It’s early February and snowing. I wish for that Pristine New England Postcard Snow with all its mitten-clad days and hot chocolatey nights. Instead, the snow almost seems like a lazy teenager. It dribbles from the sky and mingles with the mud creating a murky mush that matches the wall of clouds. As I drive down the concrete highway in my formerly black car now blanketed with the sludge of the season, my winter-drab self sighs, “Yes, grey is the color we do best in the Pacific Northwest.”
I am driving to visit Tom and Jeannette in Tulip Town as they prepare for one of the largest tulip festivals in the world. It’s difficult to comprehend that as ducks, geese and swans pick the last nuggets from the barrens fields, this melancholy scene will be a riot of color come April.
Tulips are the passion of Tom and Jeannette DeGoede. Tom is the master gardener and Jeannette is the master florist. But, put those titles aside and you see how deep their passion runs.
A quick word on the not so diluted definition of passion. Passion: You are so compelled to forge on that there is nothing else you can do, but DO your passion. A quote from Albert Camus personifies Tom and Jeannette: “There is scarcely any passion without struggle.”
Twenty-two years it took them to own their passion. Twleve years to save and purchase the business + 10 years, working other jobs plus the tulip business, to purchase the land. It was during this critical time, they discovered that the tulips were in terrible shape.
Tulips are hearty, yet demanding little ladies. They like to stay dry and cool. They require rotation to a new field every year. They also like to be taken out of the soil after blooming, for a rest. So, after the Tulip Festival, someone is out in the fields, digging up, cataloging and washing the excess soil off the bulbs.
This is where the problem begins. To remove the excess soil and to prevent soil contamination between countries, common practice calls to wash the bulbs. However, when tulip bulbs get wet, the potential for spreading disease that rots the bulbs, skyrockets.
Here’s the crazy part: This disease is so prolific that when you plant 1000 tulip bulbs, only 400 will survive to show their blossom. It’s like opening a carton of a dozen eggs and seven are cracked.
For 23 years, they struggled to find new ways to improve the yield and preserve the bulbs. For those of you who have witnessed the splendor of the tulip fields during their peak time, it is shocking to understand that bounty is only 40% of what they planted.
“At what point did you decide you couldn’t do this anymore?” I questioned Jeannette.
“There wasn’t. We love Tulips. Tom had a dream and I wanted to help make it come true.” Jeannette responds, all in.
Then, in 2014, they discovered a solution: Net Farming. With Net Farming, the bulbs are planted in long, tubular nets, and covered with soil. Once the growing season ends, the nets can then be extracted from the ground with minimal soil disruption and eliminating the need to wash the bulb. With retirement peeking around the corner for Tom and Jeannette, their passion compelled them to think beyond their own future and instead invest in the future of sustainable growth for Skagit County tulip fields.
To Jeannette, tulips symbolize peace and compassion. In 2010, the World Tulip Summit Society honored her part in breathing life into their mission to “celebrate the tulip as a symbol of peace and international friendship.”
Let the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival Begin!
On April 1st the tulips will be in full bloom and the DeGoedes will be the happiest and busiest people on earth.
Their passion for tulips extends to the thoughtfulness they give the visitors every year. Multi-generational family enjoyment is their focus. Parking is free. Handicap parking is available. Admission is $7 and free for children under 6.
Activities at Tulip Town for the entire family to enjoy:
- Variety of themed outdoor walking gardens, windmills and a Veteran’s garden
- Indoor flower show – great for a rainy day visit
- Murals capturing local scenes as well as Tom’s hometown in the Netherlands, by artist Jennifer Bowman
- For the kids: Face-painting and a field to fly kites
- Cafe, gallery and gift shop
Tips when attending the Tulip Festival:
- Blooms occur on Mother Nature’s schedule, so check ahead
- To avoid heavy crowds, attend the Festival on a weekday
- If weather is questionable, call ahead or enjoy the indoor flower show
- Respect the fields, walk in the lanes
- Tulips look beautiful in the fields, so no picking!
Final Tip: 2016 saw record-breaking crowds. 2017 should be no different.
In the spirit of the Festival, practice kindness and patience, so we all can celebrate the tulip together as a symbol of peace and friendship.
15002 Bradshaw Rd
Mt Vernon, WA 98273
Ph: (360) 424-8152