Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Volume 40 Issue 1 • April 22 - May 5, 2010
now in our 40th season

The Tradition of the Daffodils

Daffodil HatSpring arrives on the island of Nantucket with a proclamation of brilliant colors. April’s embrace of gentle sea breezes and warm sunshine coax new growth from the island’s sandy soil, adorning roadsides and gardens with daffodil blossoms of bright yellow, orange, white, and green.
The annual Daffodil Festival is Nantucket’s way of celebrating the island’s reawakening after the often bleak months of winter. Held each year during the last full weekend in April, the Daffodil Festival is highlighted by the annual Antique and Classic Car Parade and Tailgate Picnic and by the annual Daffodil Flower Show.

What has evolved into three days of events began more than three decades 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 because they had been planted in a straight line too close to the road. 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.

Daffodil Parade

This “drift planting” protected the plants and gave them a more natural look. Each year the Garden Club added thousands of bulbs, slowly realizing their goal. In the early 1980s, Jean MacAusland ordered eight tons of bulbs to be shipped here directly from the Netherlands. The Garden Club recruited landscapers from Sherburne Associates to take over the planting. Using a power drill, they set out 100,000 more daffodil bulbs along Milestone Road.

Island residents embraced the idea with enthusiasm. Many began to join in-business people 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 theirs, so no one would accidently dig up a daffodil while trying to plant another.

In January of 1978, to add to the festivities of Daffodil Weekend, MacAusland and H. Flint Ranney planned the first parade of classic cars, ending the procession with a tailgate picnic in Siasconset. In that first year, 19 vintage autos participated. Among them were Mike Todd’s 1920 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, Hamilton Heard’s 1924 Graham Brothers Dodge firetruck, Jean MacAusland’s flower-bedecked 1966 Van Dan Plas Rolls Royce, and Ranney’s 1927 American LaFrance ladder truck.

Daffodil Jeep

In 1980, the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce expanded the festivities by introducing the Daffodil Window Display Contest for downtown merchants. This was also the first year that the Antique and Classic Car Parade began stopping briefly on Main Street to allow public viewing and photographing.

In 1989, the Nantucket Antique Auto Club joined in the organization of the event and assumed the responsibility of judging the vehicles. The Chamber of Commerce judges the daffodil decorations on the vehicles and the tailgate picnics.

Daffodil Dog ParadeMany other activities have been added to the weekend over the past two decades. Children now have their own parade of decorated, self-propelled vehicles.  There is a Daffy Hat Pageant and a Daffy Dog Parade.  There are special tours, raffles, wine tastings, and demonstrations.  Art galleries mount special exhibits.  And the Pinewoods Morris Men dancers perform their ancient springtime ritual fertility dance in town and in Siasconset.

A highlight of the weekend is the Annual Nantucket Daffodil Show. This is the 36th year that the Nantucket Garden Club has presented this show in conjunction with the American Daffodil Society.  Hundreds of delicate blooms are carefully grown, properly staged, and displayed in the Coffin School at 4 Winter Street. 

This year’s theme is Nantucket Lights, and the show includes entries in horiculture, arrangement, and photography.  A variety of awards are given for entries including Best Collection of Three Stems of One Cultivar, Most Creative Arrangement, Best Collection of Five Stems, Best Daffodil from a Junior Exhibitor, Best Arrangement by a Junior Exhibitor, Best Miniature Daffodil, Best Historic Daffodil, Best White Daffodil, Best Pink Daffodil, Best Colored Daffodil, Best Youth Daffodil, Best Standard Daffodil, and Best Photograph.

The Daffodil Show is open free of charge to visitors on Saturday, April 24 from 2 pm to 5 pm and on Sunday, April 25, from 10 am to 4:30 pm.  All contributions go to the Nantucket Garden Club Daffodil Planting Fund.

Across the island, the bulbs have naturalized and spread over the years to millions of blossoms that bloom between early April through May every year.

Daffy Tidbits:

  • Daffodils were planted instead of tulips because the large deer population on Nantucket doesn’t eat daffodils—they adore tulips bulbs.
  • Five of the nineteen vehicles driven In the first Antique and Classic Car Parade in 1978 were fire engines.
  • The Chamber of Commerce assumed sponsorship of the festivities in 1982.
  • The oldest car in the history of the parade was David Olderich’s 1910 Sears.
  • The most frequently towed vehicle in the history of the parade is Hamilton Heard’s 1924 Graham-Brothers Dodge fire truck.


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