the years, have been planted in public places by Beautiful Baltimore, Inc. As faithful as the swallows that return to Capistrano, the daffodils push up their golden heads to greet the spring -- and visitors to the city.

Beautiful Baltimore, founded some 20 years ago by Francis Rackemann, one-time garden editor for The Evening Sun, initially planted thousands of daffodils along the highways leading into Baltimore. Included were the Baltimore-Washington Expressway, Hanover and Potee streets where they enter the city from the south, and Pulaski Highway.

Added later were Northern Parkway, Jones Falls Expressway, Loch Raven Boulevard, North and Mt. Royal avenues, Butchers Hill, Rosemont, Union, LaFayette and Franklin squares, Sinclair Lane and Moravia avenue, and various city parks.

At least 135,000 daffodil bulbs have gone into the ground over the years through the efforts of Beautiful Baltimore.

Given a normal chance, a single daffodil bulb will become, in a few seasons, a clump of several bulbs,with numerous flowers. Thus, bulbs planted several inches apart become a solid mass of golden yellow each spring.

That is, if given a chance.

The bulbs need time to develop and replenish after the enervating spring display. That means the green leaves must remain on the plants for about six weeks after the bloom. This allows the bulb to regain its strength and create bulblets, which will eventually grow big enough to flower.

''No leaves should be removed until the foliage has turned a yellowish-brown and has died down,'' says ''America's Garden Book,'' written in 1967 by James and Louise Bush-Brown. ''The vigor of the bulbs will be seriously affected if the foliage is removed while still green. If the bulbs have been planted in an area of sod, the grass should not be cut until the foliage of the bulbs has matured.''

Last year, much to the consternation of Beautiful Baltimore, city mowing teams went through beds of daffodils, weeks before the leaves had ripened, and slashed them down. The Recreation and Parks Department mowed the areas designated as park land, HTC and the Department of Public Works groomed the highway median strips.

Representatives of both departments say they were ordered ''by downtown,'' to mow the offending daffodils, apparently to improve the appearance of the city for Preakness Week.

The expression ''downtown'' points to City Hall, and City Hall probably means the mayor, who last year complained about unkempt areas of city parks. More recently, at a Board of Estimates meeting, he said, ''I don't like the Don King look.''

In recalling what happened last year, Bernie Cohen, of the Department of Public Works, says that he had a crew mowing on Loch Raven Boulevard. They had been ordered not to touch the daffodils. However, a minister who lives nearby berated the men for not mowing down the offending leaves. He told them they were not doing their job and would call downtown.

''The result was,'' said Mr. Cohen, ''we were ordered to cut them.''

Earlier this year orders went out that the daffodils had to be cut back after five weeks. But daffodils relate to the weather, not the calendar. The cold winter this year meant later blooms, and though the blooming period is over now, the daffodils will not be ripe for cutting until at least June 1.

But the calendar is against the flowers. Preakness Week starts ++ May 14. The race runs May 21. The mayor wants the city tidy for the Preakness. The Preakness losers will be the people of Baltimore if daffodils disappear.

Planting daffodils in a city whose government insists on chopping them down is a Sisyphean task. On average, 8,000 daffodils go into the ground each fall. Each spring they bloom, but they won't if the city chops them down too soon. Should the people of Baltimore sacrifice weeks of spring beauty for one day in May?

Geoffrey W. Fielding is a Baltimore free-lance writer.

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