Tulips for the Picking

At this Virginia flower farm, you can harvest fresh bouquets right from the field

Steve Bender
Tulips at Burnside Farms
Alison Miksch

Row after row of red, yellow, pink, and white tulips stretch before you to the horizon. For most Southerners, a sight like this requires a transatlantic flight to the Netherlands. But not for the lucky folks who make it to Haymarket, Virginia, each spring. Here, just off U.S. 15 about 40 miles west of Washington, D.C., is Burnside Farms, where pick-your-own tulips outnumber the town’s 1,900 residents by more than 400 to 1.

Owned by longtime farmers the Dawley family, the bulb field came about five years ago as a small experiment to generate extra income. The Dawleys bought 16,000 bulbs from Holland, thinking they would resell them to garden centers. Instead, they took a gamble on planting them to see how many people would drive to the country to pick their own tulips.

“We didn’t advertise,” recalls Leslie Dawley, the family matriarch. “We just put a sign by the road that read ‘Pick Your Own,’ and the people came and loved it. The next year, we planted 100,000 tulips, and then 150,000 after that. Last year, we planted 800,000.”

The flower fields cover 8 acres and feature mostly blended colors of more than 200 tulip selections representing early, midseason, and late-blooming types. Daffodils, which bloom a little earlier than the tulips, are also available for sale. Prices: $1 per tulip, 50 cents per daffodil. Picking baskets are provided for your convenience.

Spring bulbs bloom on their own schedule, but opening day for Burnside’s Festival of Spring is usually five to seven days after the cherry blossoms peak at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. This ranges from late March to mid-April. Dawley advises, “Check our website, burnsidefarms.com, where we post pictures of the bulbs as they grow so you can watch them develop.” You’ll also find driving directions and other useful information.

Thousands of people show up each year, not only to pick flowers but also to picnic, take photos, and stroll the fields. Visitors need an entry ticket ($6 Monday through Friday and $8 Saturday and Sunday for ages 2 and up). Weekend tickets must be purchased in advance and are available online. This helps control crowds so everyone can enjoy themselves.

So what happens when the tulips and daffodils have finished, the crowds disperse, and the farm grows quiet again? Is that it until bulb- planting time in fall? No way! Pick-your-own sunflowers are the farm’s stars come summertime, starting to bloom by mid-July. Successive crops of more than 25 selections of sunflowers ensure at least four weeks of flower picking.