STOCKBRIDGE — A new spring tradition awaits at Naumkeag.
There, some 60,000 daffodils, in various stages of blooming and in a variety of hues, from pale buttery yellows to rich golds, wind their way along the estate's Linden Walk and Ronde Point; dot the hillside along the famous Blue Steps and dance in the breeze near the Venetian gondola poles of its Afternoon Garden. The trumpet-like flowers, a new addition to the gardens, are part of Naumkeag's first-ever Daffodil Festival.
"For the past couple of years, we've wanted to extend our season and show people who live in Berkshire County year round that they can come here and have something to do," said Brian Cruey, general manager at Naumkeag and director of The Trustees of Reservations' properties in the Southern Berkshires. "Working in the shoulder seasons allows us to be a kind of resource to families and people who live here 12 months out of the year. We want to be a community resource."
That effort, he said, began a few years ago, with addition of the popular fall programs, The Naumkeag Pumpkin Trail and Haunted House at Naumkeag. The most recent addition, Winterlights, its first holiday lights show that ran for five weekends, brought over 22,000 visitors to the historic estate and gardens. (In 2015, Naumkeag reported a total of 15,000 visitors for that year.)
"What I loved about Winterlights, is that I had so many people who came up to me and told me, 'I've lived here my whole life and I've never been here.' I hope they'll come back and experience this and the other activities we do throughout the year," Cruey said.
Planning for the Daffodil Festival, which runs Thursdays to Sundays through May 12, began three years ago, with the bulbs going in the ground over a rainy weekend last fall.
"It was a wild fall for us. We planted a variety of different daffodils, allowing for more color and fun across the property. We also planted tulips and some minor flowering bulbs around the estate, and we're potting up pansies and hyacinth," he said.
Much like Winterlights, the Daffodil Festival will feature a half-mile, self-guided tour through the garden "rooms," a series of smaller gardens, (including the Tree Peony Terrace, along with the Afternoon, Rose, Evergreen and Chinese gardens) which make up the estate's garden. The garden was designed by renowned landscape architect Fletcher Steele and Mabel Choate, whose parents built Naumkeag, a 44-room Gilded Age summer cottage.
"There's going to be surprises around every corner," Cruey said. "We're going to have a bubble fountain, with large balloons that look like bubbles and bubblemakers all around the fountain [near the Chinese Garden]. We're going to have 1,200 pinwheels on one of the lawns and we have 1,300 pink flags lining the woodland walkway. This is something we'll be able to grow year over year and add on to every single year."
Over the course of the three-week event, the estate's cherry tree, in the Chinese Garden, as well as its apple trees near the Blue Steps, should begin to blossom and bloom.
"What I love about this project, is that 20 years from now, it's still going to be here. And it will have doubled or tripled in size," he said, referring to how daffodil bulbs naturally divide and increase in number.
In addition to the self-guided tour, the first floor of Naumkeag will be open, and there will be a variety of activities, cut flower sales and a concert on Mother's Day. A concession stand will be open during the event, offering snacks, pastries, mimosas, beer, wine and specialty cocktails from Berkshire Mountain Distillers.
As the festival winds down, Naumkeag will be preparing to kick off its summer season on Thursday, May 16. Launching with the start of the season is the brand new, `Today@Naumkeag' experience, a week-long admission pass that allows for return visits and mini tours and experiences each day.
It's a new approach to welcoming the public into the gardens and the historic home, Cruey said.
"We're removing a lot of the ropes and welcoming the public into the rooms," he said. "We're opening up the first floor."
To do that, parts of the home's collections will be removed, along with the antique furnishings. In their place will be period furnishings, with board games and activities that would have been available during the 1930s and 1940s, when Mabel Choate made her home at Naumkeag.
"Visitors can experience life like it was during the Gilded Age or when Mabel was there and in charge," Cruey said. "We'll still have tours on the schedule every day, but instead of being an hour-long house tour, they'll be a mini-tour about the Choate family or a tour of the Blue Steps. We'll also be offering workshops on horticulture and stewardship and ones that are art and nature-based. And we'll continue to have Naumkeag at Night on Thursdays this summer. We're offering an exciting new way to experience the house with a lot more variety."
And, beginning in June, the public will have more opportunities to enjoy the estate's eight acres of terraced gardens.
"We'll be extending the hours the grounds are open. While the house will close at 5 p.m., the gardens will remain open another three hours, from 5 to 8 p.m.," he said. "We want people to feel encouraged to find what they find special about this place. We want to encourage people to come here to have a picnic and enjoy the view. This is one of the best places in the Berkshires to watch the sunset."