The Daffodil Lady
Sharing abundance during times when many are worried about having enough
By Carrie Ure, The Portland Upside
“It starts out as a hobby but it becomes a way of life,” according to gardener Jan Behrs of Portland, Oregon.
For 25 years, she has tended two thirds of an acre near the historic southwest neighborhood of Multnomah Village. Once home to Agnes and Florien Cadoneau of the Alpenrose Dairy clan, her shy white clapboard farmhouse hides its perky front porch behind a pair of PeeGee tree hydrangeas loaded with masses of creamy blooms.
A transplant from the weather extremes of the Midwest, Jan moved to Portland in 1980, shortly after the Mount St. Helens eruption.
“We traded volcanoes for tornadoes,” she quips.
Raised on 15 acres north of Milwaukee, Wisconsin by an organic farmer who aspired to grow French wine grapes, Jan searched for her own impossible dream. When she first saw the suburban Portland property, replete with tangled blackberry thickets, tall grass and run-down farmhouse, it was love at first sight.
“I don’t know about the house, but I want that land,” she told her husband.
They moved in and began work in the yard immediately, putting off the house remodel until they had constructed raised beds for vegetables and ornamentals, two children’s gardens for their son and daughter, and a field of heirloom daffodils divided from those originally planted by a Cadoneau daughter.
Although I’ve lived in the neighborhood off and on for 16 years, I met Jan for the first time last week. I’d left my computer to get some fresh air and a change of scenery.
Driving through the neighborhood I register a deep sense of sadness and frustration about my futile job search, dwindling bank account and the current state of world affairs. I’m having a bad day.
As I round the corner onto my street I see the cheerful white shed and hand-painted sign next to Jan’s house. She’s converted a garage into a farm stand and today it’s brimming with bright yellow sunflowers. I find myself pulling over despite my self-absorbed state of anxiety and fear. It’s just so wonderful to see so many flowers!
I choose a gorgeous bouquet of purple and yellow, drop a five dollar bill into the box and head back to my car. Just then I notice a figure stooped in the massive sunflower-filled garden. I venture into the yard and call out, “Yoo hoo!”
Jan hops up out of a flowerbed as I reach out my hand.
“Hi. I’m Carrie, your neighbor…” I venture timidly.
“Oh, hello, I’m…dirty,” Jan says with a smile, apologetically shaking a mud-caked gardening glove from her right hand. We laugh, the ice broken, and I know that, although I’m trespassing, I’ll be forgiven.
“I’ve lived in the neighborhood for years,” I start. “I don’t know how many times I’ve stopped to buy a bouquet. Maybe dozens. But I want you to know that I’ve never needed one more than today. I just want to thank you…” My voice cracks with emotion and I find myself beginning to cry in the company of the kindly stranger with a quick smile, easy laugh and dirty overalls.
A few days later I’m seated on an overstuffed sofa in her cozy living room, with its brick fireplace, old-fashioned built-ins, and art prints of calla lilies lining the walls. Her black cat Zinnia settles on my lap, purring. I ask Jan what motivates her to spend all her free time in her garden, rain or shine, only to sell her beautiful bouquets on the honor system for two dollars per two-dozen-bunch.
Jan’s answer is so straightforward it surprises me.
“Here’s the deal: it’s flowers. It’s hard to have enough to pick for the house with out denuding the garden. My goal was to be able to pick an armload of daffodils to have indoors. That’s why I started dividing them.”
“There needs to be abundance. There are so many things that we don’t have enough of. I can’t eat my fill of chocolate. We can never have enough money. To create abundance I could do it with flowers and when I had enough for armloads for myself, I thought, ‘I bet there are others who don’t have a big yard.’”
It turns out Jan perpetuates a long-standing Multnomah Village tradition. Carl Lehrer, her first neighbor and lord of a flourishing field of spring yellows, had an honor system farm stand for as long as anyone could remember. For years he bought her daffodils, two dollars per two dozen. He liked to mix them in for the color variation they provided in his bouquets. The enterprise augmented his income as a deliveryman, and he eventually saved enough to take his wife on a cruise. After Carl died, Jan picked up the slack, retaining his pricing from over two decades ago.
“They have always been two dollars per two dozen. I can’t charge more because I’m so math challenged. They’ll always be two dollars. If I sell them for two dollars, then anybody can have a huge bouquet of sunshine.
I don’t have wealth in any other way but I do have flowers.”
Flowers, even though a small thing, make a real difference according to Jan. She remembers telling her husband that it didn’t matter that she could grow a whole field of them, she still appreciated him bringing her a bouquet. Even still, she believes the prices charged in stores are criminal because they’re so easy to grow.
“Spring in Portland is gloomy. These flowers are a ray of sunshine. I know how they pick me up. They’re no problem to raise. It’s an easy thing.”
A true-blue farmer, Jan reminisces about her years as the Daffodil Lady. She even speaks easily of the time, several years back, when money disappeared from her cash box one day and then overnight somebody stole all the flowers! She tossed it off as an “opportunistic crime,” installed a locking box the next season and has never had a recurrence of the problem. Often finding IOU’s in the box and notes with dollar bills on her front porch, Jan takes it all in stride.
“What a testament to the fact that local community is thriving in the big city,” I offer. “Imagine! An old-fashioned honor system farm stand still works, right here in suburban Portland.”
To that, Jan just smiles, clearly comfortable making a difference, one armload of flowers at a time.
Carrie Ure is a freelance writer and Copy Editor for The Portland Upside. She blogs about everyday spirituality at http://www.carrieure.wordpress.com.