At Vermont’s famous Billings Farm, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, visitors and staff alike seem to have universally positive reactions to a colorful, returning feature at the destination that educates visitors about rural life.
"I light up. I smile," said David Simmons, the executive director of Billings Farm and Museum, of the landmark's sunflower house.
This year, the sunflower house at Billings is double the size of last year's, boasting 20,000 square feet of plantings, and contains 100 varieties of sunflowers—nearly twice as many as last year.
"It made me feel good—happy—to be here," said Patti Gould, a traveler visiting Vermont from Worcester, Massachusetts.
"It's just really magnificent to see flowers in full bloom and butterflies and bees pollinating," added Mollie Caplis of Baltimore, Maryland, another visitor to Vermont. "It's definitely, I would say, a mood enhancer."
The sunflowers are arranged in paths, along with companion plantings, that make a stroll almost meditative, said master gardener Benjamin Pauly from the nearby Woodstock Inn & Resort.
"When you're walking through this space, you're not thinking of anything else—you're not thinking of bills, you're not thinking about COVID," Pauly said Wednesday in an interview. "All the selfies last year had masks over them. This year, people can smile and show their expressions with the sunflowers—it's a much more uplifting experience."
Pauly said he'll strive for ever-more-complex sunflower plantings here in future summers, adding that he is confident the appreciation for the outdoors that blossomed during the pandemic won't be going out of style.
Simmons, the Billings executive director, said 2021 visits have returned roughly to 2019 levels, following the lifting of state COVID-19 restrictions on business, gatherings, and travel.
While there is no mask mandate in Vermont, some stores and museums—including Billings—do want visitors masked when indoors.
However, masks are not required in the outdoor spaces at Billings, including the sunflower house.