William Wordsworth wrote that he was wandering ‘lonely as a cloud’ when he came upon the famous ‘host of golden daffodils’. Let‘s call that poetic license. He was actually out walking with his sister Dorothy. It was she who recorded in her journal the memorable image of the daffodils dancing and laughing in the cold spring wind. Wordsworth wrote the world’s most famous ode to the daff a few years later, and by the time NSW Governor George Gipps came to the job of renaming the town of Solitary Creek, Wordsworth was Poet Laureate.
Solitary Creek was on the western edge of the Great Dividing Range, a dramatically beautiful spot that must have struck Gipps as sublime in the romantic sense, as he renamed Solitary Creek after Wordsworth’s home, Rydal Mount. Rydal had its heyday when it was the last stop on the train line but now the train doesn’t even stop unless you ask, and the village is a pretty but little-made excursion off the highway just this side of Lithgow.
Every year the village (population 80 if you count city-country commuters) celebrates the Wordsworthian connection in a festival called Daffodils at Rydal. The daffodil show improves and grows each year, and this year an extra 5000 bulbs were planted by the hard-working festival committee. There are daffodils glowing under bare birch, and glittering with golden wattle at the edges of town; and down the tiny main street they bloom under the gentle rain of white blossom falling from Manchurian pears.
Of the private gardens open for the festival the unmissables are Bark Ridge and Chapel House. At Bark Ridge, Lindsay and Laurie Green have thousands of daffodils in pots and troughs, along the lichen-strewn post and rail fences and in a great paddock where different varieties are cheerfully laughing and gossiping in the wind that whips up the hillside.
After decades of planting with a plough Lindsay says she now knows that the secret to a less-back-breaking host of daffodils, is a no-dig method. Put the bulbs down then add the soil, she says.
The bulbs are fertilised each year after flowering and in the week before Christmas, when the foliage has died down, the whole paddock is mown. In winter the spears of foliage reappear, often through a blanket of snow. After a few years the clumps become overcrowded and need to be divided to ensure good flowering. So after this year’s bloom the Greens will mark out bare patches that can be filled, and start the hard work of dividing the clumps.
Jo Maxwell at Chapel House lifted and divided her clumps this March, and the renewed daffs, plus 500 additions of new varieties, are blooming brilliantly, complementing blossom, and bulbs and the bow-like new foliage on the willows around the lake. Chapel House incorporates the old Queen Victoria Inn, built in 1932, which now operates as B&B accommodation, and a house built as a Franciscan seminary in 1920. John Olsen owned the property for a decade or so and put in the two lakes, and since 1989 Jo and Mike Maxwell have been expanding and adding to the complexity of the gardens. For the festival Chapel House hosts local artists, plant stalls and music, including a pipe band which marches around the big lake. Visitors can bring a picnic or grab a sizzled sausage. Bark Ridge too, is catering for sausage lovers, and also sells locally handmade jams, chutneys, pickles and mustards.
Spring flies on fast-forward in Sydney, but at Rydal it’s on slo-mo, so if you feel you haven’t had your spring fill, wind the clock back and see the daffodils at Rydal.