Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival: Tiptoeing in the Tulips
The Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival is located just outside of Woodburn, Oregon, about an hour south of Portland. It runs each year from the middlish-end of March to the beginning of May. But before we get into that, let’s cover a brief history of the tulip.
Tiptoe through the window,”Tiptoe Through the Tulips” by Al Dubina and Joe Burke
By the window, that is where I’ll be;
Come tiptoe through the tulips with me.
A Brief History of the Tulip
Everyone thinks of Holland and the Netherlands when they think of tulips. There might even be a famous Rembrandt painting of a Semper Augustus tulip tickling the back of your mind right now.
However, the tulip actually originated further east. It traveled to Europe in 1554 from Constantinople in the Ottoman Empire (modern day Istanbul). But interestingly, the tulip craze didn’t truly hit Turkey until it had already fizzled out in the Netherlands.
It’s said that the tulip was introduced to Holland by the theft of a seed. However, a tulip only produces true to the mother plant when you plant an offset bulb. The fact that it was brought to the Netherlands by seed is likely the reason for Holland’s incredible variety of tulips. The tulip craze climaxed in Holland between 1634 and 1637, bringing a whole new meaning to the term Spring Fever.
Later, the Tulip Era, or lale devri, lasted in Turkey from 1703 to 1730. Sultan Ahmed III was famous for his tulip garden and garden parties. He imported millions of tulip bulbs from Holland during this time, and held extravagant celebrations to highlight his prized tulip garden, complete with mirrors, candles and songbirds. Plus, guests had to dress to match the tulips!
The Price of a Tulip
The Semper Augustus tulip is the the most expensive tulip variety in history. And at the height of the Dutch tulip frenzy, the highest price paid for a single Semper Augustus bulb was 10,000 guilders. You could have bought a house on the canal in Amsterdam for that price!
Meanwhile in France, a certain miller traded his mill for a tulip bulb of the Mère Brune variety. Another man gifted a single Mariage de ma fille bulb as the dowry for his daughter’s marriage. And in Turkey, you could trade tulip bulbs for gold!
Prior to 1635, tulips were only sold between June and October, and an actual bulb was exchanged for hard cash. This is during the months when tulips can be removed from the ground and before they have to be planted again for the fall.
After 1635, a credit system developed and people began to sell and trade tulips year around. At this point, tulips not yet ready to be pulled from the ground were traded for slips of paper, an “I-Owe-You,” or a contract. Exactly like how I purchased tulip bulbs when I visited the Wooden Shoe Tulip festival last spring and didn’t receive them until fall.
This trade system unfortunately set the Netherlands up for a financial crash in 1637. Seemingly over night, the tulip dropped its price and sellers could no longer find a single buyer. Somehow, there was never a clear explanation for this sudden loss in interest in the tulip market.
A Tulip by any other Name…
A tulip doesn’t strive to impress anyone. It doesn’t struggle to be different than a rose. It doesn’t have to. It is different. And there’s room in the garden for every flower.Marianne Williamson
Today we are most accustomed to bright, single-colored tulips, soft, round, and generic in shape. Six petals, six stamen, one color. However, the Turks preferred their tulips with long, clean petals that drew to a point, sharp like a dagger. Whereas the Dutch preferred their tulip petals complex, feathered and marbled in color. That marbled color in tulips is called a ”break.” (See photos above for examples.)
Semper Augustus and other “breaks” are due to a viral infection spread between tulips by the peach potato aphid. The virus disrupts part of the tulip’s natural pigment, causing a beautiful marbled effect in the petals.
This virus also causes infected tulips to produce fewer offset bulbs. Initially, these tulips were highly sought after and far more expensive. But once the cause of a “break” was discovered in the 1920s, tulip growers quickly rid these infected flowers from their fields.
I gleaned most of this history of the tulip from The Botany of Desire. This book is written by one of my all-time favorite authors, Michael Pollan. It’s an interesting read, in which he discusses different plant’s relationship with humankind.
Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival
Today, when spring makes her appearance, tulip festivals are held all around the world. There are two great Tulip Festivals in the Pacific Northwest. The Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival outside of Woodburn, Oregon, and the Scagit Valley Tulip Festival outside Mount Vernon, Washington.
