‘Daffodil Man,’ volunteers plant over 30K flowers through Mt. Hope beautification project

Beautifying Mt. Hope

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — If you look for the only body of water in Mt. Hope Cemetery, you may find yourself in a sea of yellow, instead. Just past Sylvan Waters in the center of the cemetery sits over 30,000 daffodils. They were planted by 75-year-old Bill Whitney and his team of volunteers. 

“It just happened,” Whitney said. “I had a wheelbarrow grubhoe and a spade, and in 2019 I started restoring the levels in the kettle itself to what it was in 1840.”

It’s all part of the Daffodil Project, a volunteer-run effort to beautify the cemetery, and restore it to its 1840s glory. Whitney — who spent decades as a landscape architect — first started working on a large indent called a kettle. It’s a large hole that’s supposed to have sharp, defined planes leading down, almost like a set of 360-degree stairs.

But the kettle that Whitney started working on had been eroded by time. 

“I worked down in that hole for about a year and a half, maybe almost two years before anybody noticed,” Whitney said, laughing. 

When people finally did take notice, the project grew and grew. Suddenly, Whitney found himself with a team of volunteers to help repair stairs, add walkways, and even fix up monuments and statues. For an hour every Tuesday and Thursday, those volunteers are students from Edison Tech High School. They come out as part of their project-based learning initiatives, which take them all over the city. 

Teacher Chris McCoy said they were working in Mt. Hope before they ran into Whitney and the Daffodil Project but have been eager to come on board. 

“It’s really quite an impressive thing,” McCoy said. “And it’s reinvigorating a space that – while appreciated I think by the community — it doesn’t always get the attention it deserves.”

The volunteers planted their first batch of flowers two years ago. Now, there are 33,000 throughout the stretch of cemetery — but if you count the flowers that spread on their own through pollination, Whitney estimates it’s closer to 40,000. News10NBC asked Whitney why he chose daffodils.

“They are just one of my favorite flowers,” he said, “It proves the case: They started blooming the second week of February, and they actually froze over. You could break them like you could a piece of ice. And I mean, look at them! They’re still coming.”

When the time comes, Whitney and his husband will be buried in the kettle. That’s what brought him out to Mt. Hope in the first place; With family all over the country, Whitney wanted a space for himself and his husband. And he wanted it to be beautiful.

Now, their monument sits in the kettle, surrounded by daffodils. On the back, the headstone borrows a line from a Robert Frost Poem: “Nothing gold can stay.”

Learn more about The Daffodil Project here.