Every year, John and Mj Gray welcome family and friends to their Dayton, Ohio, home for a party celebrating one of the season's earliest bursts of color—yellow drifts of thousands of daffodils.
The Grays began hosting the gathering in 2006 to share the beauty of their first 25,000 daffodils. John and Mj chose the mass of flowers for their hillside because, John says, “I saw it as a blank canvas—a picture facing the road.” Daffodils suited perfectly because they are deer-resistant spring bloomers that return and multiply each year.
Winter-weary partygoers delight in the 11⁄2-acre spectacle of what is now more than 160,000 blossoms. Though daffodils come in pinks, oranges, whites and multicolors, the Grays stick to one hue—traditional yellow—for a dramatic landscape.
The Grays encourage guests (including their grandson) to make bouquets to take home.
Hand-tied bouquets accent tables and double as party favors. To keep stems together, cinch clusters with florist’s wire just beneath the blooms.
For table centerpieces, Mj Gray displays daffodil blooms at staggered heights in assorted bud vases. “The stems are almost as pretty as the blooms,” says Jeanna Furst, a local florist who helps Mj with the arrangements.
The hue of the day extends to the party decor and menu. An outdoor buffet presents spring-inspired hors d’oeuvres and desserts, such as bite-size sugar cookies and spice cupcakes.
Color-coordinated finger foods include deviled eggs, cheeses, corn salsa with tortilla chips, lemon bars and mini grilled cheese sandwiches with shots of tomato-basil bisque (pictured). (Daffodils themselves aren’t edible, so keep them from touching food!)
Nearly 300 guests enhance the scene with their finery in shades of the color du jour—whether it’s a lemony sundress, a straw hat with daffodils or a canary-bright sweater vest.
The Grays’ hillside of daffodils (Narcissus) features classic yellow varieties that thrive in Midwest gardens. They recommend easy-to-grow ‘Dutch Master’, ‘Carlton’ and ‘Fortune’. The Grays add 10,000 bulbs each year and rely on existing ones to faithfully multiply. Bulbs naturally reproduce by division and spread if their foliage is allowed to mature, so mowing should be avoided. To bring the blooms to your yard, plant bulbs 4–6 inches deep in well-drained soil in the fall before frost. They will do best in full sun to light shade.
Bouquets will last a week if stems are recut every three days. Because daffodils emit a toxin in water, wait 24 hours to mix them with other cut flowers and then place arrangements in fresh water.
Not even rain or snow dampens festivities. A party tent protects everyone, although John and Mj have gradually gained a better sense of timing for the date, which is usually the first or second weekend in April. “Mother Nature has her own way of working things,” Mj says. “And it’s different every year.”
The one guarantee is the daffodils’ impressive three-week show. And, if weather prevents picking blooms, friends and family are always welcome to come another day to gather a bouquet of one of the first signs of spring.