Admission prices range from $10 to $60. Prices will vary based on what kind of ticket you choose to purchase. Some of the admission options include a day pass, a season pass, or a sunrise pass, so be sure to check out the website in advance for all details.
Who can visit the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival?
Everyone is welcome at Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm. There are no age restrictions, and there’s something sure to entertain every member of the family here. The tulip festival is kid friendly, and even your dogs are welcome!
Where is the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival Located?
The Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm covers 40 acres of ground with 100 varieties of tulips in a vast array of different colors. Located just outside Woodburn, Oregon, it lies about an hour south of Portland.
What to do at the Tulip Festival
The first time I visited the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival, I’ll admit I wondered: ”What the heck am I gonna do there other than stare at a bunch of flowers? Is it really worth the drive?”
And the answer? Yes. It is 100% worth the drive. In fact, I liked it so well, I’ve visited multiple times now, and hope to visit again this year. And as I mentioned before, there really is something at the tulip festival for everyone! Just check out this list.
- Explore the tulip fields
- Take a tethered hot air balloon ride (available on the weekends)
- Watch the sunrise (requires the sunrise pass admission)
- Ride the Tulip Tour Train
- Ride the cow wagons (for kids)
- Jump in a bouncy house or bungee jumper (for kids)
- Watch demonstrations: wooden shoe making and steam tractor (weather permitting)
- Wine tasting with Wooden Shoe Vineyards
- Take a wine wagon tour
- Eat lunch from a variety of local food vendors
- Shop local craft vendors
- Purchase flower bulbs (not just tulips!) or fresh cut flowers
- Take photos of the tulips, Mt Hood, each other (photo cut-outs are scattered through out the farm), and
- Enter the photo contest
- Join the Tulip Trail Run on March 19th, 2022 (5k, 10, and 1/2 marathon options available)
Just be sure to check the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival website to verify activity times and availability.
Why Order Your Tulips From the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm
The tulips at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm are exceptional quality, and the variety they have is amazing. It far surpasses anything you’ll find in your local garden centers.
You can order bulbs for fall, bring home fresh cut tulips, or potted flowers already in bloom. Bulbs ordered in spring will ship out in October, when it is safe to remove the bulbs from the ground.
Last spring I ordered a beautiful array of purple, white, and marbled tulips, including the Purple Flag, Flaming Flag, and Mondial varities, as well as some daffodils and hyacinths. I received them in October as promised, along with planting instructions. And now I can’t wait to see them bloom.
You can order bulbs either online or in person at the farm, but I recommend ordering in person at the tulip festival. Towards the back of Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, they have a display of all the varieties of tulips they sell. Seeing the tulips in person made it easier to select exactly what I wanted versus looking online.
When is the best time to visit the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival
If you visit the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival during a week day, there are fewer crowds. However, not all vendors and activities are open during the week days. For example, hot air balloon rides are only available on weekends.
Also, Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival’s website provides a field report. This field report is updated regularly and will tell you what percentage of the tulip fields are in bloom, and can also help you decide when to plan your visit.
How to Prepare for your Visit During COVID
- Purchase your tickets online in advance.
- Bring a face mask.
- Please be respectful of those around you and maintain 6 feet distance, especially if your mask is off while eating or taking that perfect photo.
Where to stay
If you’re traveling a distance or just looking to make a weekend get-away out of the tulip festival, then you’ll need lodging. The Oregon Garden Resort located in Silverton is an excellent choice. It’s just a 15 to 20 minute drive (11 miles) south of the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm.
The Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival and the Oregon Garden Resort will be partnering again this year to offer a Tulip Festival Package. Plus, the Oregon Garden Resort is pet friendly and includes a hot breakfast with your stay. Top off your weekend get-away with a visit to the resort’s Moonstone Spa for a massage or facial.
What to Wear to the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival
First of all, be sure to wear good shoes, as it may be muddy. Secondly, dress warm, and in layers. Although I thought I dressed warm enough with a scarf and rain jacket, I still found myself shivering most of the time. However, this being spring in Oregon, any weather is possible. So it’s best to prepare for a possibility of rain or sunshine, or both!
If you’re looking for more outdoor adventures in the PNW, Oregon has countless beautiful gardens to explore. For example, start by checking out the Lan Su Chinese Garden or the Japanese Gardens.