Spring arrives on the island of Nantucket with a proclamation of brilliant colors. Late April’s embrace of gentle sea breezes and warm sunshine coax new growth from the island’s sandy soil, adorning the roadsides and gardens with daffodil blooms of bright yellow, orange, white, and pink. The annual Daffodil Festival, organized by the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce, is held each year during the last full weekend in April. Favorite events include the Children’s Parade, Daffy Hat Pageant, Antique and Classic Car Parade, and the Tailgate Picnic.
What has evolved into three days of fun began 45 years ago. In 1974, Jean MacAusland, Nantucket summer resident and then publisher of Gourmet magazine, persuaded the Nantucket Garden Club to invite the American Daffodil Society to sponsor a daffodil show on Nantucket. MacAusland and the Garden Club set a goal to plant more than one million daffodil bulbs. The first planting in the autumn of 1974 took place along Milestone Road. Many of the bulbs planted that first year did not survive; they were mowed down before the leaves had a chance to store enough food for the winter. The next planting was done in random clusters farther from the roadbed. This “drift planting” protected the plants and gave them a more natural look.
Each year the Garden Club added thousands of bulbs. In the early 1980s, Jean MacAusland ordered eight tons of bulbs to be shipped here directly from the Netherlands.
Island residents enthusiastically embraced the idea. Many began to join in the efforts: businesspeople donated materials and individuals helped with the planting. Everyone who participated in placing the bulbs along Polpis Road set flags over the spots where they had set their so that no one would accidentally dig up a daffodil while trying to plant another.
The Nantucket Garden Club continues to expand the display of daffodils on the island by donating thousands of bulbs every year to be planted by schoolchildren here. Across the island, there are now more than 4 million daffodil bulbs that bloom from mid- April into May.
This year, the 45th Annual Daffodil Flower Show will be held on Saturday, April 27 and Sunday from April 28 at Bartlett’s Farm. The theme this year is “Shells and Bells.” Flower arrangement classes include “Wedding Bells & Sea Shells,” “Bell Buoys,” “On the Half Shell,” “Silver Bells and Cockle Shells,” “Bicycle Bells and Slipper Shells,” “A Bucket of Shells,” and “Ships’s Bells and Lobster Shells.”
Admission to the show is free, but donations are accepted. The American Daffodil Society recognizes the Daffodil Show of Nantucket as a bona fide Daffodil Show and grants ADS awards to specimens of exceptional merit.
In January of 1978, MacAusland and H. Flint Ranney planned the first parade of classic cars, ending the procession with a tailgate picnic in Siasconset. That first year, 19 vintage autos participated, among them a 1920 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, a 1924 Graham Brothers Dodge firetruck, a 1966 Vanden Plas, and a 1927 LaFrance ladder truck.
In 1989, the Nantucket Antique Auto Club participated in the organization of the event and assumed the responsibility of judging the vehicles. The Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce now organizes the weekend event and does the judging of the cars, parades, and pageants.
Many other activities have been added to Daffodil Weekend during the following decades. Children now have their own parade of decorated, self-propelled vehicles. Men, women, and children join in the revelry of the Daffy Hat Pageant, sporting a wide variety of hats that range from outrageous to elegant. The Pinewoods Morris Men dancers perform ancient springtime ritual dances throughout town and ‘Sconset. The entire island community gets involved: the Coast Guard adorns Brant Point Lighthouse with a huge wreath of daffodils, merchants decorate their shop windows in daffodil motifs, there are daffodil craft projects, special sales, wine tastings, gallery openings, and event themed cocktails served in island restaurants.
The NHA’s Flower Power Party, held in the Whaling Museum with live music, food, and festivities on Friday, April 26, is becoming the weekend’s favorite evening events. At press time a few tickets were still available at nha.org. Also this year, for one night only on Saturday, April 27, White Heron Theatre is bringing nationally known comedian Kevin Flynn back for his hilarious “Nantucket Daffy” Show. Tickets at 508-825-5268.
The Chamber’s Daffodil Festival Weekend is just the start of the season on Nantucket Island. The gorgeous pink blossoms of the dogwood and cherry trees will soon be in full bloom to welcome revelers to the Nantucket Wine & Food Festival in mid-May. Keep in touch with everything that is happening on Nantucket at Nantucket.net.