Nature couldn't have been more gracious Saturday as she beckoned visitors of all ages to the 18th annual Montpelier Festival of Herbs, Tea and the Arts at Montpelier Mansion in South Laurel.
"We got very, very lucky with the weather," said Montpelier museum educator Holly Burnham, who organized the festival.
Spread across the mansion's lawn under a near-perfect spring sky, more than 40 vendors and craftors offered bath products, fabric art, home and garden products, jewelry, plants and herbs, food and tea for sale.
Al Zamborsky, of Ellicott City, said he walked the mansion grounds regularly when he lived in the Woodland Grove Apartments across the street, and wanted to share the experience with his wife, Nellie, and their daughter, Nadia, 2.
"It's a gorgeous spring day and we came to enjoy walking across the grounds and to see what's going on," Zamborsky said.
Educational activities for kids and adults started at 10 a.m. when the festival opened, offering nature walks, garden talks, lots of art and craft demonstrations by regular exhibitors and hands-on children's art and history activities throughout the day.
Patricia Steck, who manned the "Paint the Bird" activity positioned near the front entrance, said painting over-sized animal sculptures has been popular at the festival in years past.
Budding artists seemed quite content going at it as they painted vivid colors onto two giant white bluebirds. Steck said the brightly painted statues would be cleaned and sanded for reuse after the festival closed.
A preview of the interactive displays that will be part of Montpelier Mansion's Blast in the Past playground opening this summer also appeared popular with local kids.
Laurel residents Givon Stiles, 12, and Sudhir Snell, 11, wearing Colonial hats and writing notes with feather quills, appeared happy to step into the 18th century.
"We're writing in code to George Washington to warn him about an attack," said Sudhir.
"I'm going to try making medicine next," Givon said.
The Laurel Arts Guild sponsored another group art project, an all-day painting. Festival-goers were invited by signs to "add your artistic touch" to what started as blank canvases to be sold at auction when the paintings were finished. Anyone could participate.
Two performances of a nature-inspired fashion show presented by ManneqART Inc. — a North Laurel nonprofit arts education organization that defines itself as "sculpture on the human form" — added new energy to this year's festival.
"We've always had performance, but we've never had a fashion show before," Burnham said.
Draped on mannequins displayed near the center of the lawn, some of the sculptures were constructed from recycled materials such as caution fencing, insulation foam, fabric scraps and paper.
ManneqART President Lee Hendersen said dancers from Howard County Ballet and the b.funk Dance Company would model the constructions, which looked more like permanent installations than clothing, as well as others yet to be seen.
"Oil Spill," a floor-length, bridal-style gown made of melted plastic bags designed by Susanne Williams of North Dakota, made an obvious ecological statement.
Hendersen said that wearable art is intended for display and will eventually land in museums.
"Our mission is to inspire creativity," she said.
Caitlin Caldwell, 13, had visited Montpelier Mansion but never attended the festival. Sporting an artfully painted butterfly on her right cheek, she said she came with her Cheverly Girl Scout troop and was impressed by the ManneqART displays.
"I really like eco-inspired art," Caldwell said.
Laurel residents Brian and Giselle Klimek brought their 2-year-old son, William, into the Dino House to explore.
Giselle Klimek said the family also enjoyed the puppet show and the apothecary and would definitely attend the festival next year.
Midway through the festival, which ran until 4 p.m., Kyle Lowe, of the Prince George's County Department of Parks and Recreation Park Ranger Unit, estimated he'd seen 1,500 or more people come through as he directed parking.
As in years past, plants, potted herbs and herbal products were in abundance.
Kelly and David Howell of Russett brought their daughters, 11-year-old Erica and 9-year-old Emily. They said both girls like to cook, and Erica wanted to come for the herbs.
"I love cooking with herbs. They smell so good," she said.