Every spring, the town of Sidmouth, Devon, in southwest England is blooming with all kinds, including snowdrops, crocus bulbs, and most notably, daffodils.
This beautiful phenomenon was made possible by a generous donation from Keith Owen, a Canadian millionaire and successful investment banker who planned to settle down in the unassuming town.
After being diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2007, Owen left his life savings of £2.3 million (around $3 million) to a voluntary countryside conservation society in Sidmouth.
He contacted the Sid Vale Association and told them he wanted his money to “support local projects, which made use of voluntary labor, and in particular to sustain the ambiance and way of life, recognized in Sidmouth and its surroundings.”
Owen chose to help Sidmouth because he believed it reflected England as it “used to be.”
To fulfill Owen’s dying wish, the Sid Vale Association used £166,000 (around $218,000) from the donations to plant 153,000 flowers across 50 sites in Sidmouth. The daffodils, in particular, are now in bloom, brightening up the town and bringing joy to residents and visitors alike.
“Every year it brings back happy memories of this man who did this amazing thing for the town,” said Ed Harrison of the Sidmouth Civic Society.
The daffodils were planted on Peak Hill in Sidmouth, where people can stop by to take in the pretty views and capture photos. Aptly, the town refers to the site as the “Valley of a Million Bulbs.”
A spectator in the area, Julie Hudson, said: “The daffodils are a beautiful golden light in the spring after a dark long winter. It’s about future hope and allowing new growth it puts a spring in your step.”
The entire community comes together to honor Owen’s blooming tribute every year.
“In the autumn months, schools, community groups, and other volunteers come together to plant one million bulbs throughout the town, which then blanket the area in beautiful, colorful flowers once the weather gets warmer. Popular places to see the bulbs as they flower are at Peak Hill and the Byes,” reads a website for Sidmouth.
Aside from the blooms, money from Owen’s fund is used to “provide grants to community groups as well as to add to the town’s atmosphere with the Valley of a Million Bulbs event.”
News of the springtime attraction has spread worldwide, making the daffodils a major tourist attraction in the town. Tourists who would like to visit can find maps of where the bulbs have been planted on the Sid Vale Association’s Website.
Born in 1938 in nearby Totnes, Owen attended Montpelier Preparatory School in Paignton. He joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the mid-1950s and started a career that brought him all over the world. He lived in Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and Canada.
He married in 1970 but separated from his wife after a few years. They had no children.
In 1976, after two decades of RAF service, Owen retired in his 70s with the rank of Squadron Leader. He set up a home in Ottawa, Canada, and spent much of his retirement traveling, regularly coming to Sidmouth to visit his mother, who lived in the town.
During one visit in 2007, he learned that he only had months left to live. Soon after, he reached out to Sid Vale Association and left his retirement fund under their care to be used for a noble cause.
On December 3, 2007, Owen died in Victoria Hospital in Sidmouth at 69.
Thank you, Keith Owen, for leaving such a beautiful legacy in this part of the world. His memory will always be blooming in the townsfolks’ hearts.
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