2015-10-08 / Front Page

Campaign is One in a Daffodillion

By Betsy Sherman Walker


Volunteers filling bags of bulbs (two dozen each) at Wakehurst on the Salve Regina campus on Wednesday. This most recent shipment from New York of Dutch Master daffodil bulbs will bring the planted bulb count halfway to the goal of one million daffodils. (Photos by Jack Kelly) Volunteers filling bags of bulbs (two dozen each) at Wakehurst on the Salve Regina campus on Wednesday. This most recent shipment from New York of Dutch Master daffodil bulbs will bring the planted bulb count halfway to the goal of one million daffodils. (Photos by Jack Kelly) The concept is really not so daffy, and working behind the scenes are committed individuals whose goals and strategy have been anything but.

Known by its catchphrase of “Let’s Get Daffy!” the nearly 10-year-old Daffodillion Campaign (as in: one daffodil times a million equals a daffodillion), is in fact a highly organized effort that is calling upon local residents to add as much natural beauty as possible to the lawns, roadways, stone walls and fences of Newport, with the simple act of getting some good rich soil under their fingernails and planting a daffodil bulb—or 200.

With the weather finally turning and temperatures dipping at night, planting time is upon us, according to Daffodil Project Director John Hirschboeck. “It’s like Mother Nature is tapping us on the shoulder,” he said. On the first Monday of October, he and his brigade of volunteers were preparing for a free giveaway of 50,000 bulbs at Easton’s Beach on Saturday, Oct. 17, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and later in the day at Ballard Park, beginning at 5 p.m. The precious cargo had been delivered to Salve Regina University, where a platoon of volunteers would spend the next few days packaging the donated bulbs into bags of 24 each. The more daffodils gracing everyone’s flowerbeds and grassy roadside swaths come early April, Hirschboeck says, the better.


Theresa Malafronte Theresa Malafronte The ultimate goal: to plant one million daffodils throughout the city. Launched in 2006 in partnership with Newport’s Daffodil Project and the Alliance for a Livable Newport (ALN), Daffodillion along the way has acquired major sponsors—among them the City of Newport, the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, the Preservation Society of Newport County, the Newport Restoration Foundation, Aquidneck Land Trust, Katherine Field and Associates, the Chanler at Cliff Walk, a number of private donors, as well as the upstate-New York-based A.D.R. Bulbs (“Daffodil Bulbs direct from Holland since 1943!”). Schools ranging from Salve Regina and Rogers High School to the Cluny School, Pell Elementary, and St. Michael’s Country Day School have also joined in the effort.


A total of 50,000 bulbs, which arrived in giant bundles, will be distributed Saturday, Oct. 17, first at Eason's Beach and then at Ballard Park. 
(Photo by Jack Kelly) A total of 50,000 bulbs, which arrived in giant bundles, will be distributed Saturday, Oct. 17, first at Eason's Beach and then at Ballard Park. (Photo by Jack Kelly) To date, according to Hirschboeck, nearly 400,000 of the hardy Dutch Master bulbs have been planted around town. These are the harbingers of spring that burst out along Cliff Walk, at Easton’s Beach, in front of the Quaker Meeting House, and even on Connell Highway every April. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen one in a daffodillion.

While seemingly synonymous, the Daffodil Project preceded Daffodillion by at least two years. Founded in 2004, ALN already had what amounted to a daffodil master plan on its agenda. But it wasn’t until 2006, when Hirschboeck was approached by Daffodil

Project “progenitor” (and green-thumbed community activist) Ronald Lee Fleming about creating more of a daffodil presence around town, that Daffodillion took root. The initial idea was to plant cherry blossoms along Cliff Walk, but Tree Warden Scott Wheeler advised against it. Wheeler did, however, suggest the daffodils, having been inspired by the story of the fields of daffodils planted by the city gardener along the banks of the Ness River in Inverness, Scotland.

This year, thanks to some solid fundraising and civic enthusiasm, Hirschboeck estimates that the daffodil population in Newport will increase by at least 100,000. In addition to the 50,000 being readied for the Oct. 17 giveaway, he said that the City of Newport will be planting an additional 20,000 on Cliff Walk (outside Salve’s O’Hare Center) and that the Rhode Island Bridge and Turnpike Authority has signed up to purchase and plant 20,000 at the entrance ramp on the Newport side of the Pell Bridge.

And new to the gardening shed is an awe-inspiring bulb-planting machine, imported from Holland. It is a small, multi-tasking, plowequipped tractor that, in one fell swoop, digs the planting furrow, drops in the bulbs (hundreds at a time swirling down through a huge funnel) and closes up the furrow behind it. Hirschboeck said the first job for the machine (which was purchased through private donations and has been donated to the city) will be to plant the Cliff Walk bulbs in front of Salve.

There is no daffodilly-dallying where raising money for the project is concerned. Hirschboeck, a career “Mad Man,” has traveled the world with such iconic advertising agencies as Saatchi & Saatchi and Young & Rubicam. From Lexuses and Lincolns to cereal, pantyhose (the kind that came in an egg), and daffodils, all have been the objects of his deft touch. Two years ago, to honor Newport’s 375th anniversary in 2014, he initiated the Daffy Founders Club, where a $375 donation planted 1,639—also the founding year for Newport.

Hirschboeck emphasized that, due to the popularity of the Daffodillion project (and daffodils in general), the bulbs might go quickly at the giveaway. Those interested in receiving a bag of bulbs are asked to go to daffodillion.com, download and fill out a Daffy Pledge form, and to bring it along on the 17th.

To date, with the projected plantings bringing the total to 485,000, Daffodillion is at the brink of the half-way mark. Donations and any kind of support are welcome yearround, Hirschboeck says. “In order to be able to distribute free bulbs to clubs, schools, and other area nonprofits,” he adds, “we need donations, however small.” Fundraising is clearly a year-round effort: planning for the Daffodil Days Festival, scheduled for April 16-24, 2016, is already underway.

Clearly, there are no calendar dates in the daffodil universe, and only sunny days.

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