GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2005 show25
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Show #25

This week we're in Skagit Valley in the northwest part of Washington state. Skagit Valley is a major producer of vegetable seeds such as spinach, beets and cabbage. They also grow berries, fruits, vegetables and bulbs; all love the fertile soil and mild climate. Since fall is tulip and daffodil bulb planting time, this week we're at the home of one of the largest bulb growers in the country where we go behind the scenes with an expert to learn not only about bulb growing but also about growing cut flowers. We'll learn how to select bulbs at a garden center, how to grow and design with bulbs, how to keep critters out of the bulb patch and we'll get an education about cut flowers.

Cindy Nelson, manager of the LaConner Channel Lodge, welcomes Garden Smart to the area. LaConner was founded in 1867 as a small fishing village located on the waterway to the Puget Sound, it is a gateway to the San Juan Islands and surrounded by the Skagit Valley farmlands. They have a boating industry, with boats leaving the dock to go whale watching and bird watching. The area is home to fishermen and crabbers as well. LaConner is also known for its' boat building. It is a great area to visit, one can stroll the beautiful streets, visits quaint shops or visit the many museums and antique stores. As well, the surrounding areas are rich in farmland and the area is known for the famous bulb company.

Richard Roozen is co-owner of the Washington Bulb Company located in Mount Vernon, Washington. When many people think of bulbs they think of Holland, it's a little known fact that the Skagit Valley in Washington grows thousands of these bulbs, it's the largest bulb growing region in this country. That's because of the soil, some of the best soil in the world, and the climate. It's a moderate climate, they get the right amount of rain, it's not too cold, not too warm, the weather here is about the best in this country for bulbs. It's tucked between the Cascade Mountains and the Puget Sound, it's a flat area and easy to grow things. Bulbs like windy areas, here they get plenty of wind off the ocean which keeps insects down. Richard's father came to this area in the late 1940's. He came here to sell bulbs and fell in love with the country and area. He bought a small farm, brought bulbs from Holland and grew the business as he went along. He also grew a family and they all helped in the business. 5 of the boys are involved with the business today. They have about 1,000 acres of bulbs under cultivation and about 1,000 acres of rotation crops which they rotate with the bulbs. As well they have 20 acres of greenhouses where they force bulbs into flowers. They grow mainly tulips, daffodils and iris bulbs and in the greenhouses lily flowers. In the spring this place is a blaze of color, that's one of the byproducts of growing bulbs. Because this place is a mass of color in the spring they have a tulip festival. People come from all over the world because it is one of the only places where you can see hundreds of acres of tulips in bloom. It's quite a show to see the bright reds, yellows and purples, almost any color you can think of and they're all blooming in the same 2 to 3 week period. It's quite a spectacle. In August through the fall they start planting the bulbs. They start with daffodils and then move onto iris and tulips. After they're in the ground they start to root, because they need cold before they can flower and that happens through the winter. By late February into the spring they start to sprout, a month or so after that it's a blaze of color here. After they color they continue to grow, the bulbs split and multiply and become larger, that happens for several months, which takes them to summer. They then dig them up, digging all through summer and then ship them in the fall. When they dig them up they bring them in, clean them, grade them, wash them, pack them, ship them which brings them back to the fall when they plant again.

Richard shares some tips on selecting bulbs for a homeowner when they go to a garden center. We visit the warehouse where they sort, clean and pack the bulbs. Some bulbs are used for planting, others are shipped. Here they inspect the bulbs one last time before planting just like the home gardener. We look at some bad bulbs and some good bulbs. If selecting a daffodil, Richard likes something a little bigger, they call it top size. Make sure it is good and firm. A top sized bulb will have 2 or 3 noses and that means 2 or 3 flowers. Often times nowadays big outfits are selling smaller bulbs of 10 for x.99 or 20 for x.99. They may do that because they pack a lot of them in and it seems a good deal. But those bulbs may only give you 1 flower and some of the smaller bulbs probably won't flower at all. Richard feels it is worth the extra money to buy larger bulbs, ones with double or triple noses, because the bigger bulbs offer immediate effect. The little ones may flower over time if in a good spot and if you're patient. But if you want immediate effect go with the big bulbs. Richard has a handful of bulbs and they look OK to Charlie at first glance. Often times visually they may look good, but with a daffodil look around the base and check for mold, feel them, squeeze them, if soft you don't want them. Another way is to cut into them and look at the inside. The inside should be white, not brown. With daffodils it is easy to pick good bulbs. Tulips are similar, you're looking for a firm bulb and you want to buy bulbs 12 centimeters and up, that's top size, that gives you the biggest flower. Look for a firm bulb, one with decent skin. It used to be said that tulips couldn't have a crack in their skin. That shouldn't bother you. They do crack after they're dug and as they cure, so the skin is not always whole. Often times after a few years tulips will stop flowering. After they split or new bulbs take the place of the bulb that's flowered it doesn't grow. That may be caused by climate or by the fact they're not fertilized right. Little bulbs may be forming but they don't get to the size where the next year they can make flowers or they might make leaves but that's all you get. If this is the case dig the bulbs up. Replant the little and medium sized bulbs and throw out the old bulb. The bulbs should eventually start flowering again.

