Blooming beautiful

Athie ChambersCountryman

There’s around 11,000 reasons why Nannup Shire gardener Steve Winfield gets little sleep at a certain time of year. That’s how many tulip bulbs come out of a cool room in late May, destined for the Garden Village’s planter boxes that line the town’s main street. But Steve’s sleepless nights don’t start then — it’s when the bulbs are due to bloom around eight to 12 weeks later that anxiety sets in.

Every year, Nannup puts on a brilliant show of tulips for its annual Flower and Garden Festival, now in its 15th year, thanks to Steve and his two planting assistants, Sam Treadgold and Ty Swain. And timing is everything to produce a spectacular floral display, which draws thousands of visitors to the town during the flowering season and on the festival weekend.

Behind the scenes, there are numerous challenges that the team face to bring a myriad of colourful tulips to successful flowering. Soil-borne fungi, disease and fickle weather can all spell disaster and threaten the blooms — disease struck in 2009 and a soil-borne fungus attacked the tulips last year.

Steve said while it was popular opinion that a hail storm caused widespread damage to the 2009 crop, it was, in fact, the hail that stimulated the fungus and made the attack worse.

Nannup Shire supports this community event and this year has spent around $17,000 to bring the tulip season to fruition. This year, 14 varieties were ordered from Tasmania, where tulips grow best — not that Nannup is unsuitable for tulips.

In fact, Steve grew tulips commercially almost 30 years ago on his Nannup property. But competition from the eastern states ended that venture.

“Growing them is a bit of an art form, ” Steve said. “You need the right soil — it can’t be too acidic and must be well-draining with not too much nutrition. This year, the soil is coming from Dardanup and is a blended mix with the right pH.

“Timing is everything and is probably the most intense part of the job. Each variety has a different flowering time and it is difficult to pick what will happen eight to 10 weeks from planting.”

The bulbs are planted in special beds at the main entrances of the town and in 40 smaller planter boxes and takes the three men about a week to complete. After the flowering is over, the bulbs are removed to maintain quality control and reliability for next year.

Over the years, Steve has trialled the best varieties for Nannup, with his favourite being Holland Happening — a red and white frilly edged bloom with a black centre.

Nannup’s Flower and Garden Festival runs August 18 to 21 and features plenty of events. Visit or phone 0417 974 345 for more information

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