Floriade is brightening up the suburbs as community-run patches rather than taking up its usual place in Commonwealth Park – but it isn’t the only local floral attraction that has adapted to lockdown conditions.
Tulip Top Gardens is located along the Federal Highway a few kilometres past Eaglehawk and normally draws thousands of people a day between mid-September and mid-October.
It wasn’t open last year due to COVID-19 restrictions at the time forbidding more than 50 people on the grounds at any one time. The owners, Bill and Pat Rhodin, didn’t judge this feasible, and so with their daughter Molly Rhodin and Sanguineti Media snapping photos and videos, they pivoted to selling digital passes online.
People could log in at their convenience and watch footage of the gardens that was updated weekly.
Molly said the reaction was immense.
“People weren’t just logging in from Canberra – we had people from about 23 different countries purchasing the digital passes.”
Nevertheless, the family was holding out hope for a better 2021, but sadly, this hasn’t eventuated either. Border restrictions mean that neither Molly nor the videographer can access the gardens to get the shots for a digital season pass this year and have had to think outside the box again.
“We are doing the best we can to interact with people with what we’ve got.”
Bill will be taking the photos this year and sending them through to Molly, who will then post them to the Tulip Top Gardens Facebook page.
A post also encourages followers to trawl through the photo galleries on their own phones or personal computers and upload some to the comments section. This gets them the chance to win a hard-cover book with photos and design by local and loyal Tulip Top fan Dan Taylor.
“Dan has been coming up for many years taking photos of the gardens and donated some books to us. We’ve got a couple of these books left over so we thought we’d give people something to look forward to. Let’s dig through photos and put them out there for all to see again.”
Molly said it has been a steep learning curve for their dad.
“My parents are both in their 70s and technologically immature – I’ll put it that way. So I might get saturated with the same photos 20 times before I get a new photo – but hey, at least I’m getting them eventually.
“You’ve got to see the fun in it. We’re trying to look on the bright side and keep our viewers connected. I think that’s really important at the moment.”
Despite the hurdles, the first lot of photos published on the 21 September has reached more than 147,000 people and been shared more than 395 times.
More than 700 comments ring with appreciation for the photos, disappointment at not being able to visit in person, and encouragement for Tulip Top Gardens to keep at it.
Molly said this is the 25th year for the gardens, from a simple beginning as a “remote paddock with long grass and a few rocks.”
“At the time, I asked my parents, ‘What are you doing out here?’ And they said, ‘Oh, you know – we might plant a few trees.’
“But the following year, there were holes in the ground everywhere and when I asked about them, dad replied that he thought he’d put a few thousand trees in.”
“And so it went. My parents have always had the vision of doing something grandiose. They were just looking for the right place and this beautiful valley location came along with easy access to the highway.”
Molly said caring for the gardens was a full-time, all-year-round job for her parents.
Once the last tulip petals are dropping off, all the flowers and bulbs are pulled up by hand and the salvageable ones are sorted and counted. The flowering trees are also pruned and sprayed.
“That takes us through to December and January when they begin planning the colour schemes for the following spring, sourcing seeds and transferring flowers.”
Come March and April, dirt is laid for the flower beds and flowers start going in from July. Watering, whipper-snipping and pruning continue right through spring.
“They have to go through the motions whether the gardens are going to open or not. So we thought, how can we share a bit of our garden with people and get people feeling excited about their own gardens? We’ll bring the garden to them.”