If you can’t get to Holland this year then take in the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, one of the destination events for the Pacific Northwest during the stunning spring bloom. This is a great place for tip-toeing through the tulips – lots and lots of tulips. Take the backroads whenever possible to get there. Driving west on Highway 2 outside Spokane, and into the wheat growing plateau of Eastern Washington becomes a trip through bygone Americana. Many towns like Reardon, Davenport, Creston, Almira and Hartine haven’t changed all that much in 50 or 60 years.

If you are on a getaway from kids, we suggest you check out the Cashmere Mountain B&B where it’s adults only and just minutes from downtown Leavenworth. We decided to overnight here and were greeted by charming innkeepers Brian and Rochelle Shugrue who provide luxurious amenities in this stunning location. When we arrived, the hillside was blanketed by yellow Glacier Lilies and golden Balsam Root. After dark, we recommend hitting the hot tub up the hillside backed up to a wilderness. No light pollution provides great star gazing. Rochelle’s smoked salmon quiche for breakfast next morning was outstanding! If you get a chance, this is a great place to stay.

Once at the fertile Skagit River Valley, it’s wise to have in hand the 2011 field map available on the festival website with locations of official information stations. It will save on gas and your feet. Bloom dates are under the control of Mother Nature but since the festival runs through the month of April, just call and see what Mom’s done weather-wise so you hit the festival at peak blooming time. We first headed for Washington Bulb Company, the parent company of RoozenGaarde/Tulips.com, the largest bulb grower in North America! Each year RoozenGaarde grows over 1000 acres of tulip, daffodil, and iris! It’s a good idea to click on their website’s bloom date link to see when the flowers are at peak. Because they rotate the location of their fields every year and each field’s exact bloom time depends upon the weather, the Bloom Map assists traveling flower fans in planning scenic trips.  Individual field icons light up with color as that particular field comes into bloom, and stays lit until the field is finished for the spring. Blooming fields of tulips are lit in red, daffodils in yellow, and iris in blue. Click on any field icon to view names and pictures of the flower varieties planted within that particular field.

We were in luck! The earliest bloomers refused to be intimidated by recent rains. A 450-acre carpet of bright yellow daffodils danced in the cool breeze. Simply dazzling! As we wandered through the rainbow colored fields, it seemed more and more tulips opened in front of our eyes as they were touched by the warmth of the sun. Too many favorites, but some early blooming standouts: Red and Yellow Emperor with their pansy-like centers, Apricot Beauty and Kung Fu. You can order tulips online direct from this grower at their website. We also visited Tulip Town, which has a distinctly different vibe, but is well worth a stop, as well.

Joan Scott (Menlo Park, Ca avid gardener and garden volunteer at Filoli Gardens on the San Francisco Peninsula): Our friend and former colleague visited RoozenGaarde and Tulip Town last year where she purchased tulip bulbs from both growers. She said, “it was extremely helpful to purchase the bulbs from RoozenGaarde as their bulbs are pre-cooled and arrived at the proper time to place them in the ground. The bulbs from Tulip Town are not “pre-cooled” and I had to place them in my refrigerator for about eight weeks for cooling before planting.  However, the tulips from both growers produced gorgeous blooms. Our weather was a bit challenging for tulips this spring but the tulips were gorgeous and the blooms lasted two-three weeks with most varieties. Even the worker, who aerated our lawn, wrote “gorgeous tulips” on the bill he sent.”

About Filoli, Joan also tells us “it is springtime there and the Garden is spectacular with the fragrance of wisteria in the air.” Joan says she works in the greenhouse transplanting seedlings to be planted into the garden beds throughout the year. Recognized as one of the finest remaining country estates of the early 20th century, Filoli is a remarkable 654-acre property, including the 36,000 square foot Georgian country house and spectacular 16-acre English Renaissance garden. Tours of the House and Garden are available mid-February through the end of October.  For more information visit the web site www.filoli.org. Like the San Francisco Botanical Gardens, this is a must-not-miss for any garden lover.

If you’ve previously enjoyed the Skagit Valley tulip fields, we’d love to share your experience with our readers. Do you know of other tulip-ey places you think can compete? Send us pictures and we’ll share them too.

Next up – Victoria B.C. and the Butchart Gardens.