Paint the town yellow: Lilley looks to renew, expand N.S. daffodil initiative

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – An effort that began last year to cover the town in a sea of yellow will continue in 2021, with affordable bulbs of a perennial flower sold to residents at low cost, and planted in public spaces.

Ann Lilley said she hopes to distribute 10,000 daffodil bulbs this year, up from 5,000 in 2020.

Lilley started the initiative with hopes to spread a little joy during the pandemic, inspired by the success of a program in St. Louis, Mo. An organization dubbed Brightside St. Louis sells the bulbs annually, and has mobilized hundreds of volunteers to plant some 500,000 of the colorful flowers.

In North Smithfield, Lilley has worked with the North Smithfield Heritage Association to order and dole out bags of bulbs to residents. The King Alfred yellow daffodils – a bright yellow variety – are best planted in fall, and bloom at the start of spring, bringing an early pop of color to spaces that signals the changing season.

And because the blooms return each year, the town’s showing, almost inevitably, will grow over time.

The town’s resident green thumb, Lilley noted that the group purchases large, high-quality bulbs.

“I think this is an incredible bargain,” Lilley said.

Lilley’s leadership at the town’s new Community Garden at the former Halliwell Elementary School has resulted in a lush and abundant harvest, delivered each month during the harvest this year to the North Smithfield Food Pantry, and split among volunteers.

The daffodils, meanwhile, should be planted in area with full sun or partial shade, and grow best in moderately fertile soil that is moist during the growing season. The hardy and easy perennial grows in most regions of North America, and can be planted up until the ground freezes hard, typically through the first week or two of November. If foliage is allowed to naturally die back, daffodils will return year after year, making the flowers a solid investment in terms of both time and money.

Last year, volunteers planted daffodils at The Little Red Schoolhouse, Memorial Town Hall, the town gazebo, the park by Slatersville Mill apartments and around the Halliwell sign on Great Road. Lilley said she’s on the lookout for additional locations that would make a good fit, and hopes to work with Public Works Director Ray Pendergast to identify more spots.

“I would gladly take any suggestions,” she said.

NSHA sold bags of 50 bulbs last year to at-home gardeners and businesses at a cost of $15. This year, the quantity will be increased to 100, purchased at $30 each, and Lilley will once again use a large porch on her North Smithfield home to allow for convenient pickup.

She said she’s, “pretty certain,” she’ll be able to distribute all 10,000 after selling out in the first year.

“I had people calling after we finished,” Lilley said.

The result, she said, was lovely, although not quite in the locations she had originally hoped.

“I had really envisioned planting along the major thoroughfares in town,” she said. “Most of the people who ended up planting them were tucked into back roads.”

A significant number, she noted, were planted at Laurelwood condominiums.

“I’m hoping other neighborhoods can get involved,” said Lilley.

The group also hopes to sell bags of bulbs at NSHA events, such as an open house scheduled for October. And they’ve added an option for residents to make a donation to the effort to plant them in public spaces.

“Last year, all of the donations came out of my pocket,” Lilley said.

The organization expects to order the bulbs with a roughly $2,750 investment in the very near future, and is now accepting preorders. To order your daffodils or ask questions, residents should contact Lilley at (401) 556-0853 or jslilley@yahoo.com.

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