Richard has some design ideas for planting with bulbs. They can be planted amongst perennials and the bulbs are the first up. When they die down the perennials are starting to bloom and they hide the dying foliage of the bulbs. That works well. Here they try to plant taller varieties and earlier varieties as a backdrop and in the front put a mass of something that's a mid season bloomer and a little shorter. In front of that something that flowers even earlier and is even shorter. It's a layering effect. In the last couple of years they have planted bigger bulbs deeper then planted smaller bulbs on top of that, then even smaller bulbs on top of the bulbs in the middle. When you do this you have different things flowering at different times and it's a great collage of color. Remember there are early, mid and late season varieties so you can get a tulip that blooms early in the season, possibly April then one that blooms in May and one that blooms in June. That way you can extent the bulb season for a couple of months. We look more closely at the layering effect. Bulbs like 10 to 12 inches of good loose well drained soil. Many people get soil that's not well drained and the bulbs drown out easily. Sandy loam soil is usually the best, if you don't have that, amend it with compost. This hole is pre-dug and about 10 inches deep. They put the largest bulbs in the bottom. Put the bulbs in root side down, the top is usually pointy. On a daffodil it's easy, if a tulip or crocus it might be a little harder, but put the root end down. Place the bulbs about 4 to 5 inches apart since these are good sized bulbs. When they flower they will seem close together. Put some dirt over the daffodils, then put in the tulips, pointy side up, the bottom is the flat side and plant them the same, 4 to 5 inches apart. In this area daffodils will bloom late February to early March while the tulips bloom in April. Put soil on top of the tulips then put in the last layer, which is the crocus, a small bulb that only has to be below the soil line a couple of inches. With crocus you can spread them out covering the whole hole. In this area they will begin flowering at the beginning of February when the other bulbs are just sprouting. Therefore the whole thing will have color and you have sprouts coming up. If you were doing this in front of a shrub you might want to have the crocus in the front part and the bigger plants behind. There are several different ways to plant with bulbs. Another way is to buy bulbs in bags of 50 to 100. If you have a bigger area put in masses of bulbs, 50 to 100 in one spot, spacing them 4 or so inches apart. That provides a stimulating visual effect but you need room for that. Don't line them up like soldiers, you want a lot of bulbs together for a visual effect. You could put them in a round, oval, triangle or kidney shape whatever fits with your landscape, but no straight edges. The idea is plant in mass.

We look at a hot, new vase. It is simple, made out of silk grass and has a reservoir. You can use it for either fresh or dried flowers. Put water in, put in the flowers and you can have a beautiful arrangement in seconds. You can dress it up with ribbon or raffia. It makes a nice hostess gift or beautiful in your home.

We're not the only ones that like spring flowering bulbs. Mice and voles will dig down into the soil in the fall and eat the bulbs just planted. If planting spring flowering bulbs such as tulips, crocus, hyacinths or any of the minor bulbs these are the ones they love. If planting daffodils don't worry they're poisonous and the mice won't bother them. When planting place the bulbs at the proper depth, then take some crushed oyster shells, even crushed egg shells, this material can be purchased or could be made from shells from the seashore. Sprinkle the crushed shells around the bulbs, since the crushed oyster shells or egg shells have sharp edges, when the mice and voles are tunneling and come in contact with the sharp edges they go elsewhere. By applying in the fall you won't have any surprises in the spring when the bulbs come up.

We've seen a lot of the bulb operation but they also have a lot of cut flowers. Their cut flower operation started years ago to keep the crew busy in the fall, winter and spring. It has now become over half of their business. Their latest greenhouse was designed especially for forcing tulips. There are lilies in this area now however. In this greenhouse everything moves, it is like a rubic's cube and it's completely automated. The idea is that the crop comes to one point where the plants can be picked, trimmed or whatever is needed. Nobody has to walk through the greenhouse or stoop over. The little black trays are placed on the aluminum containers by a machine, they're taken off by machine, everything is moved mechanically. It is like a car wash, it has an automatic watering system. This is state of the art and now more and more cut flowers are being grown this way. It also has a state of the art support system. As the lilies grow they can reach 36 inches, as they move through the system they can fall over so here they've invented a crop support system. As the lilies grow the crop support can be raised so the lilies don't fall over. We look at some of the plants that are ready to be shipped. They have some Asiatic lilies, which have a smaller flower although not fragrant, they will last 10 days or so. There are 10 to a bunch. Richard tells us what to look for in a cut flower. First pick a color you like, these happen to be orange, then check to see that they have 3 or more buds per stem. That means they are good quality. Make sure they aren't damaged. The oriental lily will last 10 days or longer and you can actually see some of the color of the buds. This happens to be a new variety, it's a Red Oriental lily, called Montezuma. It is a fabulous color and often when buying 1 bud will be open so you can see the exact color. If these were taken home and put in a vase, with lilies they will usually open in 2 to 2 and 1/2 days. The bottom buds will open first then progressively open towards the top. The orientals can last for up to 2 weeks and have a fragrance, they will perfume the whole house. Iris' are popular, 90% of Iris' sold are blue and there aren't a lot of blue flowers and they're a great color of blue. It is a delicate flower and will start to open within 24 hours after in a vase, very quickly.

Thank you Richard for showing us the Washington Bulb Company. From tulips to daffodils to beautiful lilies and iris' to cut flowers, everything is stunning. We'll now have a better appreciation for their background and how to plant and design with them. This has been a wonderful experience and a show we won't soon forget.


Washington Bulb Company

LaConner Channel Lodge

LaConner Chamber of Commerce

Silk Grass Vase-RoozenGaarde :: 360-424-8531


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