Home   Spalding   News   Article

Subscribe Now

Reporter Kate Chapman joins the Spalding Flower Parade ‘tulip knobbing’ volunteers as they prepare for the May 11 event





It’s 9am on a bright Tuesday morning and I am stood in the middle of a field near King’s Lynn, in Norfolk, the sweet scent of the tulips surrounding me wafting on the gentle breeze.

I’m here to meet Spalding Flower Parade organiser Stephen Timewell and a group of volunteers to help with tulip knobbing – the technical term for picking them in readiness for next week’s parade.

And according to Steve there isn’t really much to it – it’s a simple case of breaking their necks ‘in the nicest possible way’ – leaving a stem of around two to three inches, so they can be pinned onto the floats when the time comes.

Reporter Kate Chapman tiptoes through the tulips! Copyright Kate Chapman
Reporter Kate Chapman tiptoes through the tulips! Copyright Kate Chapman

It’s a race against time as Steve and his volunteers only have a two-day window to strip the field of flowers, which belongs to farmer Mark Ward, who has supported the parade since the 1950s.

He has already begun removing the heads with a mechanical cutter as they’re surplus to requirements – a by-product of producing bulbs – while Steve and his volunteers are picking by hand.

“It’s going well so far. Yesterday we had around 25 to 30 volunteers down here,” says Steve. “We were picking purple and yellow flowers yesterday and between us picked around five to six hundred thousand.

The fruits of my labour - reporter Kate Chapman helps pick tulips in readiness for this year's Spalding Flower Parade - copyright Kate Chapman
The fruits of my labour - reporter Kate Chapman helps pick tulips in readiness for this year's Spalding Flower Parade - copyright Kate Chapman
Bloomin marvellous - these flowers will be adorning floats next week. Copyright Kate Chapman
Bloomin marvellous - these flowers will be adorning floats next week. Copyright Kate Chapman

“We’re aiming for the same today, but this time it’s the orange and red ones and by the time we’re done we will have picked well over a million.

“We need to get them in as thanks to the weather – the wind and rain - they’re becoming a bit fragile.”

Volunteers have come from Spalding, Holbeach, Long Sutton and even Norwich to help with the tulip knobbing – a term which is believed to be an old Norfolk one, and not one made up by the flower parade volunteers.

Fields of gold - volunteers spent Monday & Tuesday picking these tulips for the parade - copyright Kate Chapman
Fields of gold - volunteers spent Monday & Tuesday picking these tulips for the parade - copyright Kate Chapman
Volunteers will have picked over a million tulip heads in preparation for this year's Spalding Flower Parade - copyright Kate Chapman
Volunteers will have picked over a million tulip heads in preparation for this year's Spalding Flower Parade - copyright Kate Chapman
Parade organiser Steve Timewell is among those picking tulips ahead of next week's parade - copyright Kate Chapman
Parade organiser Steve Timewell is among those picking tulips ahead of next week's parade - copyright Kate Chapman

Once picked the tulips are put into plastic baskets, loaded onto a trailer and transported back to Spalding where they’re put into cold storage. This is to help preserve them until they are needed next Thursday when Operation Float Decoration begins in earnest.

Steve says around ten of the floats featuring in this year’s parade, which is themed Movies, will have real flowers pinned on them, alongside artificial and other decorations.

Tulip knobbing is back-breaking work, requiring constant bending but is also incredibly therapeutic as we get to soak in the beautiful surroundings while pick the flower heads.

Parade organiser Steve Timewell demonstrates tulip nobbing - copyright Kate Chapman
Parade organiser Steve Timewell demonstrates tulip nobbing - copyright Kate Chapman
Volunteers help pick the tulips ahead of the Spalding Flower Parade - copyright Kate Chapman (2)
Volunteers help pick the tulips ahead of the Spalding Flower Parade - copyright Kate Chapman (2)
Bloomin marvellous - these flowers will be adorning floats next week. Copyright Kate Chapman (2)
Bloomin marvellous - these flowers will be adorning floats next week. Copyright Kate Chapman (2)
Kate Chapman helps with tulip knobbing in Norfolk - copyright Kate Chapman
Kate Chapman helps with tulip knobbing in Norfolk - copyright Kate Chapman
Tiptoeing through the tulips - these red blooms will feature on some of the floats next weekend - copyright Kate Chapman
Tiptoeing through the tulips - these red blooms will feature on some of the floats next weekend - copyright Kate Chapman

It doesn’t take long to work my way down a row, and without realising I’ve soon filled half a dozen baskets.

And thanks to the efforts of Steve and his team I’m pretty sure the completed floats are all going to look bloomin’ marvellous when they parade around the streets of Spalding on Saturday, May 11.



This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More