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Arts & Culture

As flowers bloom and visitors return, a look at the history of Cleveland's Daffodil Hill

Spring has sprung at Lake View Cemetery, where thousands of daffodils dot the landscape each year.

Two Kent State students made the drive to the historic cemetery on Cleveland’s East Side eager to see the blooming flowers and take photographs on a recent sunny afternoon.

“I would go anywhere where there’s flowers,” said Mimi Khaing.

Students at Daffodil Hill
Carrie Wise
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Ideastream Public Media
Kent State student Mimi Khaing poses for a photo with the flowers.

Another visitor, Susan O’Reilly of Lakewood, was quite pleased with all of the color.

“People are tired of, you know, the bad weather, and it makes them happy to see these like thousands of daffodil faces,” O’Reilly said.

The daffodils date back to the early 1940s, when an area enthusiast donated thousands of bulbs to the historic cemetery.

“When a Dr. William Weir wanted to donate 6,000 bulbs, we gladly accepted, because we had the perfect hillside for daffodils, which is populated with some pretty trees,” said Lake View Cemetery President and CEO Kathy Goss. “It is perfect this time of year because the trees haven't leafed out yet. The daffodils bring so much green and beautiful yellow explosions of color."

Old editions of The Plain Dealer show the original donor was noted year after year for his exceptional narcissus collection, growing more than 170 varieties at his home and putting on shows with the Garden Center of Greater Cleveland (which went on to become the Cleveland Botanical Garden).

More than 80 years later, people still enjoy the daffodils each spring.

Daffodil shows
Cleveland Botanical Garden
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The Garden Center of Greater Cleveland, which later became Cleveland Botanical Garden, used to host spring daffodil shows as seen in this image from around 1935.

“A garden club planted the original bulbs,” Goss said. “They were all volunteers, and they got the original batch on the ground.”

Visiting Daffodil Hill quickly became an annual tradition, with people spreading the word when the blooms arrived each spring. Now social media posts help do that.

This really picked up steam during COVID, because we were a place that was open during the initial shutdown of the pandemic,” Goss said. “We were free and our gates were open at least 10 hours a day. Now they're open 12 hours a day.”

Each year peak viewing depends a lot on the weather. But daffodils are pretty hardy and offer extended color once they arrive.

“We typically see a couple weeks’ worth for sure, but some of them bloom a little bit earlier than others,” Goss said. "Mother Nature has a lot to do with it. But we consider it around April 15 in full bloom, and it continues into early May."

Over the years the cemetery has supplemented the original plantings, with now more than 150,000 bulbs, mainly yellow daffodils of the Carlton and King Alfred varieties. The cemetery takes pictures when the daffodils are in bloom to look for areas where they might fill in any bare spots for the next year.

Of course, many of these daffodils return, just like visitors, season after season, brightening the hillside and people’s spirits at the same time.