The Pacific Northwest bursts with fields of Dutch heritage

From British Columbia to Oregon, the Pacific Northwest has long attracted Dutch settlers for the maritime climate and zesty soils that make it ideal for tulips.

The air hangs tangy over the sea and the tulip fields spread out like a cosmos of colorful stars in the Netherlands, where Benno Dobbe’s grandfather started a business planting tulips in the 1930s. Benno’s father planted them, too, but Benno had a slightly different idea. “When I told my wife what I wanted to do I thought she would slap me,” he said.

Benno Dobbe is the owner, CEO and president of Holland America Flower Gardens in Woodland, Washington (photo by Nicolette Dobbe)

Benno and his wife, Klazina, left the family farm in 1980 and moved their three young children to Woodland, Washington, where he bought farmland near the Columbia and Lewis rivers.

People in this town of 6,100 had once grown tulips, but the industry had been gone for years.

Benno thought he could bring it back.

His Holland America Flower Gardens has since blossomed into a 160-acre operation that sends tulips to all 50 states and transforms his corner of Washington state into a carpet of magnificent colors.

“We’re very similar that way,” said Don McMoran of Washington State University’s agricultural extension office. “You can travel halfway around the world to the Netherlands and land right back here.”

Pink tulips bloom in front of a red barn

Tulip Town in Mount Vernon, Washington (photo courtesy of Tulip Town)

Washington’s Skagit Valley

The Dutch built many of the dikes and canals that turn the area around Mount Vernon, Washington, into tulip central for the monthlong Skagit Valley Tulip Festival each April. Some 400,000 people come to the valley to run races, ride bikes and photograph flowers across a combined 400 acres that burst with sensuous ballerina tulips, dazzling Angéliques and dozens more varieties.

“Tulips are such high drama with all the work, but it’s absolutely worth it,” says Andrew Miller, who in June 2019 with a group of childhood friends purchased Tulip Town, one of the valley’s featured growers with more than 6 million tulips blossoming across 7 acres. “We want to preserve the beauty of rural America and this is our little piece of it.”

Tulip Town now houses a cafe, a beer garden and a 30,000-square-foot indoor growing area with murals depicting life in the Netherlands and the Skagit Valley.

At nearby Roozengaarde, the farm that William Roozen started when he came to Skagit Valley from the Netherlands after World War II, you’ll find more than 350 acres popping with 50 tulip varieties and another 5-acre display garden with a whopping 120 types. Workers will spend 10 weeks planting at least a million bulbs by hand, says Brent Roozen, William’s grandson.

“Together they have just acres and acres of gorgeousness,” says Janet Kowalski, a garden manager at the nearby Washington State Discovery Garden, where docents lead tours and offer tips on how to grow your own tulips at home.

Mid-April is typically the peak bloom season, she adds, and mid-week or first thing in the morning are the best times to avoid crowds. For 2021, tickets with specific entry times are required at both Roozengaarde and Tulip Town.

Hot air balloons over rows of tulips at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Fest in Oregon
The Wooden Shoe Tulip Fest in Woodburn, Oregon (photo courtesy of Wooden Shoe Farm)

Oregon’s Wooden Shoe

In Oregon, tulips grace the countryside, too, especially around Woodburn (population: 26,000) between Portland and Salem. There, the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm hosts a dog-friendly festival from March 19 to May 2 with about 40 acres of tulips, cow train rides and wine tastings. A special early morning Sunrise Pass will get you in to take some snaps before anyone else arrives. Tickets are only available online this year — but if you miss your ideal date, additional tickets are released seven days prior.

–Written by Tim Neville
–Top Image of tulips blooming in spring at Tulip Town. Photo courtesy of Tulip Town

This story originally appeared in the March/April 2020 edition of the AAA Washington member magazine, Journey. The story was updated in March 2021.

Interested in planning your next road trip with AAA Washington? Call your travel agent directly or your nearest AAA store to get pro tips, TripTik maps, and more. Find more Pacific Northwest scenic drives and road trips.

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