Time for Tulips

By Gretchen Eichenberg

From Pilot Point to Waco Drive, beautiful bulbs usher in spring

Bright red. Deep purple. Powder pink. Fiery orange. Sunny yellow. Nothing signals the arrival of spring quite like the season’s quintessential flower — the tulip — in its many vibrant hues. But even though spring doesn’t officially begin until March 19, Central Texans can get a sneak peek of the milder season beginning this month through April by making a trip to Texas-Tulips in Pilot Point or Dallas Blooms at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden. Tulip lovers will experience a feast for the eyes as they walk among hundreds of thousands of blooms, either growing in fields or arranged in colorful displays.

“Tulips definitely signify spring,” said Debby Boyd, co-owner of Greenlife Nursery in Waco. “When you’re driving around town in spring and you see someone’s yard filled with tulips, it’s just such a gift. Planting the bulbs is such an involved process that you really don’t see that many tulips growing in the South anymore. People want instant gratification. So it’s a real treat when someone takes the time.”

Boyd said another reason tulips aren’t as popular to plant is that they prefer cooler weather and that, with the Texas heat, the blooms sometimes only last a few days. It’s a lot of work to plant just a few blooms that are so fleeting, she said. But anyone who appreciates the beauty and significance of tulips can see them in large scale for four to six weeks out of the year — and enjoy strolling about, picking them and taking some home, photographing them and even picnicking among them.

Texas-Tulips, a “pick-your-own” farm located at 10656 FM 2931 in Pilot Point — just under an hour north of Dallas — will open mid-February. You can pick tulips all the way through the end of March and even early April, depending on the weather. The farm grows about 100 varieties of tulips, early-, mid- and late-flowering ones. The availability of varieties changes throughout the picking season. They grow a wide range of colors and different shapes, including the popular Texas Gold, Texas Flame, American Dream, fringed, parrot, striped — and many more.

The roots of Texas-Tulips run deep, as owner Pieter Koeman grew up in the Netherlands, working on his parents’ 80-acre tulip farm for more than 40 years. They specialized in tulip bulb production, growing them in greenhouses, and became known for having “early” tulips. They made this happen by putting foil over the tulip bulbs while they were still in the field, which forced the tulips to flower earlier than normal. That gave them an advantage of almost two weeks over other greenhouses, allowing their customers to enjoy tulips as early as December.

Each winter, the Koemans grew tens of millions of tulips, which were sold at flower auctions in the Netherlands. After Koeman’s father died, he and his wife, Petra, decided to move to Texas and set up shop in Pilot Point. Since 2015, they’ve operated a 6-acre field that has become a destination for those seeking the stunning beauty of tulips.

“We found the perfect fusion of fertile soil, country charm within the DFW-Metroplex and nice weather during the spring season in the gentle, rolling hills north of Dallas,” Koeman wrote. “It also fulfilled one of our greatest wishes — to be able to meet the people who buy our tulips.”

Tiptoeing through the Texas tulips will cost you a $5 entry fee, which includes the chance to experience thousands of colorful blooms meticulously lined in rows of stunning brilliance, much like you might imagine seeing in Holland. Bring a small picnic basket (no large coolers allowed) and enjoy your lunch or a snack on a sunny day. Professional photographers can pay a $25 entry fee to have access to a very unique background for their clients with no appointment necessary. If you want to take home some tulips, they cost $2.50 per stem, which will be dipped in a preservative gel to keep them fresh on the ride home. The cost per stem also includes beautiful wrapping paper, making the bouquets perfect for gift-giving. There’s a special deal for veterans, seniors and students, which includes entry fee and three tulips, all for $7.50 (on weekdays only). Texas-Tulips is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. To plan your trip and catch the tulips at their peak, visit texas-tulips.com.

This season, Texas Tulips is debuting its second location in La Vernia, Texas, about 25 miles east of San Antonio. So, whether you wish to travel north or south, there will be tulips in your path.

If you choose the northern route, make a full day of it by hitting the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden’s annual event, Dallas Blooms, taking place February 29 through April 12. It’s the largest annual floral festival in the Southwest and features 100 varieties of spring bulbs, including 500,000 tulips.

“We’ve been told we have the largest display of tulips in a public garden outside of Holland,” said Mary Brinegar, Dallas Arboretum president and CEO. “As the tulips bloom throughout the festival, the finale is the mass flowering of the garden’s collection of 3,000 azaleas that bloom along with the Japanese cherry trees, ushering in spring with vibrant color everywhere.”

This year’s theme is “Sounds of Spring” and will showcase a different genre of music from Texas country to classic rock, including live bands each weekend. Six topiaries will adorn the garden, each depicting a different musical instrument — harp, bass, guitar and saxophone — as well as two topiary musicians. Dallas Arboretum’s A Tasteful Place, a garden that celebrates growing, harvesting and preparing fresh food, also features classes in theme with each music genre.

Admission starts at $12 but varies throughout the season, depending on different events taking place. Visit dallasarboretum.org for exact pricing and to purchase admission and parking passes online.

There are more than 3,000 varieties of tulips in existence around the world. And of those varieties, around 150 different species have been identified. During the 1600s, the people of the Netherlands put such a high value on tulips (known as “tulip mania”) that some historians say they caused the economic crash of 1637. At that time, some tulips were as expensive as a diamond.

Depending on the color of their blooms, tulips are said to have different meanings. Red tulips represent love — and they are quite popular for Valentine’s Day, according to the folks at Reed’s Flowers in Waco. White symbolizes forgiveness; yellow represents cheerful thoughts; pink stands for happiness; and purple represents royalty.

If you miss the chance to visit one of the tulip fields or the arboretum, don’t forget to keep your eyes open around Waco. Chuck Purvis, local realtor and flower enthusiast, plants 400 tulips in his front yard on 33rd Street each year, just off Waco Drive. He’s been wowing his neighbors and passers-by with his tulip display since 1982 — and this year is no exception.

“This year, I planted red, pink, yellow and a yellow-red combination,” Purvis said. “As a child, I received a tulip bulb as part of a school lesson on plant growth. I went home and planted the bulb in the ground. I watched and watched, and one day it popped up. I’ve been a fan ever since.”

Boyd said there’s something special about tulips.

“Tulips are simple, yet elegant and fun,” she said. “They come in so many colors and varieties. They are a sweet and old-fashioned flower. They definitely say ‘spring.’”

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