Each year, the fields of flowers come alive with row after row of bright, carefully coordinated colors. This annual bloom attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists who tiptoe through the tulips, posing for photos that some friends believe require a passport. “They think I went all the way to the Netherlands,” said one visitor. “I don’t think so, I just had a quick flight to Washington!”

Washington’s Skagit Valley, in the northwest corner of the state, hosts the annual Tulip Festival, a celebration of the flower best known for being grown nearly 5,000 miles away.

Posing at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in Washington State.

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“This region is very similar to Holland – climate-wise, extremely similar,” said Brent Roosen. “They have the North Sea, we have the Puget Sound. So we never get too hot or too cold, which makes for really big, bright, beautiful tulips.”

Brent comes from a long line of tulip growers; his family runs Roozengaarde, the largest tulip exhibition in the region, planting tens of millions of bulbs each year.

Brent’s grandfather, Bill Roosen, and grandmother, Helen, emigrated from the Netherlands to the Pacific Northwest in 1947. Helen recalled in 1989: “We went further west and further west and all the big lights were gone… And I thought, ‘Oh my God, don’t tell me if I live on a farm I could stay in Holland and live on a farm!’

View from a height of the Ruzenau tulip farm.

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But the Roozens put down roots in Washington. Ten children and 36 grandchildren later, the small flower farm they purchased has grown into a family business, with relatives working everywhere from the gift shop to the corner office. Today, their Washington Bulb Company is the largest producer of tulips in the country.

And as popular as the show garden is, most of the action happens out of sight. As for the greenhouse business, boxes of bulbs and bunches of flowers are delivered across the country, serving small local florists and large supermarket chains.

In the spring, the tulip trade heats up. “Mother’s Day is our biggest tulip holiday,” said Brent Roosen. – It’s not even close.

Cultivation of tulips.

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In the run-up to Mother’s Day, Rosens are shipping more than 3 million cut flowers a week, including many to customers who are cutting them soon. “It’s a big surge at the very last minute,” Brent said.

“It makes me feel better. Is everyone else doing it too?” Knighton asked.

“Trust me, I wish you didn’t, but everyone does, so you’re not alone!”

The tulip symbolizes new life – you’ll see lots of mothers-to-be taking pictures in the fields. But to ensure the best bulbs for next year, growers usually have to “top off” their open tulips earlier Mother’s Day. Richard Roosen demonstrated, “You want to leave as much green as possible on the plant, and you just to bend. So all the energy is now going into growing the bulb. This allows the bulb to increase in size. Bigger bulbs mean bigger blooms next spring.”

Tulip bulbs.

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With tulips, it’s all about planning. And for those of you who may not be the best at planning ahead, well, there’s always tomorrow.

Knighton asked, “Is there a post-Mother’s Day spike for people who have forgotten?”

“We’ve noticed that maybe the overall order volume is maybe a little bit higher for those after Mother’s Day, where it’s like, ‘Hey, I’d better put an extra bundle or two in here because I’m making up for it now.’ Brent said.


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The plot was prepared by Dustin Stevens. Editor: George Pazderets.


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