Each year, fields of flowers spring to life in row after row of vibrant, carefully-coordinated colors. This annual bloom attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists who come to tiptoe through the tulips, posing for photos that some friends assume required a passport. "They think I went all the way to the Netherlands," said one visitor. "I'm like, no, I just took a quick flight up to Washington!"
Washington's Skagit Valley, in the northwest corner of the state, is home to the annual Tulip Festival, a celebration of a flower best known for being grown nearly 5,000 miles away.
"The area is much like Holland – climate-wise, is extremely similar," said Brent Roozen. "They have the North Sea, we have the Puget Sound. So, we never get too hot, too cold, which produces really big, vibrant, beautiful tulips."
Brent comes from a long line of tulip growers; his family runs Roozengaarde, the largest display of tulips in the area, planting tens of millions of bulbs every year.
Brent's grandfather, Bill Roozen and grandmother, Helen, emigrated from the Netherlands to the Pacific Northwest in 1947. Helen recalled in 1989, "We went farther west and more farther west and all the big lights disappeared … And I thought, 'Oh my gosh, don't tell me, if I'm going to live on a farm, I could have stayed in Holland and lived on a farm!"
But the Roozens planted roots in Washington. Ten children and 36 grandchildren later, the small flower farm they purchased has blossomed into quite a family business, with relatives working everywhere from the gift shop to the corner office. Today, their Washington Bulb Company is the largest grower of tulips in the country.
And, as popular as the display garden is, most of the action happens out of sight. From the greenhouse side of the business, boxes of bulbs and bunches of flowers are shipped out all across the country, servicing small local florists and big supermarket chains.
The tulip trade kicks into high gear in spring. "Mother's Day is by large our biggest shipping holiday for tulips," said Brent Roozen. "It's not even close."
Leading up to Mother's Day, the Roozens ship out more than 3 million cut flowers a week, including plenty to customers who are cutting it close. "It's a huge spike at the very last minute," said Brent.
"That makes me feel better. Everyone else is doing that, too?" asked Knighton.
"Trust me: I wish you didn't, but everyone does it, so you are not alone!"
The tulip symbolizes new life – you'll see plenty of mothers-to-be posing for pictures in the fields. But to ensure the best bulbs for next year, growers generally have to "top" their outdoor tulips before Mother's Day. Richard Roozen demonstrated: "You want to leave as much green on the plant as possible, and you just bend. So, all the energy is now going to the bulb for growth. It allows the bulb to grow bigger in size. Bigger bulbs mean a bigger bloom next spring."
With tulips, it's all about planning ahead. And for those of you who might not be the best at planning ahead, well, there's always tomorrow.
Knighton asked, "Is there an after-Mother's Day spike for the people who forgot?"
"We noticed maybe the order total is maybe a little bit higher for those after Mother's Day ones, where it's like, 'Hey, I better throw in an extra bunch or two here because I'm making up for it now,'" said Brent.
For more info:
- Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, Washington
- Washington Bulb Company / Roozengaarde, Mount Vernon, Wash. (tulips.com)
Story produced by Dustin Stephens. Editor: George Pozderec.
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