When Dutchman Pete Denzer planted daffodil bulbs from his native Holland around his eastern California homestead in the late 1800s, he couldn’t have imagined that his love of flowers eventually would result in acres of eye-catching yellow blooms that now attract thousands of visitors every spring.
The yearly post-winter trek to Denzer’s hillside spot ensues as warm spring temperatures trigger bulbs to bloom—and as the hillside explodes in color, legions of the flower faithful follow the daffodil-lined road to Daffodil Hill for their fill of this heart-brightening harbinger of spring.
Daffodil Hill is located on McLaughlin Ranch, about 65 miles southeast of Sacramento, just a short drive from Jackson (pop. 3,989). Not far from historic Kit Carson Pass, the ranch began as a combination toll road and resting spot for weary travelers and teamsters hauling timber. The McLaughlin family rented rooms and served homemade meals; breakfast cost 25 cents and there was plenty of room to shelter tired horses.
Mary Ryan, 81, says her grandparents, Arthur and Lizzie McLaughlin, bought the ranch in 1887. After Lizzie’s death in 1935, more daffodils were planted in her memory.
“We’ve kept it up ever since,” Ryan says.
In the 1930s, the first visitors stopped to admire the McLaughlin family’s garden—situated in a beautiful alpine setting at a 3,000-foot elevation. Eventually, more travelers began to admire the proliferation of daffodils. As Daffodil Hill’s popularity grew, the place soon became synonymous with spring in Amador County.
Daffodil Hill opens from mid-March through April, but “it all depends on the weatherman,” Mary Ryan says. A late spring snowstorm isn’t unusual. “We’ve been open as little as a week due to snow.”
Martin Ryan Sr., Mary’s husband of 57 years and a former Amador County Superior Court judge, estimates the daffodils occupy about eight acres.
“I believe we planted about 10,000 bulbs last year alone,” he says. In addition to an array of daffodils and tulips, walnuts are grown for the purpose of paying yearly taxes.
“It’s just a family project run entirely on donations,” Mary Ryan says. “I have two sons and one excellent husband who help. It’s a lot of work, but we love it.”
Preparing and planting the daffodils is a family event from November through February. Over the years, about 300 varieties of daffodils have been placed in the ground, totaling more than 300,000 bulbs.
The road to Daffodil Hill meanders along a rustic two-lane road—a respite from the hectic world, where visitors can enjoy a country picnic and wander the twisting dirt paths lined with farming tools, wagon wheels, chickens, an old barn, rusting mining equipment, rabbits, and peacocks.
“We have peacocks by the case and carload,” says Mary Ryan, laughing. “They’re good with snakes and rodents. In the spring their feathers are in good bloom.” Though his wife isn’t quite sure how many of the peafowl roam the hillsides, Judge Ryan adds, “too many.”
It’s easy to understand why Lizzie McLaughlin fell in love with her charming homestead now peppered with yellow daffodils in the California gold country foothills, looking not unlike a Monet painting. Today, she would in all likelihood be awestruck at the spectacular sprawling hillside she once called home. Though the blooms fade in late spring, Lizzie’s love of daffodils lives on at the McLaughlin Ranch.