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The Atascadero Centennial daffodil project

Steve and Gretchen Kagel planted hundreds of King Alfred daffodil bulbs in their hillside garden
near Atascadero Lake to celebrate Atascadero's Centennial.
Steve and Gretchen Kagel planted hundreds of King Alfred daffodil bulbs in their hillside garden near Atascadero Lake to celebrate Atascadero's Centennial. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

It started in 2011, when Atascadero residents Lee Swam and Joe Benson were brainstorming ideas to kick off their city’s 2013 Centennial Celebration. They envisioned an activity that would involve the whole community, be eye-catching and generate enthusiasm.

Swam had always enjoyed gardens and daffodils, and said, “How about planting daffodils all over the city?”

The idea took off, and soon they had the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce, the Atascadero News, Mayor Bob Kelley, and many businesses join in the project. Miner’s Ace Hardware ordered several pallets of bulbs, which sold out immediately, and the Atascadero Mutual Water Company ordered $500 of bulbs from Bay Laurel Nursery. Bags of 13 bulbs (for 2013) were sold last year at the Atascadero Friends of the Library Garden Tour.

The Chamber of Commerce became the central distribution point for locals to purchase the bulbs in the fall, while the Boy Scouts and the 4-H took on planting projects throughout town.

At Atascadero High School, the Key Club and Interact Club got busy planting around the baseball diamond and filling a 10-foot tall ‘A’ on the hillside with daffodils. Kids at summer Zoo Camp eagerly placed the bulbs around the community building used for their activities.

The next question that Swam and Benson asked was, “How many bulbs does it take to change a city?”

They came up with 28,310, the population of Atascadero. They figured that it would take a few years to reach the number. As of last month, more than 10,000 daffodil bulbs have been planted, and as they reproduce naturally, the goal could be achieved within a few years. Certain residents got so enthusiastic that they have added hundreds of daffodils to their front yards.

Swam’s leadership of the project continues as he finds new corners or high visibility locations for the bulbs around town. Daffodil bulb gift baskets for anniversaries, birthdays and memorials are one of his many ideas for promoting the local Centennial project. He now has his eye on the hill in front of the new Atascadero Library for a sweeping patch of daffodils.

As community participation and interest increased, Swam and others considered the idea of calling Atascadero the City of Daffodils, but after research, they found that the small apple-growing community of Julian, California, had already claimed the title.

In fact, Julian now has an annual Daffodil Show in late March that draws a large crowd. In Canada, the daffodil has become a symbol of hope for Daffodil Days, a successful four-day fundraising event for the Canadian Cancer Society.

For Atascadero, the fruits of their Centennial daffodil project will be enjoyed for years to come. A large patch of the bright yellow flowers already highlights the new Colony of Atascadero sign along 101 South.

With continued planting and the self-spreading nature of the bulbs, Swam hopes Atascadero residents will start recognizing the dancing yellow bloom arriving in early spring as a symbol of their community.