Tiptoe Thru the Tulip Festivals

After a particularly long and wet winter that saw little sunshine and more snow than is usual in Vancouver, I’ve been on the look-out for the first signs of spring.  The crocus’s broke through the snow in late February, giving hope.  The rich scent of damp earth made itself known not long after.  It’s not until the tulips begin to bloom, brought to glory by warm weather and sunshine, that we can assure ourselves spring has definitely sprung.

Ottawa – Canadian Tulip Festival

Canada’s love affair with the lowly tulip began in 1945 when the Dutch royal family sent 100,000 bulbs to Ottawa in appreciation for sheltering Princess Juliana and her daughters during the Nazi occupation.  It was in Ottawa that Princess Juliana gave birth to Princess Margaret and another 20,500 bulbs were sent with the request that a display be developed for the Ottawa Civic hospital.  A commitment was made to send 10,000 bulbs every year in perpetuity as a symbol of friendship between the Netherlands and Canada.

Blooms in Commissioner’s Park (Photo courtesy of Brand Canada)

The first and largest Canadian Tulip Festival, now in its 67th year, was held in Ottawa in 1953.  Queen Julianna attended the festival in 1967 and Princess Margaret returned in 2002 to celebrate its 50th anniversary.  The 10 day festival each May incorporates art, food, music, and family friendly activities at four locations throughout the city, but nothing is more enjoyable than a stroll along the “Tulip Trail” from Commissioner’s Park at Dow’s Lake along the Queen Elizabeth Parkway to Landsdowne Park.

British Columbia – Fraser Valley Tulip Festivals

I’m a bit of a distance from Ottawa at the moment but still have the opportunity to wander through the blooms of international friendship.  Just outside Vancouver in the Fraser Valley,  the Tulips of the Valley festival in Chilliwack, now in it’s 12th year, and the Abbotsford BLOOM Festival will be in full swing, running throughout the month of April. Backdropped by the Coastal Mountains and Mount Baker in the distance, rows of magenta, burnt orange, snow white and dusty rose create a kaleidoscope of colour to bewitch and beguile.


The tulips are allowed to bloom to encourage development of the bulbs, giving visitors the opportunity to wander the vibrant rows of flowers and enjoy a relaxing picnic among the vibrant fields.   Once the festival ends, the blooms will be removed and the bulbs will continue to grow until  harvested, then placed in a cool dry spot.  The largest will be used in the greenhouses to grow the cut tulips found in local stores in Western Canada and the Northwestern states.  The smaller bulbs will be replanted for a new display next year.

After an afternoon wandering among the blooms and a short picnic lunch by the windmill, I stop at the u-pick field to choose my own bouquet to brighten my desk when the April showers decide to return.

Rows of Tulips in Abbotsford

Not in Canada?  There are festivals around the world this time of year.  If you’re in any of these cities throughout April or May.

Turkey – Istanbul Tulip Festival, Istanbul

Centuries ago, the tulip was brought from Iran to Turkey and quickly became one of the country’s prominent symbols.  During the Ottoman empire, the tulip was so prized, a single bulb would sell for a king’s ransom.  Begun in 2006, the Istanbul Tulip Festival, now sees around than 30 million bulbs blooming in parks, avenues, roundabouts and every open space, along with a variety of other spring flowers.  April is the best time to view the national treasure and Sultanahmet, Gülhane Park and Emirgân Park are the best spots to take in the floral favourite.

USA – Skagit Tulip Festival, Mount Vernon, Washington

Originally inaugurated in 1984, the Skagit Tulip Festival has grown to a month long celebration of the colourful bulb with activities ranging from art shows and galas to photo contests and bike races.  With multiple venues as the fields are rotated from year to year, the festival is a colourful and vibrant road trip through the Skagit Valley.


USA – Tulip Time, Holland, Michigan

With a name like Holland, what else could you expect?  In it’s 90th year, Tulip Time will be painting the town orange with more than 5 million blooms.  More than just a tulip festival, the town’s Dutch heritage is celebrated the first week of May with parades, concerts, dancers and fireworks.

Netherlands – Keukenhof Tulip Festival, Lisse

With more than 7 million blooms and over 800 varieties, including the black tulip and a mountain variety that had made the Netherlands home, the Keukenhof Tulip Festival is a bucket list item for the budding horticulturalist.  You can discover the history of the bulb, get advice from their experts, or take a whisper boat tour around the 32 hectare park.  The celebration runs from late March until early May.


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