One of Topeka’s most treasured "looks-like-spring-is-finally-here" events is Tulip Time, now known as Jerold Binkley Tulip Time. For over 30 years locals and travelers from all across the nation (and sometimes further) relish in the vibrant garden displays.
What once started in the private Topeka home garden of Jerold and Joan Binkley, today flourishes across the city’s three large community gardens and parks. Annually, Shawnee County Parks and Rec with the help of volunteers and Parks for All Foundation plant over 100,000 tulip bulbs in the fall. Tulip bulbs come directly from Holland.
Did You Know? It takes volunteers an estimated 1000+ hours to get the bulbs planted.
As a Midwest state, Kansas weather can be fickle at best. With false springs in late February, winter can feel endless, but come late March to early April Topekan’s know when the tulips emerald green stalks begin to sprout - spring has officially arrived. Speaking of weather, tulips prefer mild temps and tend to be resilient to snow or hard freezes.
SEAS OF JEWEL-COLORED BLOOMS
Once tulips pop open, they will last for roughly three weeks. There are three premier gardens in Topeka to view and photograph the tulips at their peak time. All three are managed by Shawnee County Parks and Recreation - Ted Ensley’s Garden at Lake Shawnee, Doran Rock Garden at Gage Park, and the botanical garden at Ward Meade Historic Site. Below I go into more detail about each location.
TULIP FACTS: Tulips are part of the lily family.
In 2021, Tulip Time was officially renamed Jerold Binkley Tulip Time. Shawnee County Parks and Recreation renamed the event to honor its founder, Jerold Binkley, who passed away in 2018. Come May, after all the blooms are gone, bulbs are dug up and sold to the public for $5 a bag. The sales are typically held at Ward Meade and Lake Shawnee
Visiting Topeka for Tulip Time? While in town make time to tour the Kansas Capitol.
DORAN ROCK GARDEN AT GAGE PARK
Dating back to 1899, Gage Park is Topeka’s most historic community park. Generations of Topekan’s have made memories here. The Reinisch Rose Garden is a popular destination for portrait photography, proposals, and weddings. Just west of the rose garden is Doran Rock Garden where the tulips are planted. Garden beds surround the small pond. The park is named after Topeka attorney Thomas F. Doran, who served as chairman of the rose garden committee.
Where to Park: There is free street parking all around the rose garden and Doran Rock Garden. If it’s a busy time, there is also a parking lot across the street by the Carousel.
What else to see at Gage Park: You can easily enjoy a full day at Gage Park. Along with the gardens, the park is home to a 1998 carousel, or take a one-mile scenic ride on the mini train. Pack a picnic (if you need supplies there is a Dillons grocery store nearby). Kids will love roaming the Play Land and Animal Land playgrounds, or head indoors for hands-on play at the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center. Before you leave, spend the afternoon watching animals at the Topeka Zoo.
TED ENSLEY'S GARDEN AT LAKE SHAWNEE
Located on the west side of Lake Shawnee, at 37.5 acres, this garden is stunning and spacious. I feel like each time I visit they’ve added new elements. These include a gazebo, pergola, and pagoda with meditation garden to name a few. Paved paths wind through the gardens - great for light walks and are ADA accessible. Along with the tulips in the spring, the garden is home to 1,200 varieties of perennials and 300 varieties of annuals, roses, trees, and shrubs.
TULIP FACTS: There are over 150 species of tulips with over 3,000 different varieties.
During Jerold Binkley Tulip Time, Ted Ensley’s Garden hosts the Tulip Time Festival. This one-day festival is held on a Saturday. Families and guests will enjoy live music, visit craft vendors, and kid-friendly activities. (At this time, a date has not been announced. I will update the post once I hear.)
Where to Park: There is a free parking lot at the trailheads that lead to the parks. Shelter houses are also nearby.
What else to see at Lake Shawnee: The lake area is a perfect spot to view wildlife and birdwatching. A wide hard-surface trail loops the entire lake for walkers, runners, and cyclists. If there’s been recent rain be sure to watch the water flowing over the dam at the overlook area. Along with fishing in the lake, there is a family-friendly kid pond as well. Adults do need to purchase a fishing license, children 15 and under can fish for free.
During the summer months, opening Memorial Day weekend in 2022, Adventure Cove is a must-visit for aquatic fun. Located on the east side of the lake, paddle boats, paddleboards, canoes and kayaks can be rented for $8 an hour. They also have a floating playground, it’s also $8 an hour to use.
BOTANICAL GARDEN at OLD PRAIRIE TOWN &
WARD MEADE HISTORIC SITE
Tucked within one of Topeka’s most historic neighborhoods is Ward-Meade Historic Site - actually, the full name is Old Prairie Town at Ward-Meade Historic Site and Botanical Garden. But, that’s a bit of a mouthful. Locals tend to know the site fondly as Ward-Meade Park.
Tulips are planted throughout the site but are most abundant in the botanical garden and features - like the circular fountain - around the mansion. Three water gardens are featured in the park, a water garden in the front yard as well as Anna’s Place Asian Garden. Anna’s Place consists of two pools, a stream, bridge, gazebo, and waterfall. It’s remarkable how the gardens have grown and transformed over the years. If you’ve visited Ward Meade Park before but it’s some time you are in for a treat.
TULIP FACTS: Tulip petals are edible and can be used in place of onions in many recipes.
Tulips at Twilight, held April 8-24 in 2022, is the park’s signature spring event. Held after normal park hours (7 - 10 PM), features this year will include over 100 lighted displays, with larger-than-life illuminated flowers and 25,000 colorful tulips on show. Admission is $5, though children five and under are free. Most buildings, like the general store and Potwin Drug Store, are open as well.
Where to Park: Accessing the parking lot from Clay St. There are signs at the corner of Clay & 1st streets. Parking is free. It is ADA accessible with a paved path leading from the parking area throughout the grounds.
What else to see at Ward Meade Park: Along with the 2.5-acre botanical Garden, established in 1963, a main focal point is the 1870 stark white Victorian mansion. Built for Anthony Ward. In Old Prairie Town you can view a replica of his family's 1854 Log Cabin. You can also tour the Mulvane General Store and Potwin Drug Store. Guided tours of Old Prairie Town's buildings are available, call or visit here for more details.
I also highly recommend driving through Topeka’s historic Potwin neighborhood. Victorian mansions spread out over a 3 block by 4 block area - including Elmwood, Woodland, and Greenwood from 1st Street to Willow Avenue.
Peak Times: Late March & early April (it all depends on Mother Nature)
Days & Hours: Lake Shawnee Daily, 6 AM - 11 PM, Gage Park Daily, 6 AM - 11 PM, Ward-Meade Historic Site Daily, 8 AM - Dusk.
Fees & Admission: Gage Park, Ward-Meade Historic Site & Ted Ensley's Garden are typically free, but there are signs that request a $5 fee at each location. Tulip Time Festival and Tulips at Twilight do have an admission.