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Meet the Tulip Tops gardeners

Meet Pat and Bill Rhodin, Tulip Tops gardeners

They work hard all year to make this garden's spring display something memorable

An interview with Robin Powell


Meet the gardeners, Pat and Bill Rhodin. Photo - Robin Powell


Work must start on next year’s show as soon as this year’s show finishes. What’s the program?

Pat: We start lifting the tulips the first week of November and they all go into named crates. We also have about two weeks worth of pruning work to do on many of the blossom trees.


Do you get a bit of a break over Christmas?

Bill: Things slow down a bit and then pick up again at the end of February, when we reshape and prepare all the beds, adding fertiliser and making sure the pH is right. We also start checking the bulb catalogues. We trial about 10 or 12 new cultivars each year, searching for magic colours.


Blossoms and tulips on display. Photo - Robin Powell


What happens next?

Bill: The seedling trays of annuals arrive in mid-March. They are a lot of work, but the garden would be nothing without them. We used to plant them in single colours, but lately I’ve been mixing colour combinations.


When do you start planting the tulips?

Bill: We have a six-week window to get them in, from mid-May until the end of June. Because we can’t start planting until the soil thaws in the winter mornings, we sometimes have to work in the dark to make the deadline. The tulips are planted en masse, in sections to create a vista of colour, using early, mid and late varieties. That allows people to really see and enjoy the variety of tulips throughout the season. Then everything is covered with sugar cane mulch, which offers protection against the birds and frost, saves us on the watering and keeps the weeds down.


Photo - Robin Powell


Do you have a favourite tulip?

Pat: ‘World Favourite’ is a really good performer for us, it’s an orangey-red with a touch of yellow at the base that looks like it has a light burning inside it. We have a few thousand of those. But for the visitors, the one that thrills is the black tulip, ‘Queen of the Night’. There’s a lot of romance about black tulips.


Perfect tulips at Tulip Top.


It’s heaps of work! Is it worth it?

Bill: The reward for us is the look on people’s faces when they come across the bridge and are suddenly faced with this great expanse of blossoms, tulips and annuals. They can’t believe what they’re seeing! Watching them makes it all worthwhile.


Tulip Top Gardens is just north of Canberra on the Old Federal Highway. The garden is open from September 16 to October 15, 9am – 5pm. Entry: Adults, $16, Seniors. More:


Tulip Top Gardens open from September 16 to October 15