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Tulips are just the beginning in Washington's Skagit Valley

RoozenGaarde’s tulip fields, along with Tulip Town, Garden Rosalyn and Tulip Valley Farms, has helped make the Skagit Valley a must-visit destination.

Standing in the family’s display garden at RoozenGaarde, with over one million brilliantly coloured, hand-planted tulips, third-generation Washington State tulip farmer Brent Roozen notes the irony of the family name.

“Roozen means rose in Dutch. Someone should have changed it back in the 1700s in Holland when our family first started planting tulips,” he says.

RoozenGaarde’s expansive tulip fields, along with Tulip Town, Garden Rosalyn and Tulip Valley Farms, has helped make the Skagit Valley in Washington a must-visit destination in spring when the blooms are at their peak.

The valley sits between the U.S.-Canadian border and Seattle, and is just 90 minutes from Vancouver by car and one hour from Seattle.

The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, now in its 41st year, is considered to be one of the largest tulip festivals in the U.S. It typically starts April 1 and ends April 30, but Roozen notes it continues as long as the tulip blooms last.

“This is the tricky part. It’s a moveable time line. It’s up to mother nature. Last year blooming was mid-April to mid-May and this year we started mid-March, and I wasn’t expecting it till the end of the month.”

He adds that generally, the ideal conditions for tulips to bloom are temperatures around 10 C, with full sun. He advises visitors to check before coming so as not to be disappointed.

“I’d rather be a meteorologist than a tulip farmer,” he jokes.

One area Roozen can control is bulb production, with six hectares of the family’s 20-hectare farm devoted to greenhouse space for forcing tulips. The family sells cut flowers and bulbs to major U.S. supermarkets and wholesalers year-round.

Roozen says his grandfather, William Roozen, emigrated from Holland in 1947, settling near the community of Mount Vernon, since the climate was similar to his homeland and many Dutch farmers were being sponsored to move to the Skagit Valley at the time. Five years later he saved enough money to purchase two hectares of land and start his own farm.

Roozen’s father Leo also spent a lifetime tulip farming, in the family-run Washington Bulb Co., which became the largest tulip-bulb grower in Washington.

In 1984, the family planted their first tulips for a small display garden on the family farm to show the varieties available for sale.

“It wasn’t a full garden bed, but a clump here and there to show the varieties. Over the years less people were purchasing the bulbs from us directly but they were coming for the visual beauty,” he says. “Every year we try to expand it a bit.”

Today, RoozenGaarde has over 200 tulip varieties and 50 daffodil varieties. A crew of 12 people hand-plants the bulbs between September and December, which results in the dramatic spring show.

The display garden, which undergoes a redesign yearly, has now grown to more than three hectares, creating one of the most gorgeous displays of tulips in the Skagit Valley, set against the Cascade Mountain range.

At nearby Tulip Town, one of the partners, Rachael Ward, estimates their 12 hectares of tulip fields, which includes two hectares of display garden, were at about 75 per cent bloom when I interviewed her in mid-April.

Tulip Town also has the area’s only indoor garden display, so visitors can still enjoy seeing the different tulip varieties during inclement weather, and offers tractor trolley rides around the fields and an indoor beer garden and cafe.

“We are the second most photographed red barn in the state, and on a good day you can see Mount Baker,” she says, pointing towards one of the most picturesque corners of this year’s display garden with the distinctive red barn.

Each year, in order to keep the soil healthy, she explains the display garden is moved to different areas of the farm.

“We’re more of a boutique farm and not a large producer of stems and bulbs. Ninety-seven per cent of our revenue comes from visitors,” she says.

At Garden Rosalyn, which opened in 2021, owner Ernesto Mendoza has planted tulips around a windmill in patterns like a heart, and two large stars in a smaller display garden on his three-hectare property.

“Instead of making it with regular rows of tulips, I wanted to make a design,” he says. “My goal is to plant more each year so the community will come to see it.”

The gardens charge a fee, ranging from $15 to $20, for visitors during the festival who come in droves each spring to snap photos and take home tulip bunches. Two of the four tulip gardens allow dogs — Tulip Town and Tulip Valley Farms.

Besides visiting the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, I took time over three days to stop in to see several of the historic communities in northwest Washington, including nearby La Conner, Mount Vernon, Anacortes and Port Townsend. All four communities have great shopping areas, restaurants, cafes and great accommodation options for tourists.

For this trip I travelled by car, taking the M.V. Coho from Victoria’s Inner Harbour to Port Angeles on a pleasant ride lasting 90 minutes. From there I drove one hour to the small city of Port Townsend, but spent my first night in Washington at nearby Port Ludlow, the first mill town on Puget Sound.

“The Coho is the link to it all,” says Port Townsend publicist and longtime resident Christina Pivarnik. “Coming to the Olympic Peninsula is a really fun road trip.”

Pivarnik says many tourists will travel around the peninsula to enjoy its many hiking trails, especially those in the Olympic National Park, which encompasses nearly 404,000 hectares and more than 112 kilometres of wild coastline.

For those interested in architecture, a stop in Port Townsend is well worth the time. The city has many Victorian-era buildings both in its historic downtown and on a hillside directly above it. Pivarnik says the city was initially supposed to be the New York of the west coast when it was first founded, but the dream didn’t materialize after the railroad changed plans and chose to go through Seattle instead.

Before leaving the Olympic Peninsula, I popped in to a local organic farm and craft cidery in the Chimacum Valley called FinnRiver Farm and Cidery, open Wednesday to Sunday. Visitors on weekends can take a one-hour tour (at 1 and 3 p.m.) and enjoy four ciders and two wines made on site as they learn about the farm’s history and spirits production. The farm is also a popular community gathering space, holding events from music concerts to a giant puppet show.

I left the Olympic Peninsula, via Port Townsend, on a Washington State ferry, taking the half-hour crossing for Coupeville on Whidbey Island, then driving a short distance up the island to Deception Pass and over the scenic bridge to the northern tip of Fidalgo Island.

My next stop was the creative waterfront community of Anacortes, on Fidalgo Island, where I explored local shops and met with some of the city’s creative business owners like Kristi Lacey and Kali Berg who own Ink + Wool. The two women initially sold their products (for Kali, knitted hats, and Kristi unique, screen printed T-shirts) at the local farmer’s markets before getting into a historic building downtown.

The historic city, with a long maritime history, is another great spot for outdoor enthusiasts since it has over 80 kilometres of hiking trails in the community forestland.

From Anacortes it’s just a 20-minute drive to either La Conner or Mount Vernon, both great home bases for a stay in the Skagit Valley, since both are a short driving distance to the tulip fields if you also plan to take in this year’s Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.


Where to stay

Resort at Port Ludlow is an ideal spot on the Olympic Peninsula to enjoy a relaxing stay on the shores of Puget Sound. The resort has an 18-hole golf course, a 300-slip marina and the award-winning Fireside Restaurant.

The Majestic Inn and Spa, located in downtown Anacortes, appeals to both history lovers and those who prefer a contemporary hotel. Its original building was once a hardware store and office building and was built in 1890. A separate, contemporary addition, with a rooftop lounge, was added in 2013. Its restaurant was also outstanding, particularly its fresh crab cakes, truffle fries and cheese plate.

La Conner Channel Lodge is the only waterfront hotel in the charming town of La Conner, with balconies looking out to Swinomish Channel. The lodge’s cedar-shake siding, riverfront rock fireplace and outdoor fire pit adds to its charm. The rooms have gas fireplaces, jetted tubs and a comfortable seating area. Complimentary breakfast is included.

Where to eat

The Fireside restaurant specializes in northwest cuisine, with an emphasis on seafood and changes its dinner menu daily in order to offer local, in-season ingredients. The halibut and New Bedford scallops dishes were both delicious, particularly the scallops with a mushroom risotto and roasted fennel.

Il Granaio is an authentic Italian restaurant in Mount Vernon serving homemade pasta dishes. Il Granaio means “barn” in Italian, which is appropriate since the restaurant is located in the Old Town Grainery, built in 1942, with a 27-metre tower, original hardwood floors and wood beams.

COA Mexican Eatery & Tequileria in La Conner is authentic Mexican cuisine at its finest. As soon as I tried their tasty salsa, fresh homemade guacamole and chips, I knew I was in for a treat. The molcajete, which would normally include grilled chicken, was made with extra prawns instead for myself since I’m a pescatarian, sliced cactus, and topped with pico de gallo and melted mozzarella cheese. It came with a side of rice, beans, guacamole, sour cream and tortillas. It was so large the dish can easily be shared by two people.

Kim Pemberton was hosted by the State of Washington Tourism, which did not review or approve this story. Follow her on Instagram at kimstravelogue.