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More Than Tip-Toe Through Highland’s Tulip Time

By David Ellis Created: September 1, 2012 Last Updated: September 2, 2012
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Tulip Time has come a long way since the first event 52 years ago. (Courtesy of Tourism Southern Highlands and Hillview Estate)

Tulip Time has come a long way since the first event 52 years ago. (Courtesy of Tourism Southern Highlands and Hillview Estate)

We’re not sure if this comes under the category of trivia or the coincidental, but this year’s Tulip Time Festival in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales will be the 52nd of what has become one of the biggest celebrations of the tulip in Australia, and a far cry from when the first bulbs were planted all those years ago in the town of Bowral for its new-fangled Festival of Flowers.

Coincidental perhaps, because this year 20 council gardeners have planted around 65,000 bulbs in Corbett Gardens, Bowral that will be the center-piece of Tulip Time—and if visitor-interest continues as it has in the past, 65,000 buffs will flock into the Southern Highlands to see those 65,000 tulips (one visitor for each tulip) … together with 25,000 other flowering annuals and 40,000 more tulips in Winifred Street Park just up the road in Mittagong, and just down the road at Moss Vale’s Leighton Gardens.

And that’s not including many thousands more tulips, daffodils, bluebells, peonies and other annuals, bursting forth in rainbows of spring-time color in private gardens proudly thrown-open to public viewing. These amazing venues, in many cases acreages dating back to the late 1800s, surround grand mansions and manors to which early Sydney-siders escaped summer’s heat, planting cool-climate gardens after the fashion of those they’d left back home in England.

But it’s not all just about tip-toeing through the tulips. The 14-day Festival will run from September 18 to October 1 and will also include a colorful Street Parade through Bowral at 3 p.m. on Saturday Sept. 22 with classic cars and historic and modern-day fire engines, marching bands, dancers and other performers—and the Sydney Cycling Club whose members will punch the pedals for over a hundred kilometres to join in.

Southern Highlands’ Tulip Time: now one of Australia’s biggest floral celebrations. (Courtesy of Tourism Southern Highlands and Hillview Estate)

Southern Highlands’ Tulip Time: now one of Australia’s biggest floral celebrations. (Courtesy of Tourism Southern Highlands and Hillview Estate)

Plus during the fortnight there’ll be local radio station 2ST’s Tulip Time Dinner Dance featuring crooner Tom Burlinson on Sept. 20 and Breakfast in the Park in Corbett Gardens on Sept. 21, a Food and Wine Fair as well as a House and Garden Exp on Sept. 22 and 23, a Festival of Rugby (Sept. 29) Tulips After Dark on Sept. 22 after the Street Parade … even a “Battle of the Bangers” at the historic Surveyor-General Inn at Berrima (Sunday Sept. 30) to find the region’s best snag makers and cooks.

Certainly a long way from that first one-week Festival of Flowers that was later re-named Tulip Time, and whose main attraction away from the tulips was a street parade with the obligatory Queen of the Festival Competition.

And while early festivals were supported mainly by council, local service, sporting, cultural clubs and church communities, today while these remain part of Tulip Time, support has literally blossomed-out across the whole of the Southern Highlands community with businesses decorating their shop-fronts for the fortnight, many offering special Tulip Time concessions and bonuses, and funds from major events going to a different charity each year – for 2012 Lifeline Macarthur and Southern Highlands.

HILLVIEW—last vice-regal country residence in its authentic state in Australia, and open for inspection during Tulip Time. (Courtesy of Tourism Southern Highlands and Hillview Estate)

HILLVIEW—last vice-regal country residence in its authentic state in Australia, and open for inspection during Tulip Time. (Courtesy of Tourism Southern Highlands and Hillview Estate)

Among historic buildings available for inspection this year are the grand Berrima Courthouse that was opened in the 1830s in this village that’s an almost time-warp back to Georgian colonial times, and Hillview at Sutton Forest that will also have its historic grounds open for garden-lovers.

Hillview is the last vice-regal country residence in its authentic state in Australia, a rambling and grandiose structure to which 16 N.S.W. State Governors would retreat from Sydney’s heat in summer—and with enough rooms for 50 guests whose comfort was assured by no fewer than 35 butlers, cooks, maids, stable-hands and secretaries.

Plus two Chinese gardeners retained full time to look after the fruit and vegetable gardens, orchards and the chook-houses.

The grounds still contain a huge Monterey Cypress planted in the 1870s, and camellia gardens designed by renowned camellia expert, Professor E.G. Waterhouse in the 1940s.

Tours of the residence during Tulip Time are $5pp and for both residence and gardens $10pp including complimentary tea and coffee.

For Tulip Time information, garden entry prices, and assistance to book accommodation, call 1300 657 559 (Australia) or visit www.tuliptime.net.au.

David Ellis is an Australian freelance writer. He has over 30 years experience in journalism including working as Chief of Staff for ABC Radio National.

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