Woodland Tulip Festival celebrates flower, family

Event offers visitors chance to pick their own blooms

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



If you go

What: The 12th annual Woodland Tulip Festival, with vendors, a display garden, a you-pick field and contests.

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

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 12-13 and April 19-20. Gift shop open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends through May 11.

Cost: Free, 50 cents per you-pick tulip.

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

Benno Dobbe answers instantly when asked what his favorite tulip varieties are.

The owner and president of Holland America Bulb Farms in Woodland loves the varieties he grew up with as a kid on a farm in Holland.

“I used to sit by the side of the road with a bucket and sell them when I was a boy,” Dobbe said. “I grew up with tulips. As a little kid, I grew up in an area with 2,500 bulb growers — all little farms. We plowed with horses until I was 15 years old.”

Golden Apeldoorn and Flaming Parrot are yellow and red varieties that he’s loved since back in his roadside sales days.

And those varieties and many others will be available for visitors to see, pick themselves and buy at this year’s 12th annual Woodland Tulip Festival.

The festival started after Benno and his wife, Klazina Dobbe, immigrated to the Pacific Northwest in 1980 with their three children and eventually 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.

Those sales eventually grew into the first Tulip Festival.

“It seems like yesterday we just started this,” Wakefield said. “We began with this little 20- by 30-foot tent with just a few vendors and now it’s huge.”

The first festival had 10 vendors and a small part of a field set out as a display garden. Now it has a show field with 180 row-sized plots that display several varieties of the flower, plus a display garden, a you-pick lot, several vendors, Dutch food, a youth photography contest, a cutest baby contest and several do-it-yourself educational demonstrations.

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.

“It’s a flower that definitely shows springtime,” Dobbe said. “It’s elegant. There are so many shapes and colors.”

Dobbe’s business grows other flowers — including several varieties at a farm in California. But the tulips he grows in Woodland are by far his favorite, he said.

In fact, he named a tulip after the city.

“In 2005, there was a new tulip on the market from the Netherlands, and it was under number, so they asked if I wanted to name it,” Dobbe said. “So I named the tulip Woodland.”

He also got to name a second variety, a red and white flower, which he named after his company, Holland America.

And he has one other favorite — Ida, a yellow and red variety that almost seemed to magically appear.

“In Holland, we grew them for bulbs, to sell those to other countries,” Dobbe said. “One year, we were growing a brown one, and in there I saw a yellow tulip. It was a mutation.”

Usually, growers will make hybrids to get new varieties, but this was a natural mutation. And his family took that bulb and developed a stock from it.

And it turns out, a few other farmers also had the strange variety pop up naturally at the same time. And the variety grew into a popular type that he brought with him when he came to America in 1980.

Wakefield and one of her younger brothers are the third generation of the family to be in the tulip business. Wakefield’s grandparents grew the plants in Holland, and her parents brought that knowledge to the Pacific Northwest when they came here, she said.

“We have 125 varieties, although they’re not all available every year,” Wakefield said. “And my dad and brother, they plant our tulip fields every year. Actually, my uncle was here with them this year — which was really cool.”

The tulips are planted every October and the business sells bulbs that it will deliver to customers in the fall, along with selling cut flowers, she said.

She hopes people will come by with their kids during the festival. The you-pick field has been especially popular since they launched it last year, Wakefield said.

“There’s this idea of coming to the farm and being able to get out there and pick your own plants that’s just wonderful,” Wakefield said. “And we have at least a million bulbs out there.”

Woodland tulips