Old Town Historic Daffodil Project


Spring sprung a bit sooner than usual in Franklin, Tennessee this year, but nonetheless we welcomed its pleasantness.  Daffodils are one of the first signs spring is emerging from beneath the cold darkness of the ground.  I have always anxiously anticipated being able to spot the very first bright yellow flower to open on the Old Natchez Trace by Old Town each year. 

In the 1940’s, along the Old Natchez Trace, Mrs. Goodpasture, who lived with her family at Old Town, a beautiful antebellum overlooking the Harpeth River, planted many, many daffodils.  These daffodils have returned for decades to brighten the spring for travelers along the Trace.  I never met the Goodpastures but my first friends in Tennessee when we moved here from California were the Coopers who bought Old Town from the Goodpastures.  Catherine Cooper told me about this legacy gift Mrs. Goodpasture left along the frontage of Old Town on the Old Natchez Trace. 

When Mr. Goodpasture died in 1999 at the age of 101, I wrote a letter to the editor about this wonderful legacy left by the Goodpastures which I have grown to depend on for hope.  Senator Bill and Tracy Frist now live at Old Town and are adding to this legacy of joy.  Senator Frist remembers visiting the Goodpastures at Old Town when he was younger and told me this January that we wants to plant thousands more daffodils on both sides of the Old Natchez Trace along the frontage of Old Town.  I was elated!

And so started this amazing journey we are now on.  We wanted to find the same sweet historic daffodil which has endured for decades by Old Town.  My research found Sara Van Beck’s Historics Handbook and she told me the actual name of this specific daffodil is Narcissus pseudonarcissus.  I learned that historic daffodils are ones known in gardens before 1940 or formally registered with the Royal Horticulture Society.  Sara has become my encyclopedia of information on daffodil history and she just happened to know a delightful man in Natchez, Mississippi who has some of these daffodils. 

I was over the moon with this Intel and called David Atkins, a retired engineer with the City of Natchez.  In his job he had rescued thousands of daffodils from road and construction projects and replanted them in the city.  Citizens for Old Natchez Trace had done the same with some of the daffodils at our end of the Trace before the recent sensitive template road project to repave the Old Natchez Trace by the Williamson County Highway Department was done in 2014.

David asked Mayor Darryl Grennell of Natchez if he could dig up some of the daffodils which they call lent lilies so we could plant them at our end of the Natchez Trace where native Tennesseans call them buttercups.  The mayor generously agreed and since these sweet flowers had bloomed much earlier in Mississippi, they were gently dug up and over 1200 lent lilies were shipped to us for the Old Town Historic Daffodil Project.  Troy Marden, the “Volunteer Gardener” on Nashville Public Television, was on site with us February 10th when they were lovingly planted along the original dirt roadbed of the 1801 Natchez Trace thus tying through time and place both ends of this historic road built by order of President Thomas Jefferson by United States soldiers.  Even Newschannel 5 in Nashville came out to film history in the planting.

Since this planting we have received a donation from Elizabeth Queener and her late sister Alyne Massey, of Narcissus pseudonarcissus bulbs from their family’s Century Farm in Maury County, Tennessee.  Sara Van Beck’s mother, Linda, is currently digging up some Texas Stars (N.xintermedius) in Tallahassee, (originally rescued from old gardens in Georgia).  I learned that Texas Stars, Lent Lilies and Buttercups are the pass along names of this endearing flower.  Celia Jones of Louisiana will be passing along some of her Twin Sisters (N.x medioluteus) for this historic project.

Daffodils have brought joy to so many down through the centuries and people have carried these bulbs with them to new far away homes.  I learned from Linda Van Beck that a woman in Texas told her family in Europe not to send seeds (rodents could eat them aboard ships) but to send bulbs to plant in her garden. I did not know that historians use blooming daffodils in the spring to mark the footprints of old homesteads, outbuildings and cemeteries.  Nor did I realize that daffodils are poisonous to eat and which is why deer and horses leave them alone allowing them to return yearly to decorate the fields and roadways. 

In 1804, poet William Wordsworth captured their joy in his poem, “I wandered lonely as a cloud, that floats on high o’er vales and hills, when all at once I saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils, beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”

 This fall, thousands more historic daffodil bulbs will be planted adding to this generational gift for the future, a joy to all now present and a grateful tribute to those in the past who planted these harbingers of spring for all to enjoy through the ages.  If you would like to donate to the Old Town Historic Daffodil Project please contact me:  Laura Turner:  lturner@oldnatcheztrace.org.

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