16,000 Daffodils: Visiting A Plant-Obsessed Vermonter
16,000 Daffodils: Visiting A Plant-Obsessed Vermonter
We took a garden tour in late May. We first heard of Harold Cross when he appeared on one of our local news channels, proudly showing off his display of over 16,000 Daffodils in the green hills of Morrisville, Vermont. I quickly set up a time to head out and meet this interesting 70-year-old man who has created one of the most impressive — and interesting — displays of Daffodils and perennials with his wife Leila at their farm Crossview Gardens.
I drove the windy dirt roads out to Harold’s home on a rainy day in late May. He had warned me on the phone that the Daffodils were not in peak season and that he really wished I had come earlier, but as soon as I pulled into the driveway it was evident that he was wrong.
What ensued over the next several hours was a very, very thorough tour through his massive gardens, which should be described more as a carefully-crafted collection than gardens. He quizzed me every so often as we walked through the plants and would be very proud if I knew the latin name of the variety and very disappointed when I was forced to admit I didn’t. It made me want to go home and learn everything I could about these plants. I hope that when you get to the end of this piece you’ll understand why I am already planning my next visit to see this quirky third-generation Vermonter and his curated collection of perennials.
Crossview Gardens is at the end of a dirt road in the small town of Morrisville, most closely known for being just a short drive from Stowe, a big resort town in Vermont. Harold told me that his grandparents purchased the farm in 1905 and his family has occupied it ever since. When his grandfather passed away in 1960, Harold’s father took over the then dairy farm and they milked cows for the next 27 years. In 1987, Harold and his family sold the cows and decided to “Milk the land a little differently,” says Harold. And milk the land they did. As of this May, Harold and his wife are proud to grow 2,500 varieties of Daylilies, 1,100 varieties of Hostas, 150 varieties of Daffodils (16,000 plants), over 100 varieties of Lilies, and “a bunch” of Peonies. I made him repeat these numbers to me because I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it.
Harold is a self-proclaimed “plant addict” and his gardens started out with an addiction to Daylilies about 12 years ago. He says his addiction to Daffodils has only been for the past 8-10 years, and since then he’s searched high and low for the most sought-after varieties available. “We’re at the point now where the normal garden centers don’t have what I want so I have to order online from specialty places,” he says. When it comes to maintaining these massive gardens, Harold admits he doesn’t like to pay anyone to help and prefers to do the work himself. Because of this, he says he has a “lax” view of garden maintenance. “Being a one man force around here I have a lot of stuff to do and not a lot of time to do it … I just keep it myself and if it doesn’t get done, I’m retired, I’ll do it tomorrow. If I don’t do it tomorrow, that’s OK -- I’ll do it whenever I get to it.”
At this point Harold says he has stopped expanding his gardens and is focusing more on upkeep, but I noticed several wagons filled to the brim with a variety of Peonies and Hostas that were definitely going to be added to the garden that day. With thousands of plants to not only grow, but also keep meticulously labeled, it’s obvious as we walk from area to area that this plant obsession Harold has is rooted in a deep love of gardening and working the land.
Masses of Daffodils are paired expertly with the most interesting Hostas I’ve ever seen, next to Peonies budding out but not yet blooming. He’s designed the garden for just this — a tour. A winding path leads you through garden bed after garden bed, with expertly-placed seats to sit and enjoy the view. Harold built a pond that is fed from a brook nearby with an elegant fountain in the middle and colorful chairs placed all around. When we stop by the pond he pulls fish food from his pocket and throws some out for his bass. A large swath of Daffodils sits at the edge of the pond and Harold points out that this beds’ purpose is for young children who come visit the farm to be able to pick their own bouquets for their moms. He tells me that they had hundreds of visors on Mother’s Day weekend and it was so fun to see moms leaving with their freshly-picked bouquets.
It’s details like this that make Harold’s property more than just a massive garden — it’s an experience. Because of the buzz around the state about his plants, Harold and Leila open up their property about 5-6 weekends per season at the peak bloom time of their plant collections — early spring for the Daffodils, late spring for the Peonies, and summer for the Daylilies. He tells me that’s more than enough work for the “home hobbyists” that they are.
I interviewed Harold before our tour and it was obvious that he was antsy to get moving through the gardens. I asked him what his favorite thing about having people come visit the property is. “It’s amazing how many people still think Daffodils are only yellow,” he says with a laugh. This exemplifies Harold’s personality well. It’s obvious that he truly enjoys teaching people about gardening and showing just how diverse the plant world really is.
I asked him how he maintains the gardens and gets everything to grow so well. He says when they build new garden beds they use manure from their four horses on the farm but other than that initial planting, he doesn’t feed his plants at all. “I’ve got so many plants here I can’t be lifting every plant and putting horse manure under each and every one,” he says. So what’s the magic ingredient that gets his Peonies to grow to the size of shrubs in just a few years? The soil. “The soil itself helps grow the plants. It’s not sandy and there’s not a lot of clay here. Our soil is Berkshire Loam which drains well and plants grow well.” I think that’s an understatement.
I can tell Harold is tired of my basic questions like, “What is your favorite plant,” because he rolls his eyes and tells me that he likes Daylilies, Peonies, Daffodils, Lilies, and Hostas, which is obvious because he has thousands of them. I smile and turn off the tape recorder, ready to head out for one of the most enjoyable and interesting afternoons of my life. I tried to capture the essence of the gardens with my camera as much as possible, but sometimes beauty like at Crossview Gardens just has to be seen in person. Crossview Gardens is open to the public several weekends a year for garden tours. Learn more at their website.