Acres of Hope
A Granville gardener shares the promise of daffodils with others.
Daffodils are aptly named the flower of hope. Just ask Jill Griesse. This passionate gardener longs for the season’s first bloom. She longs for that single Carlton that typically unfurls its yellow petals on a sunny hillside at her and her husband Paul’s 52-acre farm in Granville. And, she eagerly anticipates the hundreds of thousands that will follow for a spectacular eight-week show.
This year, more than others, Griesse fervently awaits these spring harbingers. On Labor Day, she was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer. She agreed to an aggressive treatment plan to borrow more time to spend with family and friends — and her favorite flowers.
“I can’t wait to roll in the daffodils,” says Griesse.
Months prior to her cancer diagnosis, Griesse had stepped up to chair the American Daffodil Society national convention, April 11–14, in Columbus. So when Daffodil Society friends learned of Griesse’s illness, they leaped in with offers to help, notes of encouragement, prayers and, of course, deliveries of flowers. Her daughter Holly Shai volunteered to serve as Griesse’s assistant for the convention. “They’re all out there pulling me along,” says Griesse.
Under Griesse’s no-nonsense leadership, the committee has organized an impressive four days of garden tours, workshops and a public show, featuring thousands of daffodils, floral arrangements and bulb suppliers. “Ohio has a wealth of daffodil experts,” says Griesse, “and they’re eager to share what we have here with daffodil friends from all over the country.”
Griesse, who once thought all daffodils were yellow, says she has learned a lot from these friends. Her interest in gardening and discovery of daffodils started after years of coaching a competitive swim team, raising three children and helping her husband build their family business. In 1978, she planted her first 2,500 daffodils, not for their beauty but for their toxicity to the deer that were annihilating much of their landscape. For the next two decades, Griesse and a crew of “young men with sturdy backs” annually planted 2,500 to 5,000 daffodils through wooded areas, along stone steps and in landscaped beds to create today’s spectacle. She now grows 660 varieties, ranging from salmon pink to buttery yellow to bright orange. No doubt, she lives out the legendary daffodil principle — the tale of the woman who achieved her vision of a mountaintop of 50,000 daffodils by planting one bulb at a time over many years.
“They’re a tough, tough flower,” says Griesse. Plus, they’re affordable, low maintenance, tolerant of most soils and pest resistant, and they easily multiply. No wonder she plants with abandon and so willingly shares her flowers and bulbs with others.
While Griesse forbade her children from picking the season’s first blooms, she encouraged them to gather and share later ones. In fact, Shai remembers, “Mom used to let me pick bouquets as big as both my arms to take to school and she would ask ‘is that enough?’ ”Griesse herself also enjoys delivering bouquets to a nearby retirement community and surprising residents with their unexpected forms. “That’s not a daffodil,” some say about a double daffodil that looks more like a carnation than the familiar trumpet-shaped variety. “Oh, yes it is,” Griesse replies.
Each spring, she shares her infectious passion while hosting numerous community fundraisers in tents among the daffodils, leading garden tours and inviting others — many times those battling illnesses — to wander through the daffodils. She often surprises visitors by encouraging them to pick the flowers. “Pick, pick all you want,” she urges. “What are they for if not to enjoy?”
Griesse and her family have found many occasions to enjoy the daffodils. For Easter, the Griesses host egg hunts for their eight grandkids. In a fairy-tale-like woods, they follow paths winding through daffodils to the “Winnie the Pooh” tree where their baskets are tucked inside its hollowed base.
For Shai’s wedding in 1993, they created a special wedding garden with a boxwood-framed lawn and beds of perennials and 200 white daffodils. Ten years later, those 200 bulbs had effortlessly multiplied to 20,000, so Griesse and her friends dug them up to share with others.
Griesse’s daffodil passion is even evident inside her 140-year-old Victorian home. Here, she painted a daffodil mural on a wall, serves dinners on daffodil china and arranges daffodil bouquets in vases from her collection of Ohio-made Erickson glassware.
Today, Griesse champions daffodils nationwide as convention chairperson and past membership chairperson for the Daffodil Society. She confesses she once was a bit of a rebel in the Daffodil Society — dodging its celebrated flower shows. According to fellow member Phyllis Hess, Griesse was more
interested in growing beautiful daffodils in her landscape than growing them in meticulously tended rows to win show ribbons. Still, Daffodil Society members embraced her fresh ways and even secretly entered her daffodils in a show one year. They were delighted to present her with four blue ribbons.
On April 11, hundreds of daffodil growers from across the country will meet in Columbus to share their mutual passion for these flowers. Griesse is looking forward to hosting the closing dinner beneath a large tent in her back yard, which is a designated Daffodil Society display garden. “My friends have offered to help me replace the daffodil labels lost in [a storm last year], so after dinner I’m sending them out into the gardens with markers and labels.”
She’ll likely invite them to pick a few, too.
Botanical name: Narcissus
Planting: Plant bulbs in the fall
Multiplying: Split multiples of bulbs when the plants become heavy in foliage and have few flowers.
Anatomy: England’s Royal Horticultural Society has set 13 official daffodil divisions, including trumpets, doubles and those with butterfly-like split cups and multi-stemmed blooms. The center of a daffodil may be called a trumpet, a cup or a corona, which can be long or short, plain or ruffled, split and even doubled.
Colors: Daffodil colors range from icy white with a green eye to bright yellow with a brick red cup to a soft salmon and milky white mix.
Height: Sizes range from 6-inch miniature daffodils to 24-inch large trumpeted ones.
Maintenance: Avoid clipping daffodils’ leaves when their blooms are gone. Instead, wait six to eight weeks, so the leaves can help refuel the bulbs for next season.
Learn more: Attend the American Daffodil Society show (April 12, 1:30–5 p.m., and April 13, 9 a.m.–5 p.m., at the Crown Plaza North in Columbus); admission is free. For more information, visit