Thousands flock to majestic grounds each spring for colorful blooms

Every spring people want to know when they can witness the full splendor of 20,000 tulips at Kingwood Center, a former estate that’s now a 47-acre public park in Mansfield, Ohio.

Tulips have been Kingwood’s main attraction since the grounds opened to the public in 1953, one year after the death of property owner Charles Kelley King. The annual display draws thousands from around the state. Many visit on Mother’s Day. Some pack picnic lunches and plop down on the lawn with their families for a peaceful afternoon among the spring bloomers.

In truth, predicting when Kingwood’s tulips will come forth is an inexact science. Ohio’s fickle weather patterns make it a guessing game. Senior gardener Charles Applegate said the best chance to see them is typically the last week of April or the first week of May.

“If it stays sunny, dry and cool, the blooms will last longer,” says Applegate, who’s worked at Kingwood since 1965. He says the reason people get antsy to look at flowers this time of year is simple: “People have been through a cold winter and they want to see color. And the tulips are very bright. Unfortunately, they’re temporary.”

King would have enjoyed this scene. The recreational gardener, who made his fortune in Mansfield working with the Ohio Brass Company, requested that his property be used as an educational institution for the advancement of horticulture and gardening after his passing.

The Kelley King Trust operates Kingwood as a nonprofit business, and it is open to the public for a nominal fee nearly year-round. The property includes a 1926-built French Provincial mansion housing a horticultural library and many original furnishings. Greenhouses contain seasonal floral displays and a variety of unusual plants for sale. The center’s greatest delight, however, is its gardens, which produce an abundance of flowers, trees and shrubs that bloom from early spring to late fall. The headliner is the annual tulip display, which spreads over 55 beds.

“We always want it to be perfect,” says Bill Collins, Kingwood’s head gardener. “When the spring flowers are blooming and the tulips are out, it’s just spectacular here.”

Kingwood’ tulips hail from Holland. Bulbs are selected at their prime and shipped to a distributor in Cincinnati. Each October a staff of nine gardeners plants thousands of tulip bulbs. Using a hand-held trowel, each gardener digs a 5-inch-deep hole for every bulb, and the planting takes about a week.

Tulips do best in a sunny, dry and cool climate. In those weather conditions, the colorful display can last up to three weeks.

Kingwood annually holds a Spring Flower Festival in early May. The all-day event includes vendors, entertainment, workshops, lectures and plant sales.

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