A Blooming Tour of Topeka
By Kathleen Somers
Once, a wonderful surprise arrived at my office desk when a friend sent me a basket of blooming tulips and daffodils. Snow was still covering the ground, but the days were getting longer, just like it is as I write this. Truly there is something exciting and hopeful about the time of year when we all eagerly await the arrival of spring colors in the form of tulips, daffodils and a multitude of other flowers. It’s more than just lovely to think about the arrival of spring. It makes us feel happy and hopeful, don’t you think? Indeed, taking your group to where the flowers are in bloom and the color enthralls does a fine job of boosting spirits and drawing out the happiest of emotions. Consider touring the tulips of Topeka.
Topeka, the capital city of Kansas, is awash with color for about two weeks in April. But it wasn’t always so. Tulips in Topeka had its humble beginnings thanks to the loving efforts of a devoted community business man who decided to bring a great splash of color to Topeka through his gardening efforts…specifically tulips. Jerold Binkley’s inspiration came from a trip to Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Those magnificently bright flower beds, coupled with Binkley’s fond memories of his dear father’s gardens, were enough to make him want to transform his own yard. Tulip Time in Topeka was born. For twenty-two years his efforts grew, attracting visitors from a wide area, until 2009 when he handed the project over to Topeka and Shawnee County.
Today, thanks to the work of so many volunteers, you can treat your group to the blooms of more than a hundred thousand tulip and daffodil bulbs artistically arranged to show off the vibrant color schemes chosen each year. Amazingly, all the bulbs are dug up and newly replanted each year. Think of it as a labor of love to insure visitors get the prettiest blossoms and perfect color theme…not to mention the selection of bulb variety. Yes, Topeka really has set out to offer you a very wonderful experience.
Once this annual event kicks off, you will find tulips galore in four unique and picturesque area settings. But remember, Tulip Time in Topeka can only be experienced for about two weeks, usually in April. Still, make your plans knowing it is Mother Nature’s prerogative to change her mind. A mild winter can have tulips bursting forth early, as easily as a lingering winter can leave you looking for flowers far later in the season. Be sure to check with Rosa Cavazos (800-235-1030) for guidance. As Victoria Bearss from Sunrise Travel (Overland Park, KS) states, “She is a wonderful wealth of information. She really helped us out a lot.”
As with all outdoor travel adventures, it is good to plan additional time or activities indoors where weather is not a factor. (See Feature itinerary on page XX for ideas.) Rita Madison’s bank club visits Tulips in Topeka most years. She keeps coming back because her groups love it so much. It’s a very popular trip. The spectacular site of so much color, perhaps gently swaying in the breeze, allowing for sweet aromas wafting through the air, and beckoning to small birds, can ease the soul and relax the mind. Be sure to have your camera at the ready! “I could have sat there all day,” says Rita when talking about her experience at Lake Shawnee.
Ted Ensley Gardens at Lake Shawnee is a perfect place to begin your Tulip Time touring. Nine and a half acres showing off 60,000 tulips and daffodils can be explored amid the picturesque view of the lake. Park your coach, cross the covered bridge, and marvel at the waterfalls, streams, ponds, and gazebo. There are walking paths, benches to sit upon and a guide to give your group the overview. There is even a film they can show if conditions are not ideal. Admission is $5.
Old Prairie Town and Botanical Garden at Ward-Meade Historic Site, 124 N.W. Fillmore is a great place to relax. With 2.5 acres and 45,000 tulips and daffodils, the garden offers a peaceful setting with a classic garden pavilion, gazebo and Victorian Reading Garden. There is even a 240-foot cascading rock rivulet. Plan to make this your ice cream stop. Allow time for Anna’s Place and a little shopping. Open daily 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. $5 gate admission.
Doran Rock Garden in Gage Park – 601 SW Gage Blvd.
The garden offers stone walkways, a stone bridge, and more than 12,000 tulips and daffodils exploding with color. Completed in 1932, the Doran Rock Garden is open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. A $5 donation is suggested.
Downtown Topeka – Kansas Ave. between 4th and 9th Streets
Take advantage of yet another photo op as your group explores Downtown Topeka for free, while enjoying over 12,000 tulips and daffodils. The flowers can be viewed by motorcoach or on foot. Downtown Topeka merchants helped sponsor the tulip beds in this area, and they are very welcoming to groups.
Choose any or all of these gardens for a perfect way to get a jump on spring. And maybe pack a ukulele for a little Tiptoe-Through-the-Tulips sing-a-long.