The Nantucket Daffodil Festival

First Published in New England Fine Living Magazine

As the days become longer and the temperatures warmer, we close our eyes and take a deep breath in, as the sweet smell of daffodils fills the air. The scent inspires us and fills us with hope as our thoughts turn to rebirth, and we bid adieu to winter and celebrate the awakening of springtime on Nantucket at the Nantucket Daffodil Festival.

 The love affair between daffodils and Nantucket:

It all started in the early 1970s, when summer resident, Jean MacAusland, publisher of Gourmet magazine, joined forces with the Nantucket Garden Club and planted thousands of daffodil bulbs down Milestone Road all the way to Sconset. The very first Daffodil Festival came shortly thereafter. Starting out as a small celebration of spring, a mere 18 antique cars were displayed on Main Street, followed by a parade from town to Sconset where townspeople gathered for a picnic. In the 1980s, Mrs. MacAusland ordered an additional eight tons of bulbs (100,000) from the Netherlands to be delivered to Nantucket. Through fundraising efforts and contributions over the years, there are an estimated four million daffodil bulbs all over this magical island today. This year, 2017, we will be celebrating the 43rd Annual Nantucket Community Daffodil Flower Show, sponsored by The Nantucket Garden Club and held at Bartlett’s Farm.  It’s a not-to-be-missed pageantry of stunning daffodil species, daffodil arrangements, and daffodil photography.  Nantucketers take their daffodils very seriously!

There is something for everyone:

During this fun-filled, three-day weekend, one is able to enjoy parades, floral exhibitions, lectures, art shows, walking tours, live performances, music and dancing. There is a children’s parade with contests for best decorated bicycle,

wagon, and stroller, followed by a family beach picnic at the children’s beach. Pets are coveted and honored too with their own parade, the Daffy Dog Parade, with a prize for the most “daffy” dog. There are contests for just about everything one can imagine.  For the athletically inclined, there is the 5K race with, of course, a “daffy” winner.  One of my favorites is the window-decorating contest, a contest for the most cleverly bedecked daffodil window, in which retailers from all over town participate.

Some in costume, some in couture:

As the number of daffodils has grown, so too has the number of visitors who take to the island each spring. Though boat slips lay in wait, the docks are filled with thousands (an estimated 9,000) who come from near and far, dressed in their yellow and green daffodil regalia, many in wildly decorated hats with daffodils dancing atop their heads.  It would not be unusual to see someone in a yellow ball gown, a yellow sweatshirt and jeans or even in yellow pajamas, but one thing is for sure, the fun attire is what you will see all over the island.

The Antique Car Show:

With the excitement beginning in Hyannis, over 100 cars are driven onto the ferries, many already adorned with hundreds of daffodils, eager to make their way thirty miles out sea, to show themselves on Nantucket’s cobblestoned Main Street. These vintage beauties are most often decorated with a fun theme, such as “Gatsby”, with owners in flapper costumes; or “Grease”, with owners decked out in hot pink poodle skirts with real black poodles on leashes. One year, a gorgeous “Smurf blue” antique car arrived with a Smurf theme. Even the owners of the car painted their faces Smurf blue! With clipboards in hand, judges meander through the rows of these jaw-dropping antique cars and trucks, studying each one, before awarding ribbons.

The Sconset Tailgate is the piece de resistance:

In a grand parade manner, the cars make their way through town, along the traditional Milestone Road route out to the eastern end of the island, to the famous Sconset Tailgate Picnic...and what an event it is!  Each car and truck has a coordinated theme from the very cute to the extraordinary. They park diagonally, on both sides of the road, throw open their doors, trunks and hatches, to reveal sensational creativity, color and humor, with themed tailgate food and cocktails and truck loads of joi de vive!  Some even have live bands as part of their entourage or rented furniture. One year, there was an actual cabaret set up on the lawn with bar stools, and patrons seated at bistro tables complete with linens and centerpieces. Patrons partake in the daffodil stroll, wandering up and down, cocktail in hand, cheerfully socializing and congratulating strangers with warm applause and lots of laughter. Children dance in the streets to the cheerful sound of bells echoing in the air from an English folkdance group, The Pine Woods Morris Dance group, the oldest Morris team in the Western hemisphere.   They perform in different locations throughout the day, joyfully wielding sticks and handkerchiefs as they perform their choreographed steps with bell pads on their shins. No festival would be complete without music and dancing!

The jam-packed days then melt into magical evenings:

Dinner parties are in full swing, complete with dining tables beautifully tablescaped in yellow and green. The magnificent island restaurants reopen to welcome islanders and visitors alike, with advance reservations a must, as many clamor to take advantage of the amazing culinary excursion for which Nantucket is known.  A late-night walk through the cobblestone streets, illuminated by cozy colonial lanterns, begs you to peer into the restaurant windows. You can hear the sounds of laughter and clinking glasses all over town; a scene reminiscent of a Renoir painting, with folks joyously happy to be out and about, reconnecting once again. The level of enthusiasm is infectious and bellows out to the world “spring has sprung and so have we!”

“And all the town folks and visitors are singing, dancing and clapping in celebration as if it were a scene from the Wizard of Oz.”
The 2017 Daffodil Festival on Nantucket Island, sponsored by the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce, runs April 28th through April 30th