Director Brian Cruey says the 1885 estate is adding more events in the shoulder seasons to attract new visitors.
STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — As if by magic, the woodland trail at Naumkeag is bursting forth with yellow and white blooms that will continue over the next several weeks.
That magic is the result of more than 60,000 daffodil bulbs that were planted last fall in scattered groups along the trail and wooded hillside to mark the return of spring and to entice visitors the historic home during what had been the off-season.
The first annual Daffodil Festival that opened Thursday — and the hugely popular "Winterlights" last December — are Naumkeag's pitch to the community to consider the estate as more than just a summer visitor venue.
"We're really just looking at different ways that we can get new audiences to the property," said Director Brian Cruey during a sneak peak of the grounds on Wednesday. "Not everyone loves a historic home tour, maybe not everyone is a garden aficionado, but we're hoping that we can get people here and show them that this is really a place of public enjoyment and recreation, and we're just trying to have fun."
The half-mile self-guided hike curves up the hillside and around to a maypole and a tree-lined lane to the patio area where the snack shack from Winterlights will reopen for the summer.
The walk is moderate — there is a hill to go up — and lined with a fluttering pink flags to ensure visitors can find their way. More than a dozen varieties of daffodils provide pops of color along the way and fluttering Monarch "butterflies" are situated near displays for a children's educational scavenger hunt.
The daffodils will also be punctuated with tulips, Glory of Snow and grape hyacinths as they bloom over the three weeks of the festival's run to Mother's Day on May 12.
"One of the things that we are really committed to doing is supporting our year-round community, and not just our eight weeks of July and August," said Carrieanne Petrik Huff, engagement manager. "That's an important community, too. But these shoulder seasons are opportunities to really grow our engagement and understanding of place. So by planting daffodils, we're offering an opportunity to be outside, learn about gardening and experience the place in a way that you don't see in July."
Naumkeag was designed by famed architect Stanford White as a summer home for New York City lawyer Joseph Hodges Choate. His daughter, Mabel Choate, working with landscape designer Fletcher Steele, expanded and developed the singular gardens around the 1885 estate over a 30-year period.
She bequeathed the property to The Trustees of Reservations, which opened it to the public in 1959. The grounds have undergone a $3.3 million renovation to restore Choate and Steele's vision, including the famed Blue Steps and the Chinese walled garden.
More than 11,000 visitors tour the 44-room house and grounds each year. Cruey said the stretch into the "shoulder seasons" is designed to engage both a local audience and visitors who might return again and again.
"I think a lot of people focus on the summer months, but we've got families and people who live in our communities year-round and we want to be here for them as well," he said. "And we really see that with our shoulder seasons we get a lot more local families, a whole different audience than the summer even though we do get a lot of people who come back for our Thursday night concerts or for tours in the summer. This just attracts a whole new audience for us and we love it. It's great."
The estate is also offering new hours for the summer to encourage visitors to spend more time on the property. The house will close at 5 p.m. but the grounds will be open seven days a week from 5 to 8 p.m. during July and August. The snack shack will be open with a full bar on the upper patio with its views of the glen and mountainside. Naumkeag at Night with live music will return on Thursdays.
"We've the best sunset by far," said Petrik Huff.
The estate will also offer more activities and mini-tours throughout the day. Dubbed Today@Naumkeag, guests can explore the estate at their leisure and participate in a variety of programs, demonstrations and lawn games. Weeklong passes will be available to encourage guests to return. Passes for Trustees members are $20.
The summer season kicks off mid-May with The Trustees "Home Sweet Home" open house on Saturday, May 18, at all its properties. The theme of "Makers, Masters & Craftsman" will celebrate the architects and craftsmen who designed and built The Trustees' historic properties. Participating venues in the Berkshires are Naumkeag, Mission House, The Folly at Field Farm in Williamstown and the William Cullen Bryant Homestead in Cummington.
Daffodils weren't part of Mabel Choate's garden design but the staff at Naumkeag think she'd approve.
"Mabel loved flowers," Petrik Huff said. "So I don't think that she would be opposed to seeing all these daffodils planted."
The Daffodil Festival runs Thursdays through Sundays through Sunday, May 12, from 10 to 4. Admission is $15, $9 for members, and children are free. Includes children's activities and a concert on Mother's Day. For more information: naumkeag.thetrustees.org.
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