Of all the crops grown in the Skagit Valley, flower bulbs are the most dramatic. The first tulips were grown and sold on Samish Island in the early 1900s, then operations were moved to the flats between Mount Vernon and La Conner. Now large companies such as RoosenGaarde, Christianson, and the Washington Bulb Company produce and sell flower bulbs of all types. When these flowers come into season the valley is awash in color. This month it’s daffodil season.
Specifically, the month of March marks the La Conner Daffodil Festival. Right now the daffodils are at peak bloom. However, the “festival” doesn’t seem to be much, as such.
The La Conner Daffodil Festival seems to be a random collection of events lumped under an umbrella theme. According to their website there’s a race in February, a bike ride in mid-March, a wine-tasting, and a photo contest. None of these really caught our attention. The real draw is the riot of yellow in the fields outside of town.
Laura and I have been tracking the daffodil progress since February. Any time we were in town her standard request was, “Let’s drive back home through the fields.” We made note of when the bulbs first pushed through the soil and when the first touches of yellow started to break through.
This was when the farm workers seemed to be most active. We could see large crates stacked at the edges of the fields.
Flowers that had not yet bloomed were harvested for sale to grocery stores and florists. Other flowers would be allowed to mature so that the bulbs could be harvested. As these fields matured the yellow began to overwhelm the green.
Every time we passed by we felt compelled to stop and take photos.
On one of these treks we decided to drop by RoosenGaarde. They already had a field set up for parking and signs for the upcoming Tulip Festival in April, which would be their big draw. Their display garden hadn’t yet burst into the riot of color it would soon be, but there were already some tulips, daffodils, and croci in bloom.
I wanted to take some before and after shots. Duff and Linda said that when the tulips are in bloom RoosenGaarde charges $20 per carload for the gardens. We might have to rethink that.
But back to daffodils…
Our favorite field is at the corner of Best Road and McLean Road near La Conner. This is a mature field of large Dutch Master daffodils. A windbreak of trees lines Best Road, which, along with the islands in the background, creates a dramatic backdrop for the flowers.
There are a couple more impressive fields further west on McLean Road near the La Conner-Whitney Road.
As with just about any crop, daffodils and tulips have to be rotated from field to field. Tulips have to be rotated each year, but daffodils can stay in the same fields up to three years. According to the La Conner Daffodil website…
Keep in mind that unlike most of the Skagit County tulips that are routinely topped as their bloom cycle comes to an end, the daffodils are left perfectly intact well into the later stages of their blooming cycle. As another note of trivia, while tulip fields are rotated each year, daffodil fields only require rotation once every three years. As such, the Skagit County daffodil fields that are in their third year this time around will be awash in a vibrant bright yellow color that is breathtaking and unmistakable.
The fields along McLean Road seem to be in that third year of growth as the blooms are thick. We passed other fields that were lying fallow, but wayward flowers and bulbs that had somehow escaped the previous year’s harvest were still popping through.
Yesterday was the vernal equinox, so I decided to take advantage of the late afternoon sunlight and get more shots of daffodils. I headed back to our favorite field and tried to get some different angles. I also played around with various lenses, including wide-angle and telephoto.
With the tulips one seeks out the anomalies – the one red tulip in a sea of yellow. There isn’t as much color variation with daffodils, but the anomalies do pop up. This might be a leftover flower from a previous planting or a stray bulb that got mixed in with the wrong batch.
There was another photographer in the same spot and we chatted for a bit. As we were talking a flock of ducks took off from another field, providing yet another dramatic backdrop for the flowers. Around the corner an artist was using a much slower process to capture the scenery.
I drove through some side roads and found more fields closer to Mount Vernon that we had somehow missed. More workers were busy bringing in flowers and bulbs.
The daffodils, while spectacular in their own right, are just the warm-up for the main event. The Skagit Tulip Festival takes place the month of April and is a much, much bigger deal. We noticed that new signs had gone up indicating the “Tulip Route”. There were also new “No Parking” signs along the edges of roads.
Sadly, there already were obnoxious tourists ignoring these signs. Cars would stop anywhere, blocking access to the fields. There were a couple of drones flying overheard, even though these are supposedly forbidden. People wandered into the flowers despite “No Trespassing” signs. At one stop a farmer drove by and honked at a couple wandering through the flowers. They sort of moved to the edge of the field, then wandered back in when the farmer drove off. I’m afraid these offenses will just get worse as the crowds gather.
But things are progressing quickly. Some reports say that with the warmer weather we’re having the tulip season might be early. Some of the fields were already starting to show some color.
We’ll see how bad things get with the crowds. Regardless, though, the fields of color are worth a trek into the flats.