Tip toe, through the tulips…
It’s that time of year again. We all start to quietly ask ourselves why we live here. The rain has not stopped since November and even us weather hardened Northwesterners are thinking of migrating south for sunnier climates. Everyone’s daily wardrobe consists of Gortex. Muddy shoes and pant bottoms have become the new fashion trends. Cabin fever set in weeks ago and has now reached critical temperature. To make matters worse, the clouds have obscured the once uplifting views of the mountains so everywhere you look is just depressing grey mist. The cold wet winter has dragged on and on with no end in sight. Not even a hot Starbuck’s mocha lifts spirits much. Just when you think that you cannot take the gloom anymore, from the rain-soaked ground a colorful sign of spring suddenly appears.
In Skagit Valley, about 60 miles north of Seattle, the tulips have returned! April brings showers, but also colorful fields of the flower to the region. Skagit Valley boasts the largest tulip growing area in the world outside of Holland. We can thank George Gibbs for this welcome sign of spring. In 1883 he planted the first five tulip bulbs as an experiment. So successful were the flowers that in 1905 the U.S. government ordered 15,000 bulbs from Holland for George to plant as a government agricultural study. The results were conclusive; tulips will grow quite well here. It appears flowers are not very nationalistic after all. Thus, the American tulip industry was born.
Soon people came from all over the area to witness the colorful fields of tulips. In 1984, the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival officially began. Today, it is one of Washington State’s largest festivals, attracting over one million people over its 30 day run. The festival includes walking tours of the fields, bus tours around various fields, concerts, displays, the Mount Vernon Street Fair, and the Kiwanis Club Salmon Barbeque. The whole valley becomes gripped with tulip enthusiasm.
The largest tulip farm is Roozen Gaarde. Entrance to their fields and displays is $7.00 per person 15 years and older. The farm was founded by sixth generation tulip grower William Roozen, who immigrated to America from Holland in 1946 with the goal of establishing his own tulip business in Skagit Valley. The farm is impressive. It has several display gardens, a large gift shop, outdoor eatery, and, of course, the magnificent fields. Word of advice, wear mud proof boots. Also, be prepared for crowds and traffic. I recommend getting in and out early before the tour buses arrive.
Another must see at the festival is Tulip Town. It is also a $7.00 entrance fee. It is open 9:00am to 5:00pm seven days a week during the month of April. The town has flower displays, craft vendors, food, music, kites, and more tulip fields. No pets please (We left Albie to guard the house.). Be prepared to take lots of pictures. The vibrant colors make for amazing backgrounds for family or individual pictures. More artistic photographers create amazing pieces showcasing just the tulips in their natural beauty, like Mish.
If you don’t want all of the festivities with your flower viewing, there are many open tulip fields that are free to the public. You simply park your car on the side of the road and stroll into the field. To be honest, a tulip is a tulip. Even without the entourage that surrounds the pay to get in fields, the flowers are still singularly beautiful.
We strolled through the tulip festival for about three hours. By then, I was ready for a break. After all, a guy can only handle so much flower power. Our son, Elijah, went willingly along, but he too was ready to move on. We left the tulips behind feeling much more cheery and able to cope with the dreary weather knowing that it was coming to an end. Heading to the all you can eat buffet at the Tulalip Casino also helped boost Elijah and my spirits too.