As the earth warms, color and spring flower festivals follow the season. Our picks for the best flower shows and festivals in New England to help celebrate the new season.
There’s a moment, tentative and bewildered. Somewhere beneath the snow, a bulb gets brave, stirs a little, cracks its skin, and begins to push through frozen ground.
Reaching toward pale light, it’s a small gesture but grand. Overhead the sky is brilliant, a jolt of cobalt blue. The calendar says spring, March 20, but this is New England, after all, where dates are merely suggestions … Really we’re in the hands of the gods here.
Until the earth begins to move–literally beneath our feet. Tiny spears poking up everywhere, specks of green and knobby buds flexing themselves, and then, like a torrent, unstoppable, it spreads north. Early March, at the first hint of warmth, crocuses bloom–golden, purple, and white–nestled in goblets of snow. Followed in April by daffodils, tulips, and then, in May, blossoms of every kind: apple, lilac, dogwood. And now there’s no turning back, a river bursting its banks, color seeping out of the snow.
The celebrations begin, from Rhode Island to Maine, and back again. Events pop like blossoms, from the flower shows of March to small-town Daffodil Days in April to the Arnold Arboretum’s blowout Lilac Sunday in May. It’s pagan, visceral, and beautiful. And nothing, absolutely nothing, is predictable–except that we can follow the progress of our wildly tempestuous, heartbreaking New England spring through every kind of celebration imaginable, from garden to orchard to flower festival, watching the earth warm before our eyes.
WHERE DAFFODILS BURST
Nothing heralds spring like a blaze of daffodils. For the grand flourish, there’s the 33-acre magnificence of Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum, on the shores of sparkling Narragansett Bay in Bristol, Rhode Island. Blithewold’s “Bosquet,” a shady grove of trees and 50,000 daffodils, is a sunstorm of yellow, white, and orange blooms, dappled with light and offset by newly sprung red and orange tulips on the border of the sweeping, 10-acre “Great Lawn.” A nearby bamboo grove would be dense enough to hide a family of pandas, and the brittle rustling of leaves, greening up, is like raw rice rolling around on a dish. More seductive still is the swinging chair with views to the summerhouse and down to the glistening water.
Smaller plantings flash their exuberance, too. So hidden and quiet, Hadlock Garden in West Chesterfield, New Hampshire, is an intimate paradise known for bursts of daffodils on Welcome Hill Road, off Route 9 and across from the Chesterfield Inn, just up the hill from the town’s old 1772 burying ground. Leslie and Marjorie Hadlock bought the land in 1941 and began planting bulbs. Today, a park bench invites passersby to stop and consider the thousands of daffodils scattered like stars, overarched with pink, teacup-size magnolias and fountains of yellow forsythia.
It’s only the beginning, though, because if you take a moment to look around, there are daffodils popping everywhere–three million on Nantucket Island … loads more at Laurel Ridge Foundation in Northfield, Connecticut (a village of Litchfield, off Route 254) … half a million in Meriden’s Hubbard Park–so many there’s even a resource to help you find the higher-profile events: daffodilfestivals.com
BRIDGE OF BEAUTY
At the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, adults, children, and the occasional dog (no dogs!) crisscross a 400-foot span over the Deerfield River. In 1928-29, the local Women’s Club reclaimed this abandoned trolley bridge with 80 tons of soil and a crew of volunteers. Now, opening April 1, with gardens lining either side of a generous path and hints of wisteria arching overhead, this “bridge of beauty” is a monument to imagination and community spirit. “It’s the prettiest garden I’ve ever seen,” says one visitor. “I feel like spring is really here.” Tulips, daffodils, and heavenly blue hyacinths hang suspended over the water, a small-town version of the ancient Babylonian gardens, with tree peonies up by a foot and sturdy pink primroses lit by spring’s bright light.
THE PAINTERLY TOUCH
“Obviously we’re not painters, but we’re getting the experience,” says Grace Astrove, a Connecticut College student sitting on the deep porch overlooking the Lieutenant River at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut. It’s early May in the place where American Impressionism flourished and a colony of 200 artists gathered, most notably Childe Hassam, who called it “just the place for high thinking and low living.”
An astute businesswoman, Florence was also a keen gardener, and the museum is restoring her plantings, with more than 1,500 heirloom perennials planned. Modern-day painters are scattered around the grounds of the former boardinghouse (canvas and paint are provided free on Sundays, April-October). The gardens are awash in tender color: pale green, yellow, violet, with dogwoods leaning over the painters’ shoulders.
WAVES OF COLOR
Which brings us to the Greenfield Hill Congregational Church’s Dogwood Festival in Fairfield, Connecticut (75 years and counting), where blossoms are bursting out of control–as they also are at Belltown Hill Orchards, a little piece of Italy in South Glastonbury. Color comes in waves, April and May, moving across the trees that Mike Preli’s grandfather, Louis, started when he came to this country in 1904. Mike gestures over the rolling hillside–150 acres of blooming, ethereal beauty. “You’ve got the whites of the apples and pears, the pinks and fuchsias of the nectarines and peaches. It’s always changing,” he says.
To the north, a haze of color washes over the gardens at Long Hill in Beverly, Massachusetts, and at Boston’s Arnold Arboretum, a sprawling property that’s been around since 1872, a partnership between Harvard University and the city. Think Central Park on Miracle-Gro, with giant tree canopies and thousands of shrubs and vines from around the world. On Lilac Sunday in early May, rows of deep-purple flowers hang heavily, sensuous and plump, the air saturated with their scent. On that special day, visitors can enjoy kids’ craft activities, guided tours, music, dance, storytelling, and art demonstrations. But don’t wait for the official date; show up early, gently pull down a branch, and inhale the inevitability of it all.
Chase it for all it’s worth. Because it’s worth everything, our New England spring–careening across the calendar, spilling out festivals and gardens and glorious color. It’s worth it all.
Do you have a favorite New England spring flower festival or spot to enjoy spring blooms?