From the very beginning, the Nantucket Garden Club’s Daffodil Flower Show has been the centerpiece of our island’s annual Daffodil Festival.
It all started nearly half a century ago in May of 1975, when the Nantucket Garden Club, encouraged by member Jean MacAusland, organized the first Nantucket Daffodil Show. Sanctioned by the American Daffodil Society, it was held in the Nantucket Boys’ & Girls’ Club, and included 250 entries under 9 classifications of blooms. Three Best in Show awards were given. The week of April 28 to May 4, 1975, was officially declared by the Nantucket Board of Selectmen as “Nantucket Daffodil Week.”
In 1978, the Nantucket Garden Club started a project spearheaded by Jean MacAusland to plant one million daffodil bulbs around the island. They started with 30,000. In 1979, Jean MacAusland purchased 8 tons of daffodil bulbs, which were planted that September. Since then there have been additional plantings every year. With the natural spread of daffodils, it was estimated that there were about 2 million daffodils blooming across Nantucket before the state sacrificed some of the planted areas along Milestone Road during road work.
The annual Nantucket Daffodil Festival was moved from May to late April in 1980, and more events have been added. It is still celebrated during the last full weekend of April, and the two-day annual Nantucket Daffodil Show has grown as well. In 2022, more than 1,000 stems were entered. Not all the daffodils were grown on Nantucket Island: some participants traveled here from afar with their stems carefully packed. “The Nantucket Show draws a lot of people,” said Chair of Clerks Mark Budaj, “we’ve had entries from Ireland… Georgia, Virginia…” There are entry classes for daffodil stems, photographs, and daffodil arrangements. Daffodil cultivars may be entered in one or more divisions. In addition to ribbons, the Nantucket Garden Club now gives out sixteen special awards for daffodils grown on-island and three special awards for arrangements.
It’s the dedicated members of the Nantucket Garden Club who work all year to make this stunning flower show the highlight of Daffodil Festival Weekend. Many of the committee members have been a part of the show planning and execution for years, and a number of them grow daffodils and enter the show every year.
Mark Budaj has been involved with the Nantucket Daffodil Show for 18 years and for the past decade has been Chair of the Clerks. Each year, he recruits ten individuals to act as show clerks. They follow the judges, assist them during the judging process, and record the Nantucket Show data that is sent to the American Daffodil Society.
He “washed ashore” on Nantucket in 1984: “I had some college friends who said ‘come out and see what Nantucket is all about.’ It seemed like a good adventure. The beach appealed to me…
“Then I got a job crewing on an 86-foot sailboat out of Nantucket. We went up and down the coast and wintered in the Caribbean. When the owners sold the boat, I came back here…I enjoyed the small town feel, a place where you could say ‘hello’ to people walking by, and they knew your name.”
Mark was working at the Folger Hotel (now The Nantucket Hotel) when the Daffodil Show was held there, “I picked some of the daffodils that grew around the hotel, and it escalated from there: I caught the ‘yellow fever’,” he explained. He loves “the burst of color in the spring that means ‘we got through the winter.’ And the diversity [of daffodils]—there are more than 6,000 varieties, early, mid-, and late season that you can enjoy from mid-April through mid-May.”
From that first year, he’s become devoted to daffodils. He maintains three gardens on-island where he grows daffodils—his main garden has 16,000 daffodils and 145 different varieties. In addition to many ribbons, Mark’s daffodils have won in most categories: Historics, Classics, Intermediate, and Collections of 12, 15, and 24. “I have nine Nantucket Garden Club awards for arrangements, and last year I won a Quinn for 24 individual stems from at least four different divisions,” he explained. “It’s hard to get that many flowers ready at the exact same time…and they each have to be perfect!”
In addition to being in charge of the Clerks at the Nantucket show, this year Budaj has been asked to help train the clerks and run the Tower Hill Show in Worcester. “It will be nice to do our show and one more before the daffodil season is over.”
Of the thousands of varieties of daffodils, Mark’s current favorite is called White Lady, an elegant ADS Historic with white perianths, a creamy yellow cup, and delicate scent.
“This year I will probably enter five or six collections, as long as my flowers cooperate,” said Mark. At the 2023 Nantucket Daffodil Show April 29 and 30, be sure to look for Mark’s entries.
Mark shared a few tips for growing daffodils to enter the show: “always plant early, mid-, and late season varieties…make sure you know what you bought and where you planted them…pick ahead [for the show] some varieties won’t be growing or the weather could turn bad. Sometimes I have up to 100 stems cut before the show: they won’t all last.”
Photographic entries for the 2023 Nantucket Daffodil Show must be brought to the venue at Bartlett’s Farm on Wednesday, April 26. Horticulture and Flower Arrangement entries may be brought to the venue between noon and 6 pm on Friday, April 28 and on Saturday morning between 7 and 9:30 am. Those needing assistance filling out entry cards and identifying their blooms are encouraged to bring their entries on Friday. No late entries will be accepted. The show opens at 2 pm on Saturday, April 29.