BLACKSBURG — Coming up with at least 2,250 daffodils on a Saturday afternoon seemed like a tall order.
That’s what Joe Scarpaci promised Heritage Hall on April 10 – 150 bouquets to decorate the bedsides and dining tables of the 91 residents of the Blacksburg nursing home and rehabilitation facility.
Finding the posies wasn’t the hard part. Scarpaci and his wife, Gilda Machin, live on a hillside covered with nearly two acres of daffodils of various colors and scents. On the couple’s “daffodil day” in the years before the pandemic, Scarpaci enlisted the help of Spanish-speaking children to whom he was teaching English as a second language. The kids would help to pick and then personally deliver bunches of daffodils to each Heritage Hall resident.
“I really began it as an opportunity for the Guatemalan kids to do something different,” Scarpaci said. “They enjoyed it, and the residents enjoyed it. The daffodils brightened their day.”
The children usually spend long hours in school and in after-school programs while their parents work. As a member of a New River Valley immigrant advocacy, Scarpaci works with others to coordinate after-school activities for kids from Central America. The daffodil day got the children actively engaged in the community.
The Machin-Scarpacis had to skip the daffodil day last year. Everything was on lockdown, especially nursing homes. But this year – a good year for daffodils – they felt that people living and working in Heritage Hall would really appreciate the flowers’ brightening effect.
Scarpaci put out a plea to his community on Facebook because all but one of the children he’d been teaching had left the area. The remaining pupil, Mercelida Saqui-Choc, arrived at the Machin-Scarpaci house early with her friend Margaret Marsille and set about picking traditional yellow blossoms.
Then others showed up – neighbors, friends, friends of friends, people who just wanted to be outdoors inhaling the daffodil’s fragrance and doing something positive in a year when positive is still badly needed. Meghan Kuczmarski came out to pick blossoms for the elderly even though her own grandmother had just died. It seemed like a good thing to do.
“We’re really glad to be part of this,” said Tom Hammett, a colleague of Joe’s before Scarpaci retired from Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.
Edie Schumacher negotiated the steep hillside with yoga-like balance, developed by participating in Scarpaci’s yoga classes at the Blacksburg Community Center. Outdoorswoman Lynn Brammer dipped and bent, picking daffodils while muttering about feeling like “a billy goat” as she wound around a hillside where two legs of the same length were not an asset.
Before long, a dozen pickers had piled up mounds of yellow and white flowers in bags at the top of the hill. Thanks to the many hands, Machin and Scarpaci were able to load up their Subaru with flowers within an hour. They were met at Heritage Hall by an enthusiastic Jordan Benedict, activities director for the facility. Benedict was ready to get the bouquets on the tables and out to residents that evening.
“They smell wonderful,” she exclaimed.
Scarpaci doesn’t know how many daffodil, jonquil, and narcissus bulbs are growing around his house. Tens of thousands for sure. The original owners, Polly and Joe Cobb, now deceased, told him they’d planted 5,000 bulbs. Or actually their tenant planted those bulbs, as well as scilla, snowdrops, and several other flowers.
“The Cobbs had a landscape architecture student staying at their house for a year or more,” Scarpaci said. “That student drew up a landscape design and planted all the flowers in exchange for free rent.”
Over the years, those bulbs divided naturally. They’ve split and multiplied so many times that now when the pickers removed 2,250 flowers, their absence was barely noticeable. But the daffodils presence was felt at Heritage Hall.