By MaryRose Denton
On this sunny morning I had the pleasure to chat with Brent Roozen from Roozengaarde & Tulips.com. Finding a sunny spot on a bench outside the gift shop, we gaze out over the spectacular color of the gardens with the seemingly endless tulip fields of yellow, purple, and red just beyond. Here is what he had to share with us:
Me: Thank you Brent, for taking the time to chat with us this morning. I understand Roozengaarde is the largest tulip grower in the United States. How does that feel?
Brent: Pretty cool. Yes, we are the largest grower outside of Holland. There just are not a lot of tulip growers, with only a handful left.
Me: Right now we are witnessing the full bloom but you grow all year long?
Brent: Yes, we sell fresh cut flowers all year. We force bloom bulbs in our greenhouses as well as we work closely with a grower in Holland who has a company in New Zealand, so we do some partnering with them. When it is the cold season here it is their warm season. We aim to produce outstanding bulbs and flowers 365 days a year.
Me: Roozengaarde’s is still a family run business. How many generations ago did it all begin?
Brent: It started with my Grandfather. He came over from Holland where his family had been bulb growers since the 1700’s. He came over in 1947 after marrying my grandmother, basically, and settled in the Skagit valley. After earning enough money he purchased 5 acres in which he started the Washington Bulb Company. That was 70 years, 10 kids, and 36 grandkids ago, and here we are. So we are in the 3rd generation.
Me: What is your hope for the future generations of tulip growers?
Brent: Hopefully continue where there is a 4th and 5th generation. As you said, this is family business, and sometimes it is rare that family businesses make it past the 3rd generation.
Me: Well, the gardens are spectacular, so job well done! You mentioned your grandfather began with 5 acres, how many acres does Roozengaarde farm today?
Brent: Yes, he began with 5 acres and today we have over 350 acres of tulips and 400-450 acres of daffodils. We also grow some wheat, barley, and rye as rotation crops.
Me: How often do you rotate the bulb fields with growing grain?
Brent: The tulips can be planted in the same spot only once every 6 years with other crops like the wheat, barley, and rye which help put nutrients back in the soil. It also helps with the structure of the soil and to offset diseases which can affect the tulips.
Me: Do you work cooperatively with other farmers in the area who might have use for your grain crops?
Brent: Yes, we sell crops like the wheat mostly to bread makers and have recently began getting into selling the barley and rye to companies like the Skagit Valley Malting Company for beer making. Some of the crops go to dairy feed but that is a small portion. The grain crops help to add organic matter back into the soil and to also reduce erosion, even here in the valley.
Me: Any particular ups or downs with this season and the bloom?
Brent: It has been one heck of a year! If you had asked me on February 1st, I would have said we expected an early bloom, as early as March 15th. Then we had that freeze in February which everything was super early and then everything froze. The freeze was extremely long and cold. When it did warm up it warmed really fast. We had to irrigate some of the gardens, which I never in my life thought we would be watering in April. It has been a late bloom but overall it has been a good bloom. There is some cross over with the first colors of the bloom and into the second growth. So there is still color happening.
Me: What would you like the face of Roozengaarde to represent to the public?
Brent: Something everyone looks forward to visiting each year, something on their “must do” or “bucket” list. We change the design of the gardens each year using different themes so there is always something new to see. We hope everyone will come back each year and enjoy it!
Before concluding our conversation with Brent, there was one last question that needed to be asked. Had he seen any changes with the rise of Instagram photos?
Brent: It has been our best and worst phenomenon. We are a very visual product so it has been good from a marketing perspective as well as people just wanting to come and get some great photos. But it has also been a struggle when we have to deal with issues of disrespect. We hope people will respect the signs that ask them not to walk in the rows or to pick the blooms. Sometimes it can be disheartening. We want the bloom to be here all month long for each visitor that comes and having it look great for the first visitors to the last. It is a challenge we will continue to work with for it has been a great platform for advertising our product. We will continue to add features into the garden and fields which allow people to walk out on designated paths but look like they are walking amongst the tulips. We are trying to design the areas for more photo opportunities.
Me: Thank you Brent, it has been delightful speaking with you.
Roozengaarde keeps their garden open throughout most of year. To read more about the gardens and to put it on your “must do” list visit Roozengaarde & Tulips.com.