It’s hard to imagine a better daffodil show than the one that unfolds across Shelby White’s 45-acre woodland estate in Lewisboro each spring.
Over the past quarter-century or so, hundreds of thousands of daffodil bulbs have been planted in fall, setting the stage for an April show that shimmers in lovely shades of yellow, white, salmon and orange.
One of our photographers, Liz Orozco, and I paid a visit last April to see the show and get photos. These are all by Liz.
Eric Schmidt, the head gardener at the White Garden, says there must be between 500,000 and 750,000 daffodils by now. He sometimes plants as many as 1,500 a day when the weather is nice in October.
Here’s Eric in one of the two greenhouses. He grows most of the annuals from seed.
And on a tractor.
The bulbs have been planted in giant swaths of color along the woodchip-lined paths through the woods. Crumbling stone walls and fallen oak trees are now decorated with thousands of daffodils on either side.
“They absolutely love it here,” Schmidt says. “I think it’s going to be a really good year for them, with the cold winter and all that snow we had to blanket and protect them. Daffodils love a cold winter.”
Each year, he extends the plantings a little farther into the woods and they now extend in all directions as far as you can see. The slightest breeze sets the whole hillside adrift in soft waves of color.
Along with the 250 varieties of daffodils, visitors to the White Garden will find two huge ponds with magnificent pure-white swans, a labyrinth, theater court and moss, pergola and rock gardens.
Statues of maidens and stone lions dot the landscape. It’s widely regarded as one of the best private gardens in the Hudson Valley.
Gardeners in the know have learned that daffodils are one of the best plants for the Hudson Valley. First and foremost, they’re poisonous, so deer and other critters leave them alone for the most part. Unlike fickle tulips, they come back every year and even naturalize and spread.
As sentinel flowers, emerging daffodils announce to the world that winter is really finally over, even if a surprise spring snowstorm hits.
Yes, they want full sun, but they bloom before the deciduous trees begin to leaf out, so you have more sunny sites for these bulbs than you realize.
White, a philanthropist and antiquities collector, and her late husband, Leon Levy, built the 3,000-square-foot neoclassical house on the site in 1996, and the surrounding, natural-style gardens were designed by Patrick Chassé in 1998.
Everything feels like it’s been here for decades. The sleek swimming pool and glass-bottomed reflecting pool look particularly inviting.
So do the lush green lawns that sweep down to the ponds from the house.
Bouquets of daffodils look particularly good with other spring-blooming trees, shrubs and bulbs. In the White Garden, weeping pink cherry trees and white magnolias bloom in perfect sync with the fields of daffodils. One can hardly wait for the show of 10,000 tulips that unfolds just as the daffodils begin to lose their shine.
• Daffodils, like other spring-blooming bulbs, need several months of cold weather to set their blooms. Plant them in the fall; October is best, but you can plant them any time before the ground freezes for the winter.
• Like other bulbs, they look best when planted en mass. For some reason, odd-numbered groupings (5, 7, 9) are more pleasing to the eye than even-numbered clusters of flowers. For a real show-stopper, try digging a large hole and filling it with 25 bulbs.
• The planting hole should be about 8 inches deep; space the bulbs 2 to 3 inches apart. The pointy end of the bulb faces up.
• Daffodils are not fussy about soil as long as it’s well drained.
• Feed them with a bulb fertilizer such as Bulb-tone after they bloom in spring and again in the fall.
• Let the foliage die back naturally when the blooms fade (it’s still gathering energy for next year’s blooms). You can hide the yellowing leaves by planting daffodils among later-emerging plants such as ferns and hostas.
• Mark or make note of where you’ve got daffodils while they’re still in bloom because you’ll surely forget where they are by the time fall comes round and you want to plant more bulbs.
Among the hundreds of varieties of daffodils, here are a few surefire winners:
‘Tete-a-Tete’: an early bloomer that will come into flower as early as February in mild winters.
‘Peeping Tom’: another good early bloomer.
‘King Alfred’: an old-time favorite with big lemon-yellow flower heads.
‘Jetfire’: large golden-yellow flowers with a bright orange-red trumpet.
‘Thalia’: a creamy white and delicate late bloomer.
‘Salome’: another late bloomer with a salmon-pink trumpet.
‘Mount Hood’: a giant all-white variety.
Visiting the White Garden
Every April, Shelby White opens her Lewisboro garden to the public as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program. The nationwide program, which was founded by two Westchester gardeners in 1995, lets people see some of the best private gardens in the country for a $5 admission fee. This year, the White Garden will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 26 and Sept. 13. For more information, including directions, visit gardenconservancy.org/opendays/ or call 888-842-2442.
Sources for daffodils
Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, 877-661-2852, www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com
Dutch Gardens, 866-866-3780, www.dutchgardens.com.
John Scheepers Inc., 860-567-0838, www.johnscheepers.com.
Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center, 718-693-5400, www.bulb.com.
Old House Gardens-Heirloom Bulbs, 734-995-1486, www.oldhousegardens.com.
Van Bourgondien, 800-622-9997, www.dutchbulbs.com.
White Flower Farm, 800-503-9624, www.whiteflowerfarm.com.