Believe It or Not, Tulip Fields and Festival Top Unbelievable List

A blog that I follow, Culture Trip, popped up in my e-mail the other day with an article entitled:  15 Unbelievable Places You Probably Never Knew Existed in America . Of course I couldn’t resist the challenge to check it out.  As it turned out, I actually was aware of several of them and had visited four.  To my amusement, topping the list was “Skagit Valley Tulip Fields, Washington.”

The Skagit Valley tulip fields attract photographers, professional and amateurs alike, because of the beautiful settings it provides/

Amusing to me because the tulip fields lie just 20 miles to the south of where I live and have been the subject of my own blog twice.  (Tourists and Locals Love Tulip Time and A Trip to Skagit Valley’s Tulip Farms)  I had already planned to make my re-entry this week to my blog  about the tulip festival (after an absence due to my preoccupation with my duties as Executive Director for CASCADIA International Women’s Film Festival) .  The idea was prompted by a notice that this weekend would be the last for the tulip festival this year.  It’s always a little sad to learn that those beautiful flowers will be clipped and harvested starting tomorrow bringing an end to another display of fields of color.

Visitors are asked to stay out of the fields and park only in designated areas.

I’m sure those who live in the immediate area are a little happy and relieved to see the month-long event come to a close as literally thousands of people are drawn to see the brilliant blooms causing residents to post ‘no parking’ signs along their property and take alternate routes to avoid the traffic back ups leading to and from the nearby freeway.  For visitors, finding a place to park along the roadways becomes a challenge if you opt not to pay the fee asked by those with the lots.  But it all seems worth the time and money spent to admire the planted ribbons of color and masterful landscaped gardens of the various growers.

Mount Baker rises in the distance with bulbs of bright red in the foreground .

Among the most popular of these farm stops is the RoozenGaarde owned by Washington Bulb Company.  The company flourished under the ownership of William Roozen, a Dutch emigrant who purchased the business in 1955 from its original founders and the first bulb growers in the area, Joe Berger and Cornelius Roozekrans. Today, the Washington Bulb Company is the largest tulip-grower in the country with  350 acres of tulips and 70 million cut flowers shipped throughout the U.S. annually.

In addition, the company also plants 500 acres of daffodils (not nearly as much a draw as the tulips), 150 acres of iris and 600 acres of wheat (no one goes to see that.)

Boxfuls of tulips are cut from the fields and shipped throughout the country.

Someone, I can’t recall who, once told me that the tulips cultivated in the Skagit Valley when harvested are shipped to Holland where they are propagated then returned to the U.S.  and marketed as “Dutch” tulips. Whether or not this is true or just legend I don’t know and haven’t, as a good journalist should, followed up to ask company officials.

The flowers were late this year due to an unusually longer cold spell of weather and didn’t come into full flourish until mid-April.  The festival itself, begun in 1984 by the town of Mount Vernon, starts April 1st, regardless.  What began as a three-day event now is a month-long celebration that includes not only self-guided visits to the fields, but a parade, a ‘tulip’ run,’ concerts and a street fair.

Photographing the tulips looking skyward, the cup-like blooms remind me of colorful balloons on strong green strands.

I’ve not seen the figures but I can only imagine what the economic impact of this highly attended annual festival has on the town and the surrounding area as people make the trek from all over the state and British Columbia just to take in the splendorous display by nature and the bulb farmers. Kind of nice to know that in this day and age of virtual reality and high-tech devices that people can still find such enjoyment and pleasure in what nature has to offer.

I didn’t make the trip down to the fields this year, opting instead to satisfy myself with the tulips growing in my own garden.  But it’s likely I will, as in years, past, go again along with the thousands of others because the beauty of the tulip fields of Skagit Valley is still compelling no matter how many times you’ve seen them.

