Gladewater – Over in Northeast Texas, between Tyler and Gladewater, you’ll find a few back roads that beckon to be explored. During the month of February, the trees are still waking from their winter slumber. If you follow the long twisty turns through the thicket, you’ll come across a garden that springs into action earlier than others, Mrs. Lee’s Daffodil Garden.
“This is Mrs. Lee’s garden,” Dennis Phelps said. “It’s the world’s best kept secret in East Texas.”
Dennis is a former petroleum engineer who moved to East Texas from Midland to take on the perfect retirement gig.
“If I could pick my dream one then I’d pick this one,” Dennis said.
Maintaining millions of perennials in this lush 28-acre garden is a far cry from Dennis’s days in West Texas, and that’s a good thing.
“It’s just real peaceful,” Dennis said. “You can do a lot of deep thinking. There’s nobody out here but me, for the most part. “
During the majority of the year, usually 11 months or so, the garden looks like your typical East Texas terrain. Around the middle of February, and only for a few short weeks, something magical happens. Daffodils direct from Holland put on a dynamic display. This was all started in the 1950’s by a woman named Helen Lee.
“It’s spelled Helen, and that’s the way people are going to pronounce it, but she pronounced it ‘Heelen,’” Dennis said.
Helen’s husband left her this piece of property after he passed away, and she turned it into a paradise. She converted gravel pits into lakes stocked with fish and bought a literal boxcar of daffodil bulbs from Holland. Mrs. Lee enjoyed her gardens until she passed away in 1984, and it was her request that the gardens be maintained and open to the public during the bloom.
“That’s what she wanted,” Dennis said. “That’s the reason the land was kept together and I’m sure she’s up in heaven saying, ‘Good job.’”
Now, the only issue when it comes to viewing these delicate daffodils occurs if it drizzles.
“We’ve seen a lot of storm damage here in the last couple of years,” Dennis said. “We’ve had years when we’ve been open one day. We’ve had years when we haven’t opened at all. And then, normally we’ll get a couple of weeks out of it.”
The serene setting of the gardens provides a great stop on The Texas Bucket List to enjoy the beauty of our great state, even if it’s transplanted from another part of the world. In Texas, everything thrives once it finds its footing.
“Yeah, I think God’s doing good enough by Himself,” Dennis said “All I’m supposed to do is mow and keep the grass cut so when they come up they’ll bloom again. And that’s pretty easy.”