April means tulips around here. Much like the phenomenon of leafers that drive slowly through New England in the fall to admire the changing leaves, western Washington comes down with a bit of tulip mania this time of year. Seattleites flock 60 miles north to Skagit Valley to gaze upon miles of natural rainbows, the famous tulip fields. And like their counterparts in the northeast they are driving slowly, not to slow down to enjoy the views, but because they are stuck in endless traffic on I-5.
Seattleites are not the first people to fall in love with the colorful bulbous perennials. Tulips were introduced to Europe in the 16th century from Turkey. The intensely colored flowers were like nothing else in Europe and were considered a status symbol. As international trade flourished in the region, tulips became wildly popular, influencing one of the greatest art movements- the era of Dutch still life painting. Between the years of 1634 and 1637 the price of rare tulip bulbs skyrocketed as investors dumped money into tulip futures. But like financial bubbles tend to do, this one burst in 1637. The tulip is still associated with the Netherlands where 4.32 billion bulbs are produced each year.
The state of Washington produces a fraction of that: 200 million tulip bulbs a year, 75 percent of the nation’s tulip crop. The flowers bloom as early as late March through April and later depending on the weather conditions. The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival has been celebrated over the month of April since 1984. Events include street fairs, salmon barbecues and fun runs. Roozengaarde and Tulip Town are the growers to visit. My favorite is Roozengaarde with its smaller specialized gardens featuring rare varieties. Admission to the gardens is $5 and they open at 9am. You can also enjoy the fields without spending a dime. Just wander on the back roads until you run into the tulip fields, or check out the Bloom Map to see which fields are currently blooming.
You could easily spend an entire weekend or more exploring the tulip fields and gardens and the nearby towns of La Conner and Mt Vernon. It’s also a great area to bike as the valley is flat and the fields spread out throughout the valley. However, I like to just spend a couple hours tiptoeing in the tulips, arriving right when they open thus avoiding the crowds and leaving the rest of the day for nearby exploring. I usually head east and spend the rest of the day at Deception Pass State Park or wander slowly south on the back roads through the farmland that reminds me of rural Pennsylvania where I grew up. The area is also a great place for bird watching as many migratory birds make their way through the area.
More about the Skagit Valley: