On Friday, the Tulip Festival at Thanksgiving Point will open for its 15th consecutive year. To celebrate, this year is planned to be “bigger and better than ever.”
While the Tulip Festival doesn’t exactly boast anything new, it can boast a lot more.
In addition to the traditional tulips people expect to see at a Tulip Festival, landscape and garden director Tony Latimer said this year they’ve planted a “river of hyacinths” — blue, multi-head flowers that aren’t a common sight for Utahns or even very many household gardens. There’s also between 30 and 40 different types of daffodils, English daisies, Iceland poppies, pansies, crocuses and a flower named “fritillaria” that looks like an upside-down tulip but isn’t really a tulip at all, Latimer said.
All in all, there’s nearly 600,000 bulbs planted at that Tulip Festival. Roughly half of them are tulips.
Of course, even within the tulips there are dozens of varieties, including, this year, “antique” tulips that date back to the 17th century.
“(These are) the tulips that they then hybridized and got all the other tulips,” Latimer said. “Some of them, they don’t look all that impressive, but they’re the parents of what we have now.”
There are also early-, mid- and late-season tulips, all of which can be found at the festival. Since tulips typically bloom for just two weeks, Latimer said, the look of the festival gardens is always changing.
“If you have a membership, it’s probably good to come a couple times during the festival just to see it, because it will look a whole lot different from the beginning than it will at the end,” he said.
It takes a lot of planning, coordinating not just colors and the heights of different varieties, but when they’ll bloom. Most of the garden beds, Latimer explained, will contain a variety of early-, mid- and late-season blooms, so there are always flowers blooming, but some beds, he said, they’ll just plant bulbs that will bloom at all the same time to just get a spectacular splash of color.
The peak of the festival, when the most flowers will be in bloom, is between April 20 and 25, Latimer said.
Of course, even with the enormous number of flowers, there are other things to enjoy at the Tulip Festival.
Director of signature experiences Austin Brown said the festival this year has added extended hours to some attractions, such as the Tulip Tot Playland for kids, more days for food trucks and more live entertainment and music than ever before.
On both Fridays and Saturdays, Brown said, there will be live entertainment in the afternoons, featuring artists from Utah. So many people reached out with an interest in performing, Brown said, they actually had to turn people away.
Another thing the Tulip Festival is building on is the popularity of the big wooden shoes, or klomlen, that people could take pictures with last year. This year, there will be a second pair to pose with, in addition to wooden shoes scattered throughout the festival for people to find.
“There’s not even a prize associated with (finding all the shoes),” Brown said. “It’s just the thrill of trying to find something that people gravitate towards.”
One thing that is new this year is how Thanksgiving Point is managing visitors. For the first time ever, they will be using “timed ticketing,” after seeing success with the system for a few years with Luminaria.
Timed ticketing is simply purchasing tickets in advance for a specific day and time, to help control parking space and the experience of being the gardens.
Last year, Brown said, the Tulip Festival had three record-setting days when more than 10,000 people attended in a day. When the number hit 12,000, Brown explained, the experience became less enjoyable for patrons.
Those interested in attending the Tulip Festival are highly encouraged to purchase tickets in advance. First, because it’s $5 cheaper than paying at the door, and second, because ticket holders don’t need to go to the front desk, they can simply enter the festival after having their ticket scanned. People with a Thanksgiving Point membership also need tickets, although their tickets are free with their membership.
People tend to stay for hours at the Tulip Festival, Brown said, and so they want to make the experience as pleasant as possible.
“People have cabin fever for this event, so when they come it’s like their first time coming out in the spring and enjoying the sunshine,” Brown said.
Live entertainment and food trucks will only encourage that. However, Brown said the flowers are still the main draw.
“We can add music, we can add live entertainment, we can add scavenger hunts or food trucks but at the end of the day, the tulips are the star of the show,” Brown said. “I always love just to see the gardens. It’s the number one thing always, every year.”
Other highlights of this year’s Tulip Festival include a “festival market” Thursdays, Friday and Saturdays, where patrons can shop at vendors and food trucks from all over the state; the sold-out 5K; a swing dance on April 26; a Tulip Festival photo contest where patrons can submit their photos of the 2019 festival with the hashtag#tuliparty and be entered into a contest for a family membership at Thanksgiving Point; and, finally, a performance by the American Heritage Lyceum Philharmonic to close the festival.
The Tulip Festival never uses the same bulbs twice to bring variety every year, so after the festival ends, the tulip bulbs will go on sale at the Ashton Gardens greenhouse for roughly $4 per dozen, bringing mini-Tulip Festivals to gardens all over Utah.