Tulip Time is in full bloom again this spring and JODIE DUFFY was there to capture the best of the festival.
A tree change 15 years ago convinced retired hairdresser Dominic Wong to swap his scissors for secateurs.
His Mittagong cottage home and garden Chinoiserie, a mix of Chinese and European influences, opens to the public for two months each year from Tulip Time until the end of November.
Wong specialises in the hard-to-grow peonies - a rare Chinese flower once reserved for imperial households in China.
"I'm a full-time gardener now," Wong says. "It's a full-time job, I call it my gym, it's my daily workout."
Wong is in the garden six days a week and he and his partner run a bed and breakfast out of their home for much of the year.
His garden is one of many private homes on the Southern Highlands to open to the public as part of Tulip Time celebrations.
The peony, with its bright double head, is relatively rare in Australia because of its cost with each cutting fetching close to $50.
"The peony is the national flower of China," says Wong. "It's regarded as sacred and has a good omen representing richness, hierarchy, feminine beauty and spring."
Other spectacular gardens not to be missed are the Red Cow Farm at Sutton Forest, Milton Park at Bowral and Moidart at Burradoo.
The springtime festival Tulip Time, now in its 54th year, centres on Bowral's Corbett Gardens.
Last year 64,000 people visited the Southern Highlands with about 32,000 people visiting Corbett Gardens alone generating a $25,000 profit. The funds are kept in trust for rainy day situations, such as poor weather or other circumstances which may lead to the destruction of the tulips.
This year's festival coincides with Corbett Gardens' 100 years anniversary. The gardens were established in 1914 as a result of Ada Sullivan Corbett's four-year campaign for a public space to be set aside in Bowral.
The grounds, originally called Denmeads Paddock, were renamed Corbett Gardens in December 1911 in her honour. They were opened in December 1914 with a band rotunda which was reconstructed into a modern bandstand in 1958.
With winter being two weeks late on the Southern Highlands this year, event co-ordinator Debbie Pearce says there were concerns the tulips would be late to bloom.
"We did have a warm winter to start with followed by a cold snap, which does confuse things a bit," she says.
"But the gardeners are very happy with what we have here at the moment."
Tulip Time's charity partner for 2014 is Guide Dogs NSW and a giant labrador, located in the corner of Corbett Gardens, is sure to be a major drawcard for children.
In honour of the golden labrador, Tulip Time has also embraced the colour yellow.
When Charlie Bretherick, 5, spied the big dog, his mum Liz Bretherick couldn't resist the chance for some downtime in the garden.
"It's been a long winter on the Southern Highlands and so it's nice to get out and see spring. It's nice to be out in the fresh air," she says.
Tulip Time costs ratepayers about $250,000 each year, which includes the purchase of 100,000 tulips.
While 65,000 tulips are planted in garden beds at Corbett Gardens, the remainder are scattered throughout the Southern Highlands' 17 towns and villages.
While the festival is growing each year, the aim is to make the event cost-neutral for residents.
The Wahhab family from Sydney have been coming to Tulip Time for four years.
"It's a nice day out," says Saliba Wahhab.
"We visit the garden and then have lunch in Bowral. It's a relaxing day and it's good to get out of the city."
Initiatives at this year's event include twice-daily talks in Corbett Gardens on a range of topics including gardening, chicken raising and bee-keeping.
Tomorrow, the last day of the festival, leashed dogs will be allowed into the gardens for the first time in the event's history.
Called Dogs' Day Out, man's furry friends and their owners will participate in a range of fun activities, such as best-dressed puppy and a look like your dog competition.
The event is being held on the last day to minimise any damage to the tulips.
Music in the Gardens is held today, with Racheal Leachar the major drawcard. The 20-year-old singer-songwriter, who is now working on her fourth album, was a finalist on The Voice in 2012 and is visually impaired.
For youngsters, Tulip Time has plenty of family entertainment.
Other events include street markets today and tomorrow.
For Cat Doyle and daughter Ellie, aged 4, Tulip Time is a chance to enjoy the outdoors.
"I love seeing all the colours of the beautiful flowers," says Cat, of Robertson. "We'll probably come again with the rest of the family."
The festival in Corbett Gardens will run from until September 28, when the garden reverts back to a public space with fringe events across the region until October 6.