Tulips in front of the King Memorial in Albany's Washington Park. Photo: Courtesy Beth Gold.
After a long, oppressive winter in the Northeast, nothing could be more welcome than warm weather and blooming flowers. Though spring began weeks ago, according to the seasonal calendar, Mother’s Day weekend is the true arrival of spring in the Capital-Saratoga region. The highlight is Albany Tulip Festival, which will be celebrated for a 66th straight year in Washington Park this Saturday, May 10 and Sunday, May 11.
“Tulip Fest” grew out of Mayor Erastus Corning II’s desire for the City of Albany to have an official flower. In 1948, he wrote Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands to ask her to select a flower for the city. She chose a variety named “Orange Wonder;” the following year, Albany celebrated its first Tulip Festival.
Albany’s Dutch heritage dates back to 1614 when the Dutch first settled in this area, says Jason Bonafide, public relations coordinator for Albany’s Office of Special Events.
Tulip Fest pays tribute to that history by showcasing Albany’s tulips and by hosting events like the annual street scrubbing —a Dutch ritual prior to celebrations — on Friday afternoon (May 9).
Free to attend, Tulip Fest attracts roughly 80,000 people over the course of the weekend, according to Bonafide. The bright, colorful flowers still take center stage amid the live music on two different stages, food vendors and popular events like the crowning of the Tulip Queen.
The person responsible for Albany’s beautiful flowers is the city gardener Jessica Morgan. She maintains about 250 public gardens in the City of Albany. This is her third Tulip Festival as the city gardener and she has worked more than a decade for the Department of General Services.
Ms. Morgan, 30, planted these tulips in October and November of last year. The bulbs have been growing beneath the cold, wintry surface for more than six months, and just recently broke out from their icy shell.
There are 10 different varieties of tulips in Washington Park with different bloom times to accommodate an early or late spring. Varieties include Emperor (red), Monte Carlo (bright yellow with double the number of petals as a regular tulip), Blushing Lady (large, late-blooming tulip with pink petals rimmed with yellow), Cummins (pale purple with a white edge) and last year’s people’s choice winner Rem’s Favourite (white with purple stripes up the center of the petal).
Ms. Morgan’s favorite is the Queen of the Night (dark purple, almost black), but she admits “Every year I see another one that I fall in love with, so it’s very difficult for me [to choose] because they’re all my babies.”
Washington Park has 70,000 tulips, the majority of which are concentrated within 59 garden beds in the area surrounding the King Memorial fountain (more commonly known as the Moses statue). To enhance the public’s engagement with the flowers, visitors at Tulip Fest can vote for their favorite tulip on Saturday. There will be ballots at white pop-up tents near the Moses statue. The winner will be announced on Mother’s Day (Sunday).
Ms. Morgan complements the tulips with other flowers. There are 50,000 Muscari, which are little blue flowers at the end of every bed; Crown Imperials, which have flowers that open hanging upside down like bells, and 10 different varieties of Daffodils.
Ms. Morgan’s love of gardening originates with her childhood in Woodbury, Conn., where she learned at the hands of her grandmother, who had a large home garden. The two worked alongside each other, tending to several varieties of perennials and annuals.
“The weeds would win, but that’s where I learned to garden,” Ms. Morgan said. “Her garden was [filled with] whatever she fancied and could get for reasonably cheap.”
After college, Ms. Morgan moved to Albany and began working for Albany’s former city gardener, Judy Stacey. It was the perfect job in the perfect place.
“I absolutely fell head over heels in love with this job, with this city. I just knew this is where I had to be,” Ms. Morgan said.