Is there anything that says “spring” more effusively than a tulip? As soon as colorful bunches start popping up in the grocery store in February, I quit thinking about wet snow, gray skies and winter’s lingering grip. However pretty a bright bouquet of cut blooms is, there’s nothing like surveying row upon rainbow-striped row of these spring floral icons in full, growing glory.
Now that April is here, so are tulips in the fields. And you don’t have to travel to the Netherlands to see them. In fact, Washington’s Skagit Valley rivals the more famous European growing region as one of the world’s top tulip producers. An hour north of Seattle, this lush river bottom land at the edge of the Cascade Mountains bursts into a technicolor quilt each spring, first with the sunny yellow of daffodils, then with 700 acres of tulips in squares of red, pink, fuschia, orange, coral, purple and ivory.
Thousands of visitors flock to the valley to follow the tulip trails and enjoy the show gardens at Roozengaarde and Tulip Town. The month-long Skagit Valley Tulip Festival provides maps and bloom updates and sponsors a host of events including a parade, street fair, fun run, antique safari and Tulip Pedal bicycle outing. The festival centers on the town of Mount Vernon, though nearby LaConner — a popular artist enclave on the Swinomish Slough — is also bustling with tulip-themed doings during the month of April. A nice alternative to driving, especially if you’re tulip-touring on a busy weekend, is to travel by bike. Guided rides to the fields, display gardens and festival events are offered through Tulip Country Bike Tours.
Tulips arrived in the Skagit Valley with William Roozen, who emigrated from Holland in 1947. Bringing two centuries of tulip-growing heritage with him, Roozen started a flower farm on five acres. Today, the family business — the Washington Bulb Company — is the largest bulb producer in the U.S., growing millions of tulips, daffodils and irises on more than 1,000 acres and in 16 greenhouses.
But flowers aren’t the only produce grown in Skagit County. The valley is also a showcase for artisanal agriculture and the Slow Food movement, which celebrates locally produced food cooked from scratch to share in good company. More than 90 different crops flourish in the fertile lowlands, while small dairies, livestock operations and fisheries round out locally sourced menus at the region’s growing number of fine cafes.
Agritourism is a central part of the valley’s economy: Sample farmstead cheeses, organic yogurt and fresh-churned butter at Samish Bay Cheese and Golden Glen Creamery. Pick up fresh vegetables, berries and homemade jams at Snow Goose Produce (2010 Fir Island Road in La Conner). And, by all means, don’t miss the Berry Barn at Lenning Farms (14285 LaConner-Whitney Road, Mt. Vernon) for fabulous fresh-baked berry pies. Slow Food Skagit provides a list of local farm stands, farmers’ markets and restaurants that offer a full spectrum of gustatory delights from land and sea.