From early spring through early autumn, flower blooms in the Pacific Northwest are alive with color.
This post, originally published in February 2018, has been updated (see added COVID-19 Update section below) to provide readers with more up-to-date information.
Whether you are a photographer, gardener or just love festivals, these celebrations of everything floral will entice you to time your visit to coincide with a colorful flower festival.
Fortunately most blooms can be enjoyed while maintaining social distance outdoors.
Blooms in the Pacific Northwest
When frost is still on the ground, the daffodil fields come alive with brilliant yellows, oranges and whites.
In the Puyallup Valley of Washington, south of Seattle and surrounding Pierce County, there are typically daffodil parades, events and celebrations of everything yellow. Daffodils were brought to the area in the early 1920’s to replace the declining hops industry.
This year, visitors can enjoy the annual Daffodil Parade 2021 Festival at the Washington State Spring Fair. Floats are decorated with thousands of fresh-cut daffodils.
In Oregon, you’ll find beautiful daffodils and have a chance to shop for bulbs at the Wooden Shoe Bulb Farm in Woodburn as part of their tulip festival.
Tulip festivals abound in the Pacific Northwest. One of the most famous areas that draws thousands of visitors to events and fields is the Skagit Valley, north of Seattle. The brilliance of the tulip fields in the Mt. Vernon area and the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival are worth putting on your spring to-visit list. There is a full list of events during tulip time in April, ranging from art shows and bike tours to even a quilt walk and show.
In Oregon, head south of Portland to Woodburn where you’ll see signs pointing to the Wooden Shoe Bulb Farm Tulip Fest. The tulips have been blooming since the 1950s and visitors flock there to enjoy the rainbow of colors, participate in special events and plan their own spring gardens. The Iverson family opens their forty acres of fields to photographers, home gardeners, hot air balloonists and vintage steam tractor enthusiasts. There are food stands and special rides and play areas for children. This festival welcomes dogs, too.
The Salem-Keizer area of Oregon is the place to go to enjoy the beauty of iris, to attend an iris bloom season running event or to sip wine in a spring display garden. A visit to the area in May must include a trip to Schreiner’s. The area is about an hour south of Portland.
Schreiner’s Iris Gardens has been the nation’s largest retail grower of iris since 1925 – with more than 200 acres of the blooms and a 10-acre display garden with more than 500 named ones. Collectors consider Schreiner’s iris among the finest in the world. Their display garden is a must-visit and includes many other varieties of flowers. And, when you get ready to leave, pick up one of their catalogs and a stem or two of cut iris blooms to take home.
Lilac Days, beginning in mid-April, brings visitors from around the world to the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in Woodland, Washington, just a short drive north of Portland, Oregon. Whether you are a fan of the fragrant bush, love Victoriana, or just want to get out in the countryside for the day, the gardens and home are worth a visit to see the gorgeous Washington lilac blossoms.
Hulda Klager moved from Germany to the United States as a young girl. In 1903, while recovering from an illness, she read a book by Luther Burbank that kindled her passion for hybridizing. She started with apples and then moved to lilacs and some of the varieties you’ll see at the gardens are the result of her work.
**Note: Sadly, the Hulda Klager Lilac gardens closed to visitors during the 2020 Lilac season. Watch their website for 2021 news.
In May, you’ll see rhododendrons, both wild and domestic, blooming all around the Pacific Northwest. I enjoyed some Rhody events up on the Olympic Peninsula The Rhody Festival in Port Townsend is always held the third weekend of May and showcases festival royalty, parades and a pancake breakfast. Staying in Uptown or Downtown will give you a chance to walk to the parades. Parking can get a bit tight as people from the surrounding agricultural areas make a point of coming to town for the festival.
You won’t see many of the actual flowers represented in the events, but it’s a great excuse to spend a couple of days in the artsy Victorian seaport town of Port Townsend.
You’ve probably heard of Portland, Oregon’s Rose Festival and parades. It’s a city-wide celebration of roses that takes place each June. There is a waterfront carnival and events, and ships from the U.S. and Canadian navies sail up the Willamette for the event.
There’s a lot going on but for the true rose lover, the place to go is Portland’s International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park. There are rows upon rows of labeled rose bushes. You can take a guided tour or just relax under a gazebo and enjoy the view of downtown Portland and Mt. Hood in the distance.
**Note: During 2021, The Rose Festival will focus on community involvement but looks forward to the return of big outdoor events in 2022.
When I toured beautiful San Juan Island, the Pelindaba Lavender Farm was a highlight. Not only are the lavender fields with large metal sculptures beautiful, even in the off-season, the shop and informational displays are a must-do. I have never encountered so many enticing lavender products, all made from plants on a certified organic farm. They range from luxury gift sets to dog biscuits and people cookies (I highly recommend the lavender shortbread!) I did a little Christmas shopping and noted they have shops with their products at other locations, as well as offering the option of mail order. Although the best time to see the fields at the “peak of purpleness” is between July and August, there are many things to do at the farm from May to October.
If you want to experience a true festival of lavender, head to Sequim, Washington, also on the Olympic Peninsula not far from Port Townsend. Sequim proudly touts itself as the Lavender Capital of North America. Sequim’s small downtown area is home to three lavender shops, the lamp posts and benches are painted lavender and the local lavender farms draw thousands during the season. Lavender grows well in the mild climate.
Over 110,000 lavender plants are grown annually here, many of the varieties unique to Sequim. And lavender is celebrated big time. While you can enjoy the rolling purple fields from spring through summer, the prime time for a visit is summertime. Sequim’s Lavender Weekend is held the third weekend each July.
South of Portland, outside the small town of Canby, you’ll find Swan Island Dahlias, the largest dahlia grower in the United States. They grow over 360 varieties on 40 acres open to the public during blooming season, and host the largest dahlia festival in the United States featuring over 400 dahlia arrangements during the six-day festival. The fields are open for viewing 7 days a week from dawn to dusk, August 1st through September 30th each year.
The dahlias are amazing. There are dinner plate sized flowers, a rainbow of colors to photograph and, of course, you can decide which tubers you want to order for your own garden.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- Many boomers pick up gardening after the family has grown and they have more time. Going to a flower festival is a great way to get gardening ideas and tips.
- Many flower farms have special accommodations for those with limited mobility. Be sure and check the respective websites or call before going.
- Flowers and flower parades make absolutely wonderful photography subjects, another hobby boomers have taken to.
- Be sure and check websites and Facebook pages before flower field visits.
- Flower blooms in the Pacific Northwest (or elsewhere) don’t watch the calendar!
- if you go to the fields, dress for walking. You may encounter mud or dust as you walk through the beautiful flowers.
All photo credits (except where noted): Elizabeth R. Rose
- Before visiting a festival, field or garden, check the destination/event website to determine any closures or limitations.
- COVID-19 infection rates and restrictions tend to change so if you plan to visit any of the gardens or festivals, follow the updates and recommendations on the respective Oregon and Washington websites.
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