Who doesn’t like springtime? After months of scudding clouds, chilliness and scarf-wrapped walks, the warm sun and budding trees put a smile back on our faces. Time to emerge from our heavy winter layers and feel frisky again.
Drab, onion-like bulbs, so long hunkered beneath the soil, suddenly thrust up green fingers and burst out in a fanfare of bold blooms.
As far as the eye can see, tulips nod in the breeze, as if pleased with the warm spring sunshine. They open up their waxy cups, flaunting scarlet, yellow and bold orange in a psychedelic explosion of colour. Locals and visitors alike ‘ooh’ and ‘ahhh’ and pose for photos, happy as pashas in a palace garden.
Springtime erupts in a bold way in the Southern Highlands, although nature is given a helping human hand during Tulip Time. It takes a team of a dozen gardeners well over a week to plant the annual bulbs, and quite the expertise to get them blooming just at the right moment.
When they finally do, it’s a celebration of nature and human endeavour at its best. Imagine the mass planting of 75,000 bulbs or more across 13 spectacular flowerbeds, packed so densely – 90 bulbs per square metre – that the brilliant colours are uninterrupted.
For most of the year, a visit to the Southern Highlands is all about colonial history, contemporary pleasures and surprisingly rugged wilderness. Bowral, perhaps the most sophisticated of its towns, has a great restaurant scene, boutique fashion and antique shops, and the excellent International Cricket Hall of Fame.
The Southern Highlands has another asset though – the region’s cool climate and distinctive seasons. And yes, that gives it good wines (especially pinot noir and sparkling varieties), but it also gives it spectacular seasonal foliage.
Garden of delights
The tulips are dazzling, but they are far from the only flowers flaunting their springtime beauty in these parts. If anything, the giant waxen blossoms of the magnolia trees outdo even tulips for attention. As for flowering cherry trees, they erupt in luscious pink double blossoms as if competing for festival accolades.
Glorious cherry trees are another feature of Corbett Gardens. The gardens were established in 1914 on the site of an old paddock, which has given its plants over a century to mature. You can also admire superb European evergreen and deciduous trees, as well as beautiful gnarled crab-apple trees with delicate white springtime blossoms. And
Of course, it’s the tulips that command most of the attention. Surely even the most jaded contemporary onlooker would crack a smile at the sight of all these nodding flowers, flaunting their camera-clicking extravagance of shocking colour.
Celebrate good times
Tulip Time will be even more special this year, since 2021 marks its diamond jubilee, or 60 years since the festival’s humble origins in 1961 when just 200 tulip bulbs were donated by the local Rotary Club to Corbett Gardens. That makes it one of Australia’s oldest premier floral festivals.
This year, the flower displays will be diamond shaped in homage to its anniversary, and complemented by sparkling props such as a giant reflective diamond, three-metre candles and an eight-metre-long diamond curtain. Schoolchildren are getting involved, and will create chandeliers to hang in the trees and add to the glitter of the 60 Sparkling Years celebration.
The tulips remain the stars of the show, of course. They seem so plump and modest, and yet their lurid colours demonstrate a reckless streak. Corbett Gardens is splotched with lipstick pink, hot red, moody purple, trumpet yellow and dusky orange. Some varieties have cupped blossoms, others are pointed, but all have petals as glossy and sleek as a racehorse’s coat.
It’s a delight for the spirit and a sensation for the eyes. You can linger half the day if you want, and are even encouraged to bring your own picnic. (Just remember to pre-book your tickets on-line). There will be food and craft stalls run by local businesses, and live entertainment to add to the ambiance, such as choirs, bands and dance groups.
Take your time soaking up the sights. Sniff the blooms and strike a pose – surely this is the moment to make your mark on Instagram against a spectacular floral backdrop of springtime exuberance.
Stay a few days, because you’ll also want to take time, when in the Southern Highlands, to explore museums and cultural exhibitions, as well as village markets, private open gardens, nurseries and the lively restaurant and cafe scene. Follow the book trail, the arts trail, the coffee trail.
Incidentally, the 75,000 tulips in Corbett Gardens aren’t the only ones you’ll see in the Southern Highlands in springtime. Brace yourself and your camera for 50,000 more across the public parks of Mittagong and Moss Vale. It’s all blooming marvellous, wherever you look.
Tulip Time extends over 18 days including three weekends from 17 September to 4 October 2021. Owing to COVID-19 regulations, you’ll need to book online for one of two daily sessions: morning or afternoon. Best book early to get the slot you want.