Tourists and Locals Love Tulip Time

It’s tulip time in many parts of the U.S. and nowhere are the tulips more colorful and splendorous than in Washington’s Skagit Valley.  Fields and fields of the highly valued bulb are grown for commercial sales.  Each year at this time, the area plays host to thousands of visitors who come for the annual Tulip Festival.  The exits from Interstate 5 which skirt the town of Mount Vernon and connects Vancouver B.C. to the north with Seattle to the south are literally backed up for miles with cars making their way on the weekends to see the rainbow-colored floral fields.

(I last wrote about the tulips here.)

Farmer workers in the fields help to create interest and perspective when photographing the tulips.

As a local, I have the luxury and advantage of being able to go to the fields on a weekday and avoiding the crowds.  I also get to pick my day, waiting for the weather to clear.  And so I did earlier this week when I awoke to sunny skies at sunrise.  When I go, I’m out the door by 7 a.m. to make the 20-mile scenic drive south so as to arrive by 7:30, even earlier is better.  By arriving about the same time as do the field workers, I not only miss the multitudes of tourists but I have better light for photographing these gorgeous flowers.  The dew is often still on the petals, the colors are bright and the sky is bluer. (That can of course be boosted with the help of a filter over your lens or later manipulated digitally in post-production.)

In the early morning light, the dew shimmers on the flowers.

I never know exactly which field I’ll work in unless I scout them ahead of time, as I did this year when I drove down to get the required permit from the RoozenGaarde growers that allows professional photographers to go into the fields without scrutiny from the field foreman.  I pick one spot because the light changes so quickly that by the time you’ve moved from one place to another, you’ve  lost the optimal conditions.  I “work the location,” capturing the chosen field from as many different angles as I can,  studying the surroundings to maximize what’s there and letting the location be my guide as to what and how to photograph it.

Sitting at the end of the field, boxes of bundled blooms await transport to be distributed to sellers in the area.

Some years I feel more productive than others. I rarely concentrate on just the flowers themselves. I try to make use of whatever is present: field workers, farm implements, signs, other artists or photographers who might be there, farm buildings to help create a sense of place.  When I  focus on the flowers, I strive to find different ways to photograph them and try to zero in on a particular feature or color.  If I decide to photograph the field en masse, I look for the overall impact of color or the setting.  Until I’m in the editing and post-production process  I often don’t know how I ultimately want to treat an image.

After years of having done this, I know how to dress. The fields are frequently muddy and the early a.m. air chilly.  I dress for the conditions.  Jeans and a sweatshirt are must with a warm jacket that I can shed if it should warm up, as it did this year.

Snow-capped Mount Baker rises in the distance and creates contrast with the multi-colored fields of flowers. I used a dry brush treatment in post-production to create a painterly feel to the scene.

Gloves with the fingertips cut out are also handy for those times when the morning temperatures are cold.  I also wear my insulated ‘muck’ shoes that I use for gardening because they are warm and wash off easily.  After years of crawling around in the dirt with a gardening pad, I now strap on heavy-duty knee guards so that I don’t have to scoot around on a pad and can literally get on my hands and knees to  get the shot I want.

Get down low, look up and see the tulips from a different angle to create an out of the ordinary perspective. Not how the tulips shine from the underside.

Equipment-wise, everyone has their own preferences. A UV lens filter is a must. I stick with my zoom lenses and fit close-up filters over them for really tight shots. Sometimes I use a tripod, sometimes not.  And a lens hood helps to block out annoying light flares.  I don’t spend a lot of time switching lenses or cameras in part because it creates less risk of getting damaging dirt on my sensitive digital gear.  I find it’s better  and sometimes more interesting to work within the parameters of my equipment.

I don’t make the trek to the tulips every year but this year I did as a way to unwind and relax after months of preparing for the film festival of which I now head up.  Usually I’ll take a friend along with me. This year I did it solo and enjoyed the time to myself.  No matter how you go, alone, with family or friends, these beautiful blooms are sure to restore your soul and remind you how wonderful the spring season is.

My last photo of the morning was a self-portrait still wearing my knee guards and muck shoes.

Scarlet Snips

The remains of the day’s cuttings lie in the tulips fields of Skagit Valley. Beautiful but at the same time, a bit sad.