Puyallup Herald

Daughter of first Daffodil Queen honors mother by planting a thousand daffodils every year

She planted 10,000 daffodils. Twenty eight years later, she's still planting.

Dianne Bell, daughter of Puyallup's first Daffodil Queen, planted 10,000 daffodils to honor her mother and father. She continues to plant an estimated 1000 daffodils a year.
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Dianne Bell, daughter of Puyallup's first Daffodil Queen, planted 10,000 daffodils to honor her mother and father. She continues to plant an estimated 1000 daffodils a year.

For Dianne Bell, the idea to plant 10,000 daffodils on her property sparked with an image she saw in a garden magazine in the late 1980s.

The picture was of an English manor surrounded by daffodils.

The minute she saw it, the Federal Way resident knew she had to plant daffodils. Because for Bell, daffodils are more than just flowers. Her mother, Elizabeth Lee Wotton, was Puyallup’s first-ever Daffodil Festival Queen.

“It came together that I loved daffodils — I grew up in Puyallup — I could plant daffodils for my mother, and my father had always wanted to plant daffodils for my mom. And now this was my opportunity to plant for him,” she said.

The first Daffodil Queen

The way that Bell’s mother was selected as the first Daffodil Queen was serendipitous.

In 1934, a group of organizers of the first Daffodil Festival were in a meeting when they realized they needed a Daffodil Queen. Right then, Wotton happened to be walking down the street.

“At that moment my beautiful mother turned the corner, came in view and someone said, ‘Her!’” Bell said.

Wotton, who was in her late 20s, was photographed beside the parade float, which was covered in daffodils. She wore a borrowed dress and crown.

“Those were the Depression years,” Wotton was quoted saying in an article published in The News Tribune in April 1979. “We didn’t have any money for anything lavish.”

Dianne Bell holds a page of The News Tribune with a photo of her mother, Elizabeth (second from left), and other members of the first Daffodil royal court at the Rhododendron Garden Nursery in Federal Way, Wash., on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. Bell's mother, Elizabeth, was the first Daffodil Queen. Joshua Bessex joshua.bessex@gateline.com

Bell described her mother as very sweet.

“She loved music,” Bell said. “There was a lot of spontaneity in our family. She liked to sing. We grew up knowing all the songs that were popular back then.”

Bell has a sister, Marilyn, and a brother, Warren. Growing up, Bell’s family had a rhododendron garden and she was always surrounded by flowers.

“It was so wonderful and exciting to go out and see for the first time a new creation. I got hooked,” Bell said.

In 1981, Bell opened the Rhododendron Garden Nursery in Federal Way with her husband, Cecil Bell. It would be where she planted thousands of daffodils years later.

Planting 10,000 daffodils

In 1989, after deciding to plant daffodils for her mother, Bell drove out to what was then the Van Lierop Bulb Farm in Puyallup to pick up the 10,000 daffodils she’d ordered. Bell packed up her truck with half of the daffodils — that’s all she could fit — and decided she would return later for the rest of them.

She drove back to the Rhododendron Garden Nursery, where she’d already dug out the beds she needed, and got to planting. It was a lot of work.

“At the end of the day, I stood up. I had planted one bed and reality set in,” Bell remembered. “I knew I was in trouble.”

It took another two days for Bell to finish planting. She planted some daffodils on the hillside of her property, and some others in a field.

Later that year, Bell took her mother out to the property to see the daffodils.

“That’s nice, dear,” Bell remembered her saying.

Bell was glad her mother got to see them. Her father, Paul Wotton,died in 1985 and never got the chance.

In 1992, Wotton died at the age of 86. But after planting the initial 10,000, Bell continued to plant daffodils for her every year.

Keeping up the tradition

Now, Bell still operates her nursery in Federal Way, and the daffodils continue to grow there. Every year, she plants another 1,000 daffodils to replace the ones that don’t bloom again.

White Thalia, orange and yellow Jetfire, February Gold and Alexis Beauty daffodils are planted around the property.

While gardening gets difficult sometimes, Bell is resilient in her planting.

“When I’m all done, I’m relieved, but the minute it’s over I’m ready to plant some more,” she said.

Bell works at her nursery nearly every day, with the daffodils a constant reminder of Wotton. The way Bell describes daffodils, it’s almost as if she’s describing her mother, too.

“Growing up in the valley, everybody liked daffodils. I don’t want to meet the person who doesn’t like daffodils,” Bell said. “Daffodils have, to me, a personality, and it’s very unassuming. They’re beautiful, but they’re unassuming.”

Allison Needles: 253-597-8507, @herald_allison