Golden trumpets herald spring Daffodils: These blooms nod their heads along city streets, whispering to each other of the coming of better days.

March 15, 1997|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,SUN STAFF

The crocus is first out, intruding its little herb's head up into winter's darkest hour. But the crocus is only a whisper, a mere bleat against the wind of February.

The daffodil is the emphatic song of March, announcing the inevitable rising of spring. Its distinguishing feature is a trumpet. Trumpets symbolize a yearning for glory.

The daffodil is gold. Gold hints at elusive treasure and the conquest of the impossible. The daffodil is all these things. That is why it attracts so much attention, especially now when it is bursting along the sidewalks, flaring forth from a thousand crannies of Baltimore.

Of daffodils in the country, spreading haphazardly across a field, one always takes note. They ride off in all directions at once, a glittering, scattered swarm. But like wild pigeons, they live short lives. They come and are gone, engulfed by the surging grasses of summer.

In the city, daffodils are trained to a special mission. It is to gild and ornament public places; to hold themselves erect at their posts as long as their stalks can stand the strain. To this end, we apply discipline. We assign them to formal beds, and rising berms held up by walls of Belgian block. We protect them from their invasive enemies. We nourish them.

Confined to their quarters this way, formed into florescent battalions, they flourish. This is their time. You can see them, marching down Pratt Street with parade-ground swank: the daffodil army, flying its colors.

The Pratt Street daffodils are venerable. The bulbs went into the ground in the early 1970s. Most daffodil bulbs give up after 10 years, and fade like old soldiers. What has kept these ranks so splendid and smart and standing tall for more than 20?

Fertilizer, of course, and a technique which city horticulturist William Stine says assures longevity: "You leave the foliage on after the blossom fades. It decays and feeds the bulb through the year." It is phoenix-like.

"I always welcome the sight of a daffodil or a jonquil in the spring," muses Ann of Strapazza, gazing through the clear glass door of the cafe of that name. "Warm weather is always right behind them."

She has been given this sibilant, Italianate moniker because she wants to conceal her real one. She is working in this cafe "incognito," she says. But she is necessary to this report because she has daffodil experience.

You see, Ann of Strapazza used to work in an establishment further east on Pratt. A cafe no longer in business. Today, outside that now defunct cafe is a veritable Himalaya of daffodils. If the sun is out, it almost hurts the eyes to look upon them. The daffodil needs the sun, but not so much as many other flowers. The daffodil is incandescent, lit from within.

"Down there, people used to come out and have their pictures taken next to those flowers," she says. "I was just amazed at them."

She has not noticed many people having their pictures taken near her current location, though it, too, is rich in daffodils. For this reason, perhaps, she is convinced of the superiority of the younger daffodils of her past. Nothing gilds the daffodil like memory.

Baltimore loves the daffodil, the Lent Lily, or more pretentiously, the pseudo-narcissus, named after the self-absorbed figure in an old story. Paris loves the daffodil. So do Brussels and Amsterdam. Attila probably loved the daffodil, his Huns as well.

It is a universal affection, which -- lucky us -- William Stine and his crew work to assure will not go unsatisfied. Not here.

Last year the city imported 20,000 daffodil bulbs from the Netherlands, at 23 cents each. They were buried in parks and by lakes and at other public venues. They are blooming now, and will each year for the next two decades -- or more.

You can look forward to it.

Pub Date: 3/15/97

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