MOUNT VERNON — Bring your rain boots, your camera and some cash to spend on a tulip bouquet.
The annual bloom of these bulb flowers is about to cut loose, and for a wonderful day you will want to be prepared.
As a reporter for newspapers here and for The Daily Herald, I’ve covered the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival for much of its 35 years. I even live on the tulip route, so if you get off the freeway at the Conway exit and head toward La Conner, you’ll likely drive right by my house. I say this only to assure you that I offer good advice.
People in the valley who live near the fields have a love-hate relationship with the festival. Some of my neighbors celebrate the season with a Nuke-the-Tulips dinner down the road at the Rexville Grocery, 19271 Best Road — which, by the way, is a good place to stop for snacks while you are here. (Another is Snow Goose Produce, 15170 Fir Island Road, known for their gigantic ice cream cones.)
Other neighbors will put traffic cones in their driveways to keep you from stopping there. I understand this. One time in the early years of the festival a family from British Columbia pulled into my driveway, made deep tire marks turning around in my rain-soaked front yard and then sat in their car at the end of the drive to eat their lunch.
Actually, there are many stories about past tulip festivals, including the famous one about the couple who, inspired by the beauty of the bloom, disrobed to tiptoe through the tulips (and other adult activities).
I have many tales of woe regarding the tulip tourist traffic. Times have changed, however, and roundabouts at three terrible intersections on the tulip route have helped ease the traffic problems. It’s also good that people have grown smart about visiting midweek instead of only on weekends.
Now that I am mostly retired, I welcome the big bloom, the festival and even the tourists. Come on up. The festival runs through April 30. It’s been a cool start to spring, so the tulips are a little behind, but rest assured you will find flowers on any day you visit.
■ Leave your pets at home.
■ Leave your small child’s trainer bike at home; the 50 mph roads are narrow.
■ Park where allowed; fines are hefty, especially in front No Parking signs.
■ Buy the flowers, don’t pick; the farmers work hard for a living.
■ Stay on the paths through the fields.
■ Drones? — Just no.
Have fun in the tulips
For the best photo light, visit early morning or early evening. Take your time. Get low. Get details. Don’t let your grandchildren fall into the flowers and mud.
The display gardens are delightful. Visit Washington Bulb Co.’s RoozenGaarde, run by the Roozen family, at 15867 Beaver Marsh Road, www.tulips.com; and Skagit Valley Bulb Farm’s Tulip Town, run by the DeGoede family, 15002 Bradshaw Road, www.tuliptown.com. These gardens offer a look at the blooms of dozens of bulb varieties, have activities for kids, gifts, treats and, of course, cut flowers. General admission at both places is $7, but parking is free. RoozenGaarde admission tickets are good for free parking at fields around the valley marked with the RoozenGaarde sign.
Other gardens, farms and nurseries to visit include Christianson’s Nursery, 15806 Best Road, also home to the Art at the Schoolhouse show; Azusa Farm and Gardens, 14904 Highway 20, also home to Art in a Pickle Barn; Skagit Valley Gardens, 18923 Peter Johnson Road; Schuh Farms, 15565 Memorial Highway; and the Washington State University Extension Discovery Garden, 16650 Memorial Highway.
Not planning to paint your own watercolor of the tulip fields? Visit one of the art shows around the area. My favorite is the Rexville Grange Art Show, 19299 Rexville Grange Road, www.rexvillegrangeartshow.com. It’s open only through April 15. Some of the artists are from Snohomish County, including founder Marguerite Goff and Lucinda Van Valkenburg. Paintings, pottery, functional wood art, glass, jewelry, clothing, garden art. Nearby is the Sauk Mountain Pottery exhibit at 18772 Best Road.
It’s also worthwhile to make a side trip to Anacortes for the festival Quilt Walk there. More at www.fidalgoislandquilters.com.
In La Conner, visit the Museum of Northwest Art, 121 N. First St., where selections from the permanent collection are shown; and the Skagit County Historical Museum at the top of the hill, 501 S. Fourth St., where the exhibit is “Old Time Tools and New-Fangled Furniture” by artist Stuart Welch.
In Mount Vernon, be sure to catch the Street Fair, April 20-22 on First Street, and have a salmon lunch or supper up at Hillcrest Lodge, 171 S. 13th St., where the Kiwanis Club is grilling fish over alder logs until April 22.
Skagit County is home to great restaurants, breweries, wineries, bakeries and more. Here, with apologies to friends I am leaving out, is a quick list of favorites: Adrift, 510 Commercial, Anacortes; Nell Thorn, 116 S. First St., La Conner; and Trumpeter Public House, 416 Myrtle, Mount Vernon.
Oh, and the tulips? Think the “B” roads — Best, Bradshaw and Beaver Marsh — along which you will find most of the fields. Signs also guide drivers and cyclists along the route.
The best source of information about the festival — the poster artist appearances, concerts, parades, contests, fun runs, bike rides, airplane rides, whale watching, garage sales, the annual PACCAR tour on April 14 — and where the tulips are blooming is at www.tulipfestival.org, where you can download a brochure and a map. Or call 360-428-5959.
Hey, and if you know me, stop by my house. I will give you a tulip tour. No tiptoeing, however.