Tulip Time says hello to Spring

A plethora of colors: Tulips come in a variety of beautiful colors and often change as the blooming season continues. Highly dependent on the weather, tulips only bloom for a few weeks before laying dormant the rest of the year. 

Matthew L. Self

To celebrate the arrival of spring here in Topeka, the Shawnee County Parks and Recreational department is featuring Tulip Time in three exclusive garden locations within the city.

Each of these gardens will be home to thousands of tulips in a variety of colors that make for unique and beautiful displays. The scent and sight of these flowers have attracted hundreds to Topeka every year since the event was started thirty years ago in the backyard of Jarold Binkley.

For years, Binkley shared his home gardens, which he managed with the help of his wife, Joan, with the public. He desired to expand his love of gardening to create an ongoing, countrywide event called Tulip Time. Binkley unfortunately passed away last year, but he did so knowing that his event will live on as an established springtime event in Shawnee County.

Tulip Time will last from April 5 to April 22 and will feature over 100,000 tulips in the gardens of Ted Ensley at Lake Shawnee, Old Prairie Town/Ward-Meade Botanical Garden, the Doran Rock Garden and flower beds in Gage Park. Two special events, Tulip Time Festival and Tulips at Twilight, will also take place.

The Tulip Time Festival is held at the lake location in Ted Ensley Gardens and features more than just flowers every year. Classic cars, food trucks, photography and musical performances can all be found at the festival.

Tulips at Twilight is an ongoing event within Tulip Time that takes place at Ward-Meade Park. The event draws in families and romantic couples every year who wish to gaze upon the 40,000 tulips that are illuminated by candle light and other lighted displays. There will be 30 lighted displays this year, as well as a 15-foot tall illuminated tulip and enormous illuminated flowers along candlelit pathways. The event will be available every Friday and Saturday evening from 6 to 10 p.m. Admission to the event is $5 with children under five getting in for free.

Mike McLaughlin, the communications and public information supervisor for the event, said that Tulip Time never fails to draw in a crowd.

“Tulip Time draws in about 60,000 people from 86 cities in 30 states and five foreign countries. We’ve had people from across the states attend in the past along with visitors from the United Kingdom, Russia, Australia, India, and Puerto Rico,” McLaughlin said.

Each display at the gardens is carefully planned and planted by experts who keep Binkley’s dream going strong. One such expert, Traci Podlena, the lead Horticulturist this year, has spent much of her life planting flowers and personally enjoys helping to plant the gardens.

“I helped plant the tulips at Ted Ensley and Duran Rock Gardens. We planted the bulbs in October last year,” Podlena said. “We’ve got some different geometric designs and did some hearts this year with the tulips.”

Once the blooming season for the tulips is over, the bulbs will be removed from the gardens and sold to the public. The dates for the sale are contingent upon when the tulips bloom this year.

Tulip Time is possible every year due to the efforts of people like McLaughlin and Podlena. They are assisted by a team of volunteers from various businesses around Topeka including Reser’s, Target, Mars, the Friends of Ted Ensley Gardens and the Friends of Ward Meade.