Volunteers cultivate flower power at Araluen

Signs of the Turkish and Dutch influence at Araluen. Picture: Stephen Scourfield

Araluen Botanic Park is bursting into life and colour for its spring festival. "This year we have gone to a full-blown festival for a month," general manager Rod Ross says. It's Springtime at Araluen will run through August and September.

The Dutch and Turkish embassies are involved. The Dutch interest is perhaps fairly obvious as most of us picture in our minds Amsterdam with its tulip fields. Tulips were introduced to the Netherlands in 1593.

The Turkish interest might be less so. But historians think tulips originated thousands of years ago in a corridor based along the 40-deg. latitude - mainly through Turkey, into Turkmenistan and into western China but also catching northern Iran.

By the time of the Ottoman Empire in the 1500s, the obsession with tulips was embedded in Turkey. The reign of Ahmed III from 1703 to 1730 is sometimes known as the Age of Tulips.

Tulips were first planted at Araluen in 1934, being sent from Holland in wooden boxes, each bulb wrapped separately in paper representing the colour of the bloom.

With strong community support, the State Government bought the park in 1990 and the following year, 10,000 tulip bulbs were planted. This year, 120,000 bulbs have been planted by volunteers.

"It's our biggest planting," Rod says.

And there were so many volunteers that all 120,000 bulbs were planted in 50 minutes - when some volunteers arrived there was no work to do but they were, of course, invited to enjoy the complimentary morning tea anyway.

The festival starts today and runs to Sunday, September 21. The Turkish Australian Culture House has partnered with Araluen Botanic Park to bring a Dutch and Turkish theme to its festival.

The main lawn area has a canal, minaret, tulip display beds, silhouette of Dutch and Turkish buildings, and a marquee. This features the history of tulips, from Turkey to the Netherlands and that first planting at Araluen 80 years ago.

Over four weeks, the Turkish and Dutch communities will bring food, music and dance to the festival. Members of the Roleystone Musicians Club will play at weekends.

And it isn't just tulips in bloom - the native bush is at its best, and Araluen has displays of summer tea roses, magnolias and camellias.

The International Camellia Society has defined Araluen as a Garden of Excellence - one of only about 25 in the world to achieve that status.

"Horticulturally, Araluen is a special place - a real mecca for gardeners," Rod says.

And the secret there is its geography. Most valleys in the Darling Range drain to the west, down on to the coastal plain, or east to the Wheatbelt, Rod explains. But Araluen is in a deep valley pointing north-south.

That means it has much more shadow, and it also has 45 per cent more rain than some adjacent areas, and rich, loamy soil.

"What you have got here is a European microclimate," Rod says. There is also an old-world feel.

The park's Chalet Healy Tearooms are in a 1930s building of traditional jarrah log construction, with wisteria draping its deck. It serves morning and afternoon teas and lunch, is wheelchair-friendly and has special packages for seniors' groups.

The Araluen Train runs around the park at peak times, and there's a range of merchandise leaning towards the floral, horticultural and eco in the Roundhouse Gift Shop.

There are free electric barbecues in the park's central concourse, and wood-fired barbecues and firewood at other locations.

FACT FILE

Araluen Botanic Park is in Croyden Road, Roleystone. Visit araluenbotanicpark.com.au or phone 9496 1171.

Entry to It's Yates Springtime at Araluen is adults $15, school-aged child $7 (5-15); family $40; concession $12.

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