Tired after a long winter, can't wait to enjoy warmer weather and see the spring flowers finally rear their heads from the rain-dampened soil? If you don't have the time or the budget to visit the famous Keukenhof Gardens near Lisse in the Netherlands and don't want the border hassles when driving to the Skagit Valley in Washington State, no worries, you can get the same eyeful of colour at the tulip fields at Agassiz, British Columbia. A treat for both visitors and residents of the Vancouver area alike, the tulip festival has been a must-see event of the lower Fraser Valley since 2006 where, if you catch the right time, you can have your fill of blooms, bumble bees and bulbs.
On Seabird Island, First Nations' land, about ninety minutes drive from Vancouver, and just east of downtown Agassiz, pick a sunny day at the end of April and you may see more than 30 types of tulips over an area of 40 acres to admire and photograph for a small fee at the entrance. Should you be inspired by the fields and wanting to create your own flower gardens next spring, you can buy Canadian-grown tulip, grape hyacinth and allia bulbs on site or you can order them on line at www.tulipsofthevalley.com.
If the fields don't quite match your memories or expectations of Keukenhof, the Minter Gardens, just up the street at 52892 Bunker Rd., Rosedale, BC, are a short hop away where spring bulbs are laid out in circles and swirls around which you can stroll at your leisure. Check www.mintergardens.com for exact opening times as they vary from month to month.
If seeing and photographing the tulip fields and gardens have merely whetted your appetite and you want to hold armfuls of these beautiful flowers to get the full effect, you can do so and at the same time benefit others by contributing to the BC Cancer Foundation and the Chilliwack Hospice Society. Help pick 100,000 of these lovely blooms from a 5-acre production at Frico Flowers, 51535 Ferry Road in Rosedale. Founded in 1990, this company specializes in novelty tulips, calla lilies, peonies and sunflowers. You can learn more about this unique opportunity, established by a local family whose mother passed away from cancer, at www.tulipmania.ca.
Interestingly enough, the term “Tulip mania,” used to refer to any large economic bubble, has a historical meaning in that it refers to a period during the Dutch Golden Age of the 1600s when the contract price for recently introduced tulip bulbs skyrocketed and then suddenly plummeted. According to Wikipedia, “at the peak of tulip mania in February 1637, tulip bulbs sold for more than ten times the annual income of a skilled craftsman.” Luckily these days they are not so expensive!
Want more ideas of what to visit while you are in the area and loath to return to the smoke and traffic of the city just yet? There is a plethora of visiting options on the way back. First is the Greater Vancouver Zoo (www.gvzoo.com) in Aldergrove at 5048 - 264th Street, just 500 metres south of the Trans Canada Highway, at Exit #73. The largest zoo in British Columbia, it has over 800 animals on 120 acres of parkland. Its ecological mission is “to preserve and protect endangered species, and create an educational environment to inspire appreciation and concern about wildlife and wild places.” Check their website for current opening hours and prices.
Self-guided Circle Farm Tours (www.circlefarmtour.com) in six districts of the Fraser Valley are yet another choice. A Circle Farm Tour is basically a road map that directs you to a variety of specialty farms, open air markets, heritage sites and special events. Most of these venues are free, but check the website to make sure. You can travel in your own vehicle, at your own speed, whenever it suits you. Each venue in the tour is related in some way to agriculture and the area's farming heritage. Encompassing Abbotsford, Agassiz, Chilliwack, Langley, Maple Ridge and Mission, choices include nurseries, gardens, dairies, trout hatcheries, honey, soap, berries, lavender, pumpkins, hazelnuts, pottery, cheese, corn, both local and exotic farm animals including alpacas, llamas and raptors, and, for the thirsty epicureans among you, beer and wine.
Whatever your pleasure, the Fraser Valley is sure to provide an interesting and healthy day out or weekend away from the stresses of city life.
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