Tulip festival in full bloom

Annual event at Holland America Bulb Farms in Woodland offers ‘you pick’ field this year

By Ashley Swanson, Columbian features news coordinator


photoThe Eternal Flame is an example of a double early tulip, which can resemble peonies with a multitude of petals.


If you go

What: The 11th annual Woodland Tulip Festival.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 13-14 and April 20-21. Gift shop open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through May 12.

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

Cost: Free, 50 cents per “You Pick” tulip, $15 to $25 for Tulip Trot registration.

Information: 360-225-4512 or http://habf.net

This is your year, tulip fans. The Woodland Tulip Festival will open up a new “you pick” field on weekends, so visitors can bring home their own bouquets of the signature spring beauty.

“We just wanted to give people a different kind of farm experience,” said Nicolette Wakefield, festival coordinator and daughter of Benno and Klazina Dobbe, founders of Holland America Bulb Farms. “We basically have a field with over a million tulips planted, with 100 different varieties of every kind, color, size and smell. People can walk through the fields and pick their own tulips.” The flowers will be 50 cents a stem, with a 10 tulip minimum.

In addition to the “you pick” field, there will be the designer garden and the farm’s show field, an acre of 180 plots of tulip rows marked by name. Families will be able to wander through the rows. The festival also offers about two dozen vendors set up in the farmers market. There will be also be the youth photography contest and a Cutest Baby Contest.

“We started that in 2009, since so many cute families with babies visit, we needed something to celebrate spring and encourage people to take photos with kids in the tulips,” said Wakefield.

For the older kids, the youth photography contest encourages children in grades one to eight and nine to 12 to take their own tulip photos.

The second-annual Tulip Trot 5K Run/Walk on Saturday will take participants along the tulip fields starting at 9 a.m.

“We have people coming from New York to race,” Wakefield said, “along with visitors from Idaho and California who come specifically for our tulips.”

The tulip festival is only a small part of what the Holland America Bulb Farm does as a wholesale flower farm. From March to mid-April the tulips are cut, boxed and shipped across the United States to flower shops and grocery stores.

This year’s festival theme traces the life path of a tulip bulb, which is where the real flower power happens. Tulip varieties can take up to 25 years to be successfully hybridized to a commercial level.

“We put a lot of time into our tulips,” said Kora Autrey, 17. The Holland farm replants the tulip bulbs every year, digging up millions of successful bulbs in June. For every bulb that has bloomed out, there’s often a tiny bulb that’s growing from the more mature plant that must be removed, improving the larger bulb for next year. Many bulbs are either sold or they’re stored in a cool place until they can be replanted in the fall.

To protect the growing plants, the Woodland farm will even exert their power over the weather with an anti-hail machine.

“Hail is devastating to tulips and the whole business,” Autrey said. The machine rests in the middle of the fields. “If there’s even a slightest chance of hail, we’ll blast a sonic boom up into the storm clouds to disperse them.”

“Last year we were worried (the tulips) wouldn’t open for the festival and this year we’re worried they won’t last,” said Autrey. “Once they start blooming we have no control.”

Tulips last about 1 to 2 weeks once they start blooming in the field, with early-, mid- and late-bloomers that make the riot of colors last from late April to early May.

Autrey’s tip for keeping your tulip bouquet blooming in your vase?

“If you want them to bloom really big, put them in the sun and then at night place them in a cold place.” The gift shop keeps tulips in a big cooler — to keep cut flowers from blooming — where they can last 2 to 3 weeks longer.

“I love tulips, they just come in so many colors. When you see them planted in the rows, you get that urge to just run through them. They’re just so gorgeous,” said Autrey, who works in the gift shop. Tulips can be found in every color of the rainbow, from midnight purple to white petals with streaks of green.

Every color except pure blue.

“I’m not sure why blue tulips haven’t been successfully hybridized,” Wakefield said. The tulip variety named “Woodland” by her father, Benno Dobbe in 2005, is a brilliant reddish pink with a small hint of blue hidden inside.