Annual festival toasts tulips

Woodland event celebrates versatile flower; just don’t tell squirrels

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



10th Annual Woodland Tulip Festival

• What: Vendors, classes, Dutch food, photo opportunities, children’s activities and a chance to buy bulbs, cut flowers and other gifts.

• When: April 21-22.

• Where: Holland America Bulb Farms, 1066 S. Pekin Road, Woodland.

• Cost: Admission and parking are free.

• Information: 360-225-4512 or

Free Demonstrations:

April 21:

• 10-10:30 a.m. Tips for photographing flowers outdoors.

• 11-11:45 a.m. Container gardening.

• 2-2:30 p.m. Kids in the garden.

• 3-3:30 p.m. Euro-style bouquets.

April 22:

• 11-11:45 a.m. Making miniature gardens.

• 1-1:30 p.m. Healing with flowers.

As you gaze out at the seemingly endless rows of red, yellow and purple flowers decorating the fields near Holland America Bulb Farms, gardeners suggest you keep three words in mind: Beware of squirrels.

Visitors can buy cut flowers and bulbs or just take in the view of more than 100 varieties of tulips at the 10th Annual Woodland Tulip Festival, which started this past weekend and continues Saturday and Sunday.

But if you’re placing bulbs in the ground this fall, make sure to protect them, said Celeste Aftring, a Vancouver gardener who’s been to three of the festivals.

“When you plant bulbs, if you don’t keep an eye on them, the squirrels will dig them up,” Aftring said. “I put a milk carton over mine. I don’t know what it is, but they love to pull them out of the ground.”

Even blooming flowers aren’t exempt from the wrath of squirrels -- although why squirrels would have it out for the multicolored flowers is anybody’s guess, said Chris Conrady, who is planning to attend the festival this weekend with his wife, Julie.

“Squirrels don’t like them. They bite the heads off and leave the rest of the plant alone,” Conrady said of his garden. “You have to try to keep them away as best you can.”

Squirrels aside, though, tending to the beautiful plants is worth it, Julie Conrady said.

She’s grown more than 25 varieties and is always looking to try new types, she said.

“They’re the most beautiful flower,” she said. “I love tulips. I really like the blue parrot variety especially; they grow really tall.”

The festival started when Benno and Klazina Dobbe, who immigrated to the Pacific Northwest in 1980, decided to give locals a chance to buy some of their cut flowers and bulbs.

The business, founded in 1983, had been shipping cut tulips and bulbs nationwide to gardening stores and florists, but didn’t really have any local sales operations until neighbors started asking if they could buy plants, said the couple’s daughter, Nicolette Wakefield.

“First, we did a stand at the side of the road. But then, we were like, ‘Let’s start a little shop,’ so we rented a little trailer; and from there, we just decided, ‘Why not do a tulip festival?’” Wakefield said.

The first festival had 10 vendors and a small part of a field set out as a display garden.

In its 10th year, the festival has a show field with 180 row-sized plots that display several varieties of the flower, plus a display garden, several vendors, Dutch food, a youth photography contest, a cutest baby contest and several do-it-yourself educational demonstrations.

“This year, we wanted to have experts come in and give people tips,” Wakefield said. “We’ve never done that before, but we wanted to share what we do here.”

The anniversary event also includes a horticulture contest for local high school students -- with individuals or small groups of students working together to build the best-looking plot in the display garden. Visitors can vote for their favorites, and the winners will be announced at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Tulips originally came from Turkey, and some experts think the name of the plant was derived from the Turkish word for turban because of the flower’s shape.

The Dutch started cultivating the plant by the early 1600s, and today the country is still the world’s top producer of tulips.

Wakefield is the third generation of her family to be in the tulip business. Her grandparents grew the plants in Holland, and her parents brought that knowledge to the Pacific Northwest when they came here, she said.

“This climate, it’s actually the perfect place for tulips,” Wakefield said. “When my parents came here, they searched the whole West Coast for the best location, and the soil and location here was the best.”

The festival often draws between 6,000 and 10,000 people per weekend, especially if the weather is nice, Wakefield said.

“This is the height of the harvest time,” she said. “Our visitors will see a lot of color.”

Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457;;