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The mystery of the disappearing daffodils

In spite of what I thought was a good choice of flowers, I hadn't considered one particular 'pest.'

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Field of flowers: A preschool student picked a daffodil from a plantation in Bluffton, S.C., last month.

Jonathan Dyer/The Island Packet/AP

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Because I'm not a serious gardener, I decided long ago to put my meager efforts into daffodils. There were two reasons for this. One, they are rodent-resistant, so my efforts would not end up as a meal for the local groundhogs. And two, I heard that the bulbs need to be dug up and divided only every 25 years or so, a long enough horizon that I wouldn't have to think about them again until after my kids were in college.

I was also drawn to planting bulbs because by the time they come up several months later, the expense and labor of planting them is long forgotten. That makes these spring surprises seem like free flowers, and year after year they delight. Once you have planted them, it's clear sailing for a long time.

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But in spite of what I thought was very good planning, I hadn't considered one particular neighborhood "pest."

When I moved to Maryland, I ordered an assortment of about 200 daffodils to plant along our driveway that first fall. My vision was to sprinkle them on both sides a little way into the woods to create one of those natural-looking displays that the catalogs always make look so, well, natural.

The bulbs arrived, and I began to plant, but I had never before tried to spread bulbs over such a large area. Once I had moved a few feet down the drive, I realized it was nearly impossible to tell where I had planted the previous bulbs.

I went to the recycling pile and pulled out old newspapers and used sections of them as markers. I walked down the driveway, dropping the papers in a careless fashion until I had what looked like a random distribution of spots. Then it was a simple matter to plant a few bulbs around each paper marker.

The next spring I anxiously awaited those first green shoots. In the following years, they multiplied, and the woods were soon filled with more and more yellow blossoms smiling and nodding in the wind.

But last spring, I was in for a big surprise.

Each day, as I walked down the driveway to get the mail, I would admire those stiff little shoots as they popped through the dry brown leaves under the trees.

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The ends turned to yellow-green, then yellow, and finally opened into the distinctive trumpet flowers. Each day I enjoyed my walk to the mailbox more.

But one evening as my husband and I went for a walk, the flowers were gone. Not just faded or wilted, but completely gone. All along the drive there was not a blossom in sight.

That morning I had been greeted by a plethora of yellow blooms, but now there were only green stumps. Someone had picked all of my precious daffodils!

My suspicions were magnified when I found a few picked flowers lying at the side of the drive. I was furious. How could anyone pick not just a few, but every single one? Couldn't they be satisfied with a dozen? Why all of them?

Thinking that our nearest neighbors might have seen the culprit, I knocked on their door. By this time I was coming up with all sorts of plans about how I would teach someone a lesson.

As I walked into their house, I was immersed in the perfume of daffodils. It appeared as if every surface had a vase filled with a bunch of yellow flowers. That afternoon their 5-year-old daughter had found all these beautiful flowers "in the woods" and just couldn't stop picking.

I must have achieved the picturesque natural look that I had desired – so natural that a child couldn't imagine that they were anything but wild. And it gave new meaning to my concept of "free flowers."

My neighbors were appalled when they realized what had happened, and at the moment I arrived, they were trying to figure out how to approach me about the purloined flowers.

As they told the story, I couldn't stop laughing and was reminded of the days when I had picked all the dandelions in our yard and proudly presented them to my own mother.

It was such an innocent solution to the mystery of the missing flowers and so much better than what I had been imagining. I think I enjoyed my daffodils more that year than I ever had before.