Daffodils anyone? How about thousands of them covering a farm on a hillside in the lower Sierras in Northern California? All right then, here we go!
My friend Valerie had been telling me about Daffodil Hill for a couple of years now. Last year I missed it, but this year, when I heard it had already opened, I was determined to see it. Which is why last Thursday she and I drove the almost three hours there and three back to get to Volcano, in the middle of beautiful Amador County – aka Gold Rush territory. We definitely got to see gold… of a different kind.
The stories I have heard and read seem to vary in the details, but are essentially the same. A Dutchman called Peter Denzer was the original owner of this land, and he was the one who started planting daffodils as they reminded him of his homeland in Holland. Whether he used bulbs brought with him all the way from his home country, that is a speculative possibility. In 1877, Arthur McLaughlin and his wife “Lizzie” van Vorst-McLaughlin bought the ranch from Denzer and continued to beautify it by planting more daffodils, something their descendants continue to do to this day.
Daffodil Hill is now a 75-year-old tradition. Though it is never advertised except for mentions within the local tourist bulletins and websites, this event attracts visitors from around the world, recently even by the busload, I have heard.
I read in the Sutter Creek website that “in the past several years an average of 16,000 daffodil bulbs per year have been planted by the Ryan brothers and their families, great grandchildren, great-great grandchildren, and great-great-great grandchildren of Arthur and Lizzie. It is estimated that today, Daffodil Hill is carpeted with approximately 300,000 bulbs when in full bloom.”
That is A LOT of daffodils, and a lot of time spent on one’s knees.
Daffodil Hill is located in the back of the McLaughlin’s Ranch, a private property on a forested ridge at 3,000-foot elevation just outside the quaint town of Volcano, and about fifteen minutes from Sutter Creek and Amador City. Besides the glorious daffodils blooming everywhere, the ranch itself is a photographer’s paradise of real vintage, with the original 1880’s barn still in place, as well as wagon wheels, old gold rush mining equipment and farming utensils perfectly styled in a casual way.
And then there are the peacocks, six of them I think I counted, one of them an albino. I was there around three in the afternoon and the peacocks were in siesta mode, hanging around the barn instead of showing off along the fences – which is why I have no photos of them. The other furry or feathery creatures living at Daffodil Hill are some chickens, two miniature donkeys called Rosie and Sunshine, and sweet Hannah, the mare.
As for non-daffodil blooms, I have seen some barrels planted with beautiful tulips and hyacinths, so I am sneaking in a couple of images to show you.
Parking and admission are free, though donations are encouraged and used by the family to supplements new bulbs for the following year. The whole thing is really well organized, with well defined pathways, strategically located rest benches, a shaded picnic area, port-a-potties tucked away off to the side, and a “welcome & information” booth where patient local volunteers like Joe (see below) will kindly explain that “Sorry, you cannot stay past four pm otherwise other people will want to stay also, and we have to close at four.” Darn! The light is better early in the morning and closer to sunset.
Daffodil Hill is usually open for about three weeks, from mid March to around the first week in April. This year, though, a combination of rain and warmer weather stirred the bulbs earlier thus opening day was also early, on February 23. Weather permitting, the display is open seven days a week from 10:00 am till 4:00 pm, which are such un-perfect hours for photographers, sigh! However, I have also heard 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, and somewhere I read they open at 8:00 am. Between opening hours and weather, the best thing to do before going is to call their information number (209) 296-7048, where a recorded message will give the latest conditions and updates, or follow their Facebook page. I know they have just been closed this past weekend because of muddy conditions after the rains.
While visiting Daffodil Hill, visitors are kindly requested to stay on the paths and not step into the planting areas. And by all means do not pick the blooms! Because of the presence of the other animals, and also to maintain the serenity of the place, no pets are allowed at Daffodil Hill.
Daffodil Hill is a full working ranch and, after daffodil season is over, it returns to its regular working routine.
MCLAUGHLIN’S DAFFODIL HILL
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