Tiptoe Through the Tulips

Every year, not far from here, farmers plant, tend and harvest hundreds of thousands of iris, daffodil and tulip bulbs. All the information a person needs can be found at the Tulip Festival site, including a map of the various fields indicating where the flowers can be found.

Having recently read Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire (which covers four crops, including the tulip), and watched the PBS program based on the book, I’ve become more interested in this particular plant. In an NPR interview, Pollan talks about the tulip, “[T]he story of the tulip is kind of amazing. I mean, this was the, tulip mania you’re referring to in Holland, and it was a… Which people are always comparing to the Internet mania, and there are a lot of interesting parallels. Although I’m more sympathetic to the Dutch than I am to the NASDAQ traders, because at least, you know, there was something beautiful here, something new, something… Something, not just a piece of paper. And they were… It was a new flower and they went absolutely mad for it. And its beauty was like we had never seen anything like it before, and…,”

On a Tuesday afternoon (not the best time for photographing flowers), my mother-in-law, daughter and I took exit 226 from Highway 20 and followed the conspicuous “Tulip Route” signs. We eventually reached a gravel parking lot adjacent RoozenGaarde, RoseGarden in Dutch, walked along a spectacularly colorful flower-lined path, paid five bucks each admission, and entered the grounds.

The weather was sunny but breezy, and we walked past a huge variety of tulips in bloom and headed straight for the fields. Signs indicated that to protect the plants, persons were not allowed to enter the fields (so we had to forgo tip toeing). A few oblivious (or defiant) folks did so anyway, but bystanders had hundreds of feet of perfect places to get great shots of tulips. In fact, it was overwhelming. I’d never seen so many flowers in bloom in once place.

According to the RoozenGaarde pamphlet, the garden is planted with over a quarter of a million bulbs and over 150 flower varieties. It also claims, “The Roozen family business of growing Tulips, Daffodils, and Irises is the largest in the world, covering Skagit Valley with more than 1000 acres of field blooms and 15 acres of greenhouses.” Like the other visitors, we wandered around the edges of the field, avoiding occasional puddles (while toddlers waded right in). Finally, we left the fields and made our way through the garden area near the entrance, which contained a much greater variety. Most were tulip-looking, but some looked like other species. In several cases, peonies.

Small signs indicated the name of each variety. Inside a tent, patrons purchased tulips to take home. We could have spent hours there photographing flowers, but the windy weather felt kind of cold. The petals were pretty, but we paid attention to the insides too. After about half an hour, we left, observing flower fields as we made our way back to Highway 20. The official Bloom Map was accurate. The irises and some of the daffodils were done, while the tulips were in perfect bloom.

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After nearly a week of longing for another look, I returned on a Monday morning, when the sun provides a gentle light that is perfect for taking photos. I had purchased a ticket at a parking lot along the way, so I was quickly able to get through the gate and enter tulip lover’s heaven. This time, I skipped the fields (having just spent a few minutes at one a couple of miles away) and spent the entire time admiring flowers in the well-planned tulip-filled flower beds along with about a zillion other persons doing same. This time, I paid better attention to the names, and enjoyed the flower plot overviews where families and friends wandered along taking photos of the flowers and themselves. Learning a little about this flower species is useful, so I checked out the online encyclopedia.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, ‘Tulip, (genus Tulipa), any of a group of cultivated bulbous herbs in the family Liliaceae…consists of about 100 species that are native to Eurasia from Austria and Italy eastward to Japan, with two-thirds of them native to the eastern Mediterranean and the southeastern parts of the Soviet Union…A speculative frenzy over tulips in the Netherlands in 1633–37 is now known as the Tulip Mania. The tulip produces two or three thick, bluish green leaves that are clustered at the base of the plant. The usually solitary bell-shaped flowers have three petals and three sepals…Tulip flowers occur in a wide range of colours except true blue—from purest white through all shades of yellow and red to brown and deepest purple to almost black. Almost 4,000 horticultural varieties have been developed…Generally, solid-coloured tulips are spoken of as “self-coloured,” while streaked blossoms are called “broken.” The phenomenon of colour streaks in tulips is due to a harmless virus infection that causes the self colour to disappear in certain zonal patterns, leaving the flower’s white or yellow underlying colour to show through in irregular streaks.’

Lisse: tulip fields
Lisse: tulip fieldsTulip fields, Lisse, Netherlands.© Digital Vision/Getty Images

Before I left after my second outing, I remembered the white-edged “broken” purple tulips I’d seen last time, tracked them down and took a couple of photos before departing the gardens…reluctantly. In the future, I plan to visit every year, probably multiple times. Although the site indicates that the festival runs the entire month of April, those who wait until the end may miss out on the best blooms. My advice: go early in the blooming season and arrive at 9:00 am when the gates open to get the best photo-friendly sunlight and beat the 10 o’clock rush.

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3 thoughts on “Tiptoe Through the Tulips

  1. Beautiful photos and commentary~! Thank you!! I was able to visit in mid March, and saw the daffodils in all their glory, and the tulips were just starting when I had to leave… I am coming back out the third week of April, but alas I fear they will all be done by then… very early this year….. so so beautiful………

  2. You are so sweet. I’d have loved to have seen the daffodils, which were finished in all but maybe one field that we saw but were totally focused on tulips. And I wonder about the irises, which I didn’t even realize grew out there (did you see them?). I’m feeling slightly compelled to maybe return one morning next week because I feel like we rushed through and I didn’t take time to enjoy the huge variety of tulips that weren’t in the field. I’ll bet you’ll get the chance to see the latest blooming flowers, but they do seem really early this year. Thanks for reposting. It’s very kind of you!

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