Written by Michele Roldán-Shaw
Photography by Ed Funk
he Daffodil… the flower that means spring. Daffodil, Narcissus, Jonquil. First, let’s settle the names. The official botanical name of the whole genus is Narcissus. Daffodil is the common name. Jonquil is a “species name” within the Narcissus genus. Southerners just call them daffodils.
For years, Blufftonians have enjoyed picking the flowers, which grow in several fields off Pinckney Colony Road, and they know that they have Dutch planter Ysbrand Van Duyn to thank for planting the bulbs some 40 years ago.
Mary O. Merrick, along with her son Howard and daughter Mary Connor are the current caretakers of the 4 fields (three large fields, plus one smaller one) as they are located on the family’s 140-acre property called Calhoun Plantation. This land was originally purchased by Mary O. Merrick’s great grandfather, James Porcher, before being handed down through the family to her. She notes that Calhoun Plantation, with its quiet fields, oak-shadowed shores, and oyster-strewn mud flats overlooking Callawassie Island, will never be developed because it is now part of the Beaufort County Open Land Trust.
“Mr. Van Duyn leased these fields and he planted bulbs here, as well as a couple of other areas in Pinckney Colony and also out towards Pritchardville,” said Merrick. “These are the only fields left because I guess the others got plowed under. He planted bulbs all the way up and down the Atlantic coastline; that way he could harvest in Florida and, as the season grew warmer, he would go all the way up into Virginia. He would bring his laborers, most of whom were women, and they would pick the whole field, then send the flowers up North in refrigerated trucks.”
Fate used these bulb farms one day in long time Blufftonian, Nonie Colonna’s, life. In the middle 1950’s, Nonie was shopping at Planter’s Mercantile on Calhoun Street, when a man came in to use the only public phone in town. Sam Colonna owned a small trucking company in Virginia that hauled produce from the south to the northern markets. On this particuliar day, Sam was driving one of his seven trucks to the Van Duyn farm in Pritchardville.
The Van Duyn’s who were originally from Holland, leased the Hodge property. Our lowcountry soil and climate was perfect for growing beautiful daffodils. The flower company had the biggest industry and the largest payroll in the Bluffton area.
It was love at first sight for Nonie and Sam. The couple courted during his trips north and south, and were soon married and settled down in Bluffton.
As the decades slipped by, Merrick says the flowers were “too pretty to plow under.” Ten years ago, Mary Connor had the idea of turning the daffodil fields into a U-pick operation. Since then, it has become something of a tradition for locals, as well as for people from Hilton Head and Beaufort. One art teacher from Savannah brings his class to sketch the flowers every year, and recently a couple called wanting to know if they could renew their marriage vows in the resplendent fields. Connor says their repeat customers, who are placed on an e-mail list so they will be notified when the flowers are in bloom, total well into the hundreds.
“Every year, we pick a good many daffodils to take to nursing homes and places like that because we want to share them,” said Merrick. “If it’s not Lent, we use them for church. With the U-pick, we don’t make any money after taxes but it’s more or less just a fun thing to do.”
According to Connor, about the only maintenance the fields require is to be “bush-hogged,” or mowed, twice a year. Other than that, the flowers just keep on coming up through one of God’s enduring mysteries: bulbs lie seemingly dormant in the ground all winter and then suddenly come into bloom of their own accord. Some bulbs have been known to last for as long as one hundred years. Connor says that if they were serious about their daffodil farming venture, they would probably have to plow the flowers under and replant because each year the bulbs divide themselves, and so the field has become overcrowded.
For 15¢ a stem, anyone can come pick van Duyn’s daffodils, as well as enjoy a walk through the historic fields. Once the flowers come into bloom, usually around the end of February, they may last anywhere from 3-6 weeks, depending on the weather. To get to the fields, turn onto Pinckney Colony Road off Highway 278 between Rose Hill Plantation and Eagle Pointe. About a mile and a half down, take a right on Calhoun Plantation Road, then a left on Porcher Road. The fields are open Friday afternoon, all day Saturday, and Sunday afternoon. School groups wishing to visit may call 757-3851 to make an appointment during the week.
Greek mythology tells us about the tragic love story of Narcissus and Echo. Remember Narcissus? Know people who are narcissistic? It all flows from the famous Greek myth about Narcissus, the handsome youth who was granted his great good looks by the Gods. But as in most myths, there was a catch. His beauty was permanent and he was immortal, as long as he never viewed his own reflection. Once, while Narcissus was hunting in the woods, a nubile wood nymph named Echo saw him from her hiding place behind a tree. He was so handsome, she fell desperately in love, but Narcissus spurned her. She was so devastated by his rejection that she wept and wailed, and was ultimately consumed by her love. She pined so that soon all that was left of her was her voice. The prophecy of her name had come true. But the Gods were not pleased. The goddess, Nemesis, heard about poor Echo, and lured Narcissus to a shimmering lake. There in his vain state, he was unable to resist gazing at his own reflection, and fell in love with himself! As he gazed, the divine penalty took effect, and he simply faded away. In his place sprang up the golden flower that bears his name today. Now you know how Daffodils came to be, and also why psychologists warn vain patients about the “Narcissus complex.”