Part 1 – Repair & Design Plans
We’re sharing all about our nearly 5 ft tall plaster tulip garden sculpture that we scored from the Canadian Tulip Festival. Read on for more interesting history of the Festival, how we’ll transform the tulip into a garden focal point, and to vote on your favourite design.
The History of the Canadian Tulip Festival
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The Canadian Tulip Festival, located in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, boasts that it is the largest tulip festival in the world. But the festival, celebrated since 1953, is about way more than just beautiful blooms – it has a very important history, dating back to World War II.
The following book is a children’s book that I purchased at my first visit to the Tulip Festival in 2008 after I moved to Ottawa. It is A Bloom of Friendship, written by Anne Renaud and illustrated by Ashley Spires. (Note: My version is from 2004. The linked version has been republished and looks very different).
Safety in Canada
The book details the origins of the Tulip Festival. In 1940, the Germans invaded Holland during the Second World War. Princess Juliana of the Netherlands brought her two infant daughters to Ottawa to find safety. The children participated in activities and attended school when they were older. Princess Juliana contributed to the war effort by volunteering, donating blood, and knitting items for soldiers.
Then in January, 1943, Princess Juliana gave birth to a third daughter, Princess Margriet, at the Ottawa’s Civic Hospital. As part of the Dutch Royal family, the baby princess needed to be a Dutch citizen. Therefore, the Canadian Government temporarily declared the hospital room to be part of Holland, thus granting the baby Dutch Citizenship.
At the same time, times were very difficult in the Netherlands. Many Dutch people died or were sent to Nazi death camps. The citizens were starving and fighting for their daily survival. In March, 1945, following the Battle of the Rhineland, the First Canadian Army finally were able to liberate parts of Holland from Nazi occupation. The Royal Canadian Air Force assisted in dropping food and supplies for the starving citizens of Holland, and many soldiers assisted with rebuilding homes after the war had ended.
Gratitude and Friendship
After Princess Juliana returned to Holland, a gift of 100,000 tulips bulbs was given as thanks for Canada’s help in keeping her family safe and for their sacrifices during the war in the Netherlands. And every year 20,000 tulip bulbs are sent by the Netherlands as a reminder of the beautiful friendship between our two countries.
Here’s a video from 2014 if you’re interested in learning more about the history of the Tulip Festival.
Giant Painted Tulips
For a number of years, the Tulip Festival had nearly 5 ft tall plaster tulip sculptures. Organizations, businesses, and individuals could purchase them and paint them in all sorts of elaborate designs. These painted tulips would sit outside businesses, on street corners, and in parks where the beds of tulips were. They were one of my favourite parts of the tulip festival as they were so big, bold, and colourful (like the real tulips).
To see some examples of these painted tulip garden sculptures, you can read this Ottawa Daily Photos blog post from 2014, or a blog post from The Crafty Gardener. And here’s a CTV News article with a photo from a tulip sale that we weren’t able to take advantage of.
Scoring Our Own Giant Tulip
The summer that we were getting ready to move into our house, I had read that the Tulip Festival was selling some giant tulips. But we had a lot of house expenses, and were quite busy, so we didn’t pursue it at that time. I was always a little bit disappointed about passing up such a unique opportunity.
However, I was delighted when another opportunity arose this past fall. The Tulip Festival was auctioning off all remaining tulips – a few painted ones, and the rest blank, but all slightly damaged. I’d never participated in an auction before and it was nerve wracking and exhilarating to try to keep track of which particular ones had less bids and to get ready to make my move. Fortunately, I was able to win one and I was so excited to have been successful.
We made a trip to go pick up the tulip up at the appointed time and then, as it was currently late fall, we tarped it to protect it from the winter cold and moisture.
To read about other unexpected finds we’ve made, check out Thrill of the Find.
Keep reading to see our design plans for the tulip garden sculpture.
Repairs Needed for Our Giant Tulip Garden Sculpture
Before our giant tulip can be painted in bright designs, it needs a bit of repair work to the plaster. I’ve never worked with plaster before and have been doing some research for possible fixes. Some areas are in really good shape, and others need a bit of TLC, like these cracks on the base.
The tulip comes apart in two pieces – the bulb, and the leaves/base. There is a PVC pipe that extends up into the bulb of the tulip. The collar at the base of the bulb has suffered some damage over time, and lost a few more chunks as it was placed into our car.
Some sections of the tulip have lots of pock marks and divots in the surface.
Other parts have visible surface cracks.
Luckily, there are only a few larger cracks that are visible.
Plan for repairs of the tulip garden sculpture
We need to repair some of the cracks in the plaster, and seal the surface to protect it from moisture. Then we can paint it and thoroughly varnish it to protect it again from moisture and from yellowing over time. A local art store has suggested using resin to repair the large chunks and cracks, but as it is usually poured and self-levels, I’m not sure how that will work on this large 3D piece. I’ve read about trying spar varnish, used for marine purposes, to make the plaster waterproof. One suggestion said to do a diluted coat first so it soaks into the plaster, ensuring a good bond. Then to do subsequent undiluted coats to seal the surface BEFORE painting. Then follow up with more top coats of varnish after painting.
I’m still researching ideas and products and because we’ve been under a stay at home order, it has been difficult to go shopping. But I’m excited to begin this project. If anyone has worked with plaster before and has any great wisdom to share, I’m all ears!
Once finished, the tulip will need to sit on some sort of stone base so that water is never puddling at the base. And I’m certain we will always tarp it for the winter. While I know the tulip won’t last forever, I want to do all we can to protect and preserve this amazing piece of Tulip Festival history and celebrate the wonderful meaning behind the Tulip Festival.
Design Plans for Our Tulip Garden Sculpture
We want the tulip to be a colourful and large focal point in our backyard. I know that I don’t want to paint intricate scenes on the tulip. And while I want it to be fun and quirky, I also want it to still fundamentally look like a tulip, and be somewhat simple. Most importantly, I want to use some of my favourite colours: red, yellow and maybe turquoise.
I sketched out the shape of the tulip, traced it with a Sharpie, and made copies. I could have made designs on the computer possibly faster, but I find colouring therapeutic.
There are 9 designs that I’ve drafted so far. Let’s take a look:
Designs 1 – 3:
The first is some version of a plain tulip, perhaps with some shading and highlights to show dimension. The second would be similar to the first, except I would paint on small insects and wildlife that we would find in our yard, such as a chipmunk, butterfly, bee, etc. The animals would be life-size, not in scale with the tulip, so it would be a little bit like I-Spy. And the third design would be a version of a Suncatcher Tulip, which is yellow with flaming red petal tips.
Designs 4 – 6
The fourth design would be made to look like mosaic tiles with white grout lines, again, in red and yellow. The fifth design would be red and yellow plaid. And for the sixth design, I did a yellow and turquoise argyle pattern (which slightly got away from me while sketching it out). I have a few concerns about doing the plaid or argyle as the tulip is 3D and the stripes would need to narrow as the tulip narrows.
Designs 7 – 9
And the remaining three designs are all a variation of polka dots. The seventh design is red with white polka dots, while the eighth is yellow with red polka dots. And finally, the ninth design is red with yellow polka dots.
I have a couple of favourites that I’m leaning toward, but we haven’t made our final decision yet. If you have a favourite, or a completely new design idea for our tulip garden sculpture, let me know in the comments.
For more colourful outdoor style, you might also like DIY Painted Doormats: 2 Ways.
Part 2 with the reveal is now on the blog! To head on over and see the transformation, click HERE.
I want to hear from you. Do you have other great ideas for how I should paint the tulip? Or let me know your vote for your favourite out of the nine numbered designs in the comments below.
All the best,