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News / Northwest

Growers get ready for annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

By Racquel Muncy, Skagit Valley Herald
Published: March 25, 2023, 6:00am

Mount Vernon — While Skagit County’s tulip growers are working overtime to prepare for the April 1 start of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, the tulips are on their own timeline.

Ernesto Mendoza, owner of Garden Rosalyn, said his tulips are starting to pop up and he expects to start seeing color in the next week or so.

This is Garden Rosalyn’s second year as part of the Tulip Festival, and this year it will have design gardens depicting an eagle, swans, a tulip, a rabbit and “I love Mount Vernon.”

Mendoza said all the tulips at Garden Rosalyn are planted by hand and that he designs the display gardens himself. It takes him about three months to design and plan the gardens.

Brent Roozen of Roozengaarde said staff have put in about 30,000 hours to make this year the grower’s most colorful yet.

He said all the hours and effort are worth it to see the smiles on the faces of visitors when they see the tulips in bloom.

Much work has gone into planning the design of the fields, planting the daffodils, tulips and rotation crops such as clover in order to keep the soil healthy, and keeping a close eye on the flowers in order to make sure everything stays healthy.

Roozengaarde removes about 20,000 tulips due to disease every year, said Roozen.

All of the design gardens have been hand planted and are different each year.

“Sometimes (the design) is not even flower related. We see something we like and ask ‘Can we do that with tulips?’ ” Roozen said.

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This is the first year Roozengaarde has used mechanized planting in its fields in order to increase rows to 30 inches wide, leading to about 1 million bulbs being planted this year — nearly three times as many as in the past.

The technology came straight from Holland and Roozen said it took some getting used to. For nearly 75 years Roozengaarde has done its planting without the technology, so this has been a big change.

“The guys before me could basically sleep walk and (plant tulips),” Roozen said. “This isn’t wading into the water, it’s jumping off the deep end.”

This change was made in order to become as efficient as possible.

“We had to be basically perfect,” Roozen said. “The byproduct is that everyone gets more color.”

While it may be the most colorful season yet, Roozen suspects we’ll be into April before much of the color starts to show.

“Everything’s creeping along right now,” he said, because of freezing temperatures overnight. “As close as we are it’s still hard to give an exact (bloom) date … everything can change in an instant.”

As soon as the flowers are ready, it won’t take long for the color to pop, as seen in the daffodil fields that bloomed almost overnight, said Roozen.

Tulip Town CEO Kristen Keltz said it’s all hands on deck to get everything ready by April 1, but even with the venue ready to go Mother Nature is still on her own schedule.

Two early varieties have started to show color, and others may be in bloom soon if the recent nice weather continues, Keltz said.

As the venue is being put together for another festival season, the tulips are being checked daily for signs of disease.

“It can spread quickly,” Keltz said. “The health of the tulips is of the utmost importance.”

In addition to now allowing dogs and adding engagement packages this year, Tulip Town has also added wider paths throughout the fields.

The hope, said Spinach Bus Ventures — the owner of Tulip Town — Managing Partner Rachael Ward Sparwasser is that wider paths will keep people out of the rows of tulips.

She said many want to get photos of themselves among the tulips, but that walking among the flowers can damage the bulbs that are used year after year.

“We think (the new paths) will provide amazing photo opportunities,” Ward Sparwasser said.

Although it’s only a one-month season, Ward Sparwasser said a lot goes on behind the scenes at other times of the year. After the tulip season, the bulbs need to be sorted and stored, and planting begins again in October.

“It’s a year-round endeavor,” she said. “But it’s so rewarding, especially this time of year.”