Gardening: Chilliwack tulip festival fun for all gardeners

Time travel is impossible but travelling from winter to late spring is as easy as driving towards the west coast. The closer to the coast, the greener and more colorful the landscape.

The Fraser Valley’s climate is such that the tulips, daffodils and hyacinth bulbs grow and multiply making them a viable crop. To encourage sales and tourism the flowering fields are open to the public during the seasonal bloom. Cost varies on where the ticket is purchased and which day of the week but it averages $10 a person.

The largest and oldest festival, The Chilliwack Tulip Festival also known as Tulips in the Valley has been operating for 13 years. They have 20 acres of bulbs in production with 10 varieties of hyacinths, 17 different daffodils and 30 varieties of tulips. They estimate that the fields contain 6.5 million bulbs.

As in any landscape, the varieties of bulbs planted are chosen to extend the flowering season. The first flush of color come from the hyacinths. As these bubs are susceptible to diseases, people are not allowed to walk between the rows but have a good view of the plants from behind a small barrier. Forced, potted hyacinths are set up around the food trucks and gift store for anyone that wants a closer look or picture. On a warm day, expect a large number of bees to also be visiting the flowers. Hyacinths are known for their wonderful but strong odor and for some, it can be overwhelming.

Daffodils Narcissus are usually the next to bloom quickly followed by the tulips. These bulbs are planted in long rows making it possible to plant and harvest using machinery. Visitors are encouraged to walk along the daffodil plantings towards the larger tulip garden. A slow stroll allows one to smell flowers, examine the different varieties, and take pictures. For the most part this year’s narcissus crop consisted of double flowers as opposed to one layer of petals and a trumpet. The flowers are compared to the fullness of a peony. There are various spots along the way for photo opts such as a vintage bicycle from the Netherlands, swings, and picture frames. For those with mobility issues, or just want the experience, take a ride on the clean hay wagon that is pulled by the tractor to the tulip plantings.

When the Tulips are in full bloom the bands of bright colors set against the mountain in the background are breathtaking. Bright colors are juxtaposed against lighter ones making colors pop. As with the daffodil plantings, there are made walkways that people are expected to follow. Walking in other areas increases the chance of the crop being trampled and less bulbs for sale in the fall. The festival have set up a number of different props to help visitors to get the best picture possible. Those who feel they have managed to take the perfect picture should enter the photo contest on their website. https://chilliwacktulipfest.com/

All different varieties of bulbs are labelled allowing visitors to make a list of their favorite flowers. Some of these are available for purchasing on site with pickup later in the season.

Do not worry about visiting too late for the hyacinths or too early for the tulips as many of the varieties are forced and are on display around the store and picnic area.

The Chilliwack tulip festival is a family event with activities for all ages. Make a day of it with either a picnic lunch or enjoy the food trucks. Before heading out, check the weather and dress for the conditions as it is all outdoors. The website encourages people to bring boots and umbrellas.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist who lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at your_garden@hotmail.com

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