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Every April, for the past 30 years, the beautifully sleepy Skagit Valley is re-awoken by hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to gaze at the never-ending, neatly planted, rows of brightly colored tulips. I've made the pilgrimage, but didn't know anything about why our region is famous for these flowers. So I headed up to the biggest tulip and daffodil grower in north America, the Roozen family's Washington Bulb Company in Mount Vernon.
"As far as the Tulip Festival is concerned, we plant tens of millions of bulbs," said Brent Roozen, heir to the tulip throne. "In our fields we grow 350 acres of tulips and in our display garden at RoozenGaarde we're planting over 300,000 bulbs by hand. There are over 100 varieties of tulips."
Brent's family has been in the tulip business for hundreds of years.
"They've been growing tulips since the early 1700s in Holland. My grandfather and grandmother hopped on a boat and immigrated to the United States; they arrived here in the Skagit Valley. He saved up money for about five years, purchased about five acres of land and started Washington Bulb Company."
That was 60 years ago and five of the Roozen's ten children still run the company with the help of a dedicated staff.
"We have one employee who was an original employee of Washington Bulb Company. He was one of my grandfather's first hires. He has outlasted about everyone here."
Brent says the climate and top soil in the Skagit Valley is very similar to Holland. When farmers tried to grow tulips just 30 minutes north, in Whatcom County, it wasn't as successful. And to be as successful as possible, the Roozen's also grow tulips in their greenhouses 365 days a year. Those flowers are sold in grocery stores across North America and purchased online for delivery.
"Customers will call us and they'll ask, 'Where are you located?' I tell them, 'Right here in Mt Vernon.' They're like, 'So you're not in India?' I'm like, 'No, I'm right here on the farm!'"
Flower feigns clamber all year long to get their hands on the field tulips, which only grow in April and are more vibrant and varied than the greenhouse varieties.
"In the greenhouse the growing period for the tulips is probably about three weeks. So they grow really quickly. Whereas in the field, the growing period for the flowers is months. They're growing real slow and that allows the flowers to get some really big buds and really vibrant colors."
In the greenhouses you can see the tulips growing at all stages. Just poking out of the earth they look like smooth, lime colored stalks of asparagus...or fingers, depending on if you watch horror movies or not. Speaking of horror, as far as the field flowers go, after the Tulip Festival ends, they chop off all of the tulips' heads.
"We have to do that, it's for disease prevention and it promotes the growth of the bulbs," said Brent.
Once those bulbs get nice and big, they're pulled out of the ground and sold to customers.
The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival goes from April 1 to April 30th and the Roozen's predict the tulips will be in peak bloom in mid-April. Right now you can see daffodils in full bloom and some tulips starting to show color and open up. Check the website for